The Saggy Bottom Boys

The city of Dallas, like all large metropolises, has many important problems facing it. For example, a great many of its residents are Texans. That’s a hurdle few cities have been able to overcome. But the most critical issue on the minds of Dallas officials is this: how to get teenagers to quit wearing their pants so low.

The saggy pants trend began in hip-hop culture and has spread among white and Latino youth, but it’s still mostly urban black kids who embrace the style. The look is part of the “gangsta” image. Somehow, wearing your pants so you look like a confused old man on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” is meant to make you seem tougher. Maybe the idea is that you’re so tough, you don’t have to worry about running away from anything, and to prove it you incapacitate yourself by belting your trousers around your knees.

Some American communities have already passed ordinances banning the wearing of saggy pants and allowing for fines of up to $500 for violators. Port Allen, La., recently enacted such a law; Alexandria, La., and Brunswick, Ga., are considering it. Even Atlanta — a city that’s about to run out of water — thinks the saggy pants issue is important.

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Visible underwear gets people’s panties in a bunch.

Now, the rules here aren’t against letting your pants sag and show your naked butt. That’s already covered (as it were) by indecent-exposure ordinances. What we’re talking about is where the pants hang low and you can see the guy’s underwear, usually boxers, although maybe there are some gangstas who wear thongs.

Ordinances against saggy pants probably won’t pass any legal tests. Laws about fashion are notoriously difficult to justify from a constitutional standpoint, as we all remember from the case of People v. Hammer, which sought to ban the wearing of M.C. Hammer pants in the early 1990s. If a case about saggy pants should make it to the Supreme Court, the law is sure to be struck down, considering the justices don’t even wear pants.

But that hasn’t stopped some communities from getting worked up about it, and Dallas is the latest. Some city councilors have talked about passing a law. In the meantime, the city has launched a campaign against saggy pants, hoping to convince young men to dress more appropriately on their own. There are now billboards in Dallas with three different slogans:

Represent Yourself Like You Present Yourself

Don’t Be Lame, Elevate Your Game

That’s Not Hip-Hop, That’s Flip Flop

The first two are OK, but the third one doesn’t even make sense. It sounds like some old white people tried to envision a slogan that black youth would respond to and came up with a big pile of failure instead. “That’s not hip-hop; that’s flip flop! Word! Bling! Diggity diggity! We know how to ‘rap’ the kind of lingo you kids be jivin’ with!”

The billboards all have this unifying slogan, as seen here:

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That’s right: “Pullem’ Up.” Now, those of you familiar with the rudimentary laws of English grammar and punctuation know that it should say “Pull ‘Em Up.” The “’em” part is short for “them,” and the apostrophe goes in place of the missing letters. Combining “pull” and “’em” into one word and putting the apostrophe after it is what we in the language business call “wrong.” (Also: “stupid.”) If I were a “gangsta” or a “thug” who wore his pants low and I saw that billboard, I would refuse to comply on principle alone.

Also, you have to wonder just how offensive it is to show people your boxers when the billboards discouraging the practice include a picture of someone who’s doing it.

Much of the discussion in Dallas has been couched in terms of perception: When you wear your pants that low, you look ridiculous, and you look like a thug, and people won’t give you a job. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway (who is black, by the way) told WFAA Channel 8 that it’s to help kids present themselves better.

“It will help the kids that are sagging, it will help them get a job. Because, you know, they can’t go in sagging and get a job. It only perpetuates bad activities and bad habits…. Who wants to come into a neighborhood where there’s a bunch of sagging of pants and people showing they behinds?”

I agree with him that letting your pants hang down that low looks silly. But remember, this is a city where people walk around wearing cowboy hats, which should only be done by actual cowboys, and even then only after prayerful consideration. There are also a lot of people in this area who wear flannel shirts with the sleeves cut off, and who drive Ford trucks onto which they have affixed stickers of Calvin peeing on the Chevrolet logo. I wouldn’t give any of those people a job, either.

In its efforts to win the hearts and minds of the young people, Dallas has joined forces with a rapper named Dooney Da Priest, who has recorded a song called “Pull Your Pants Up.” Dooney even has his own billboard, seen here:

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“Pull Your Pants Up! It’s rude, not cool … Walking around showin’ your behind to other dudes.”

(Evidently Dooney thinks that saggy pants are invisible to women; only dudes can see them.)

His song continues this theme. Some of the lyrics:

“I think it’s gay but some of y’all think it’s cool / Walkin’ around showin’ your behind to other dudes.”

“You walk the streets with your pants way down low / I don’t know / Looks to me you on the down low.”

In the black community, “on the down low” is slang for having secretive homosexual encounters while otherwise living as, and claiming to be, a straight man. I learned all about it on “Law & Order: SVU” a couple years ago.

Trying to convince kids that wearing their pants low makes them look gay is actually a pretty good approach, even though it’s obviously not true, since gay men dress much better than that. The reason kids wear their pants low is that, whether they’re actually involved in illegal activity or not, they want to look like gangstas ‘n’ thugs. The trend comes from prison, where not being allowed to wear belts means that some prisoners’ pants sag. Kids on the outside started wearing their pants low in emulation, because as you know, there is nothing more awesome than going to prison. That’s the perception they want people to have. They want people to think they’re murderers, thieves, and bullies. They do NOT want people to think they’re gay.

It’s hard not to think that this whole thing is just another example of an older generation being appalled by a younger one. When the complainers were young, their parents and grandparents were griping about how kids nowadays were wearing blue jeans everywhere instead of a nice pair of slacks. Before that, people were outraged by women wearing bloomers instead of elaborate corsets and trusses. Before that, I think men were supposed to wear capes and top hats everywhere, and if they didn’t, they were whipped in the town square.

Granted, none of those revolutionary fashion choices resulted in people’s underwear being visible, but still. There’s nothing inherently indecent or obscene about underwear, especially since the modern fashions make boxers almost indistinguishable from regular short pants or swim trunks, both of which are perfectly OK to display in public.

It all comes down to one of our basic rights as Americans: the right to look stupid. From the powdered wigs of the 1700s to the elaborate mustaches of the 1800s; from the spiked hair and mohawks of the 1980s to the saggy britches of today — we Americans pride ourselves on our tolerance for other people looking ridiculous. Let us not forsake that open-mindedness now. Not while there is still a plague of mullets infesting the land.

(If you would like to hear Dooney Da Priest’s rap song “Pull Your Pants Up,” visit his MySpace page — or just click here.)

(Sources: Anti-sag ordinances in Port Allen, La., Alexandria, La., Brunswick, Ga., and Atlanta; billboard slogans; explanation of the origin of sagging; Dwaine Caraway's interview with WFAA.)

Interesting that on Dooney Da Priest's MySpace page, he prints the lyrics to "Pull Your Pants Up" with "rude" in place of "gay," even though it's clearly "gay" in the recording. (Because he's an idiot, he has printed the text in black against a black background. You have to highlight it -- Command-A on your keyboard, or "Select All" in the Edit menu -- to read it.)