17.7.13

LOOKING LIKE A FOOL WITH YOUR PANTS ON THE GROUND.

A Green Bay alderman's proposal to outlaw public wearing of trousers in the prison-chic style failed in committee.
Green Bay police Capt. Bill Bongle opposed any ban on saggy pants, saying such a move could erode the public’s trust in the department.

“We should focus on conduct and behavior, and not how people dress,” he said.

During the meeting, [bill author and alderman David] Boyce seemed to associate baggy pants with crimes and the prison culture. He called the style “anti-social” and “self-stigmatizing.” Boyce added that he was previously attacked in Green Bay by young people wearing saggy pants.
Whether he's generalizing from his own experience, or attempting to keep his downtown (the prototype may be Wildwood, New Jersey -- classing up the Jersey Shore???) from looking downscale is moot for now.

It's one of the challenges of maintaining a free society with ever-emergent order.
By breaking the "soft rules"” of civil life (social conventions), Punks signaled the possibility they might be prepared to break the "hard rules”"of civil life (the ones defined and enforced by law).  (I am setting aside the larger cultural and political messages of punk.)

Punks are, in other words, a test of the limits of a society of strangers.  They introduce a very strange stranger, one who gives us pause.  (Finally, this was more agitprop theater than reality.  For all their talk of anarchy, most punks weren’’t very anarchic.  Conventionally dressed soccer hooligans are much more dangerous.)

Punks were a test of whether we meant what we said.  Did people have the liberty to define themselves as they wanted to, or not?  In the period following World War II, we were, in a sense, cheating.  The forces of convention were still so powerful that the society of strangers wasn’’t very strange at all.  Most people could read most people pretty well.  Most marginal groups were marginal, driven by stigma and exclusion from the mainstream.  In effect, we had were a pluralist society that permitted freedom but had not yet had to contend with freedom.  We were living a lie.  (No cliché is unwelcome in this blog.  We are inclusive here too.)

Then marginal cultures began to demand a new voice and profile…and now the test was on.  As someone who came of age in the 1960s, I remember how long hair was received.  It was customary for people to react badly, sometimes insisting, in a classic Douglasian moment, that they were witnessing a confusion of gender categories and that the wearer "must be a girl."”  (I remember Rodney Graham one summer in Banff threatening to remove his pants to answer the challenge.)

The test has continued.  As marginal groups have insisted on a more visible place in the mainstream, we found ourselves with stranger strangers.” At first, we reacted badly.  The various youth cultures, lesbians, gays, all took a good deal of grief and, sometimes, acts of violence.  (As of course some still do.)

Then came a relative rapprochement.  As a collectivity, we discovered that these "differences"” weren’’t so different.  Punks might look threatening, but eventually they became merely one more part of the urban landscape.  Most people discovered the wisdom, or at least the usefulness, of the New Yorker’s standard response to the blooming variety of that urban setting: "Whatever, buddy.  Do what you wanna.  Just don’’t ask me to like it.”"  Now we could go back to business as usual.  Benign neglect was the order of the day.  It might be better to call this, in the New York style, "disgruntled neglect.”"
In the Green Bay setting, perhaps conventionally dressed Bear fans are more dangerous. On the other hand, there are limits, even in New York, to what disgruntled neglect is prepared to neglect.

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