Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Say no to crack - ban sagging pants

First reaction to Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin’s proposed legal ban on sagging pants: “Thank God! Finally, a spotlight on a painfully outward symbol of inner sloth.” (see article)

It’s not sexy. It’s not cool. It’s just stupid. It’s not me drinking the “hater-ade.” It’s the brothers who think so lowly of themselves that they can’t see fit to strap it up.

Sagging pants somehow became vogue as ex-cons came out of the joint. Because no belts are allowed in prison, standard-issue pants often sagged. On the outside, a few rappers and sports stars (many who never spent a night in jail) copped the “cool pose” in their public dress and publicity shots. And a fashion trend was born. Even guys with belts wear their trousers low enough to catch this ridiculous style wave. Girls are seen sporting their thong straps for all to see. God help us.

Remember the orange jumpsuits with “Property of County Jail” stenciled on the back? They were a brief fashion hit in Milwaukee until police started detaining kids who thought incarceration was hip. How are the police to know if you’re an escapee or not? Urban America continues to be a leading cultural influencer. Snowboarders are coping the pose, too.

It’s sadly funny to see you straddle-step down the street holding your pants up with one hand. That’s what happens when your belt line is below the hump of your rump. Did you miss the unit on the law of gravity in science class?

I remember the styles I wore in the early 70’s, shocking my parents and outraging the authorities at my school. That was then. This is now.

No one seriously thinks that a city ordinance on indecency will settle the issue of poor fashion choices. Nor will it influence the dreams and aspirations of our youth. I wish it would affirm the notion of modesty for our youth. But it stirs the debate.

I don’t want to see your boxers. I don’t want to see your crack. Keep your undergarments to yourself. Show some self-respect, man. Strap it up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Suicidal pop music

My brother called me the other day to ask if I had heard the new song, “Beautiful Girl” by Sean Kingston. The sure-fire hit has been riding high on the charts all summer. The reggae-laced beat and Kingston’s young, smooth and charming vocals give this song its foundation. But the popularity of the song is its infectious hook.

Damn, all these beautiful girls
They only want to do you dirt
They'll have you suicidal, suicidal
When they say it’s over

Teen suicide rates are up, so the mental health community is in an uproar. The politically correct power brokers even got MTV to omit the references to suicide in their video, but I can’t imagine how to track the song without the most famous hook of the season. On NPR, pop/rock producer Don Was said it would be more helpful to focus on families and schools than on pop songs to deal with the problem of youth suicide.

That was exactly my brother’s point. He’s an old-school guy just like yours truly. His children are pre-teens and plugged in to the latest dance hits on the radio. I can just see him and his family driving around singing along when “Beautiful Girl” comes on. “What?” I can here him shout, before he slams the radio off in disgust.

“But daaaaad!” his daughter protests. “Why can’t we listen to that song? I like it.”

“Because it’s not good for you,” he tries to explain in vain. “I don’t like it. I don’t like the words and that’s all there is to it. Now don’t make me stop this car!” Grumbling to himself, he reaches for the CDs, so he can program something more appropriate for his kids.

Other challenges to love-lost young men in today’s culture drift: date rape, gang rape, and other forms of violence against women. But I’ll save that commentary for another blog.

Suicide isn’t the only negative image in the song. “Beautiful Girls” is only somewhat autobiographical. His difficult upbringing included crime and homelessness. His mom is in jail. His first arrest was at age 11. In the song, it’s age 9.

It was back in 99
Watching movies all the time
Oh, when I went away for doing my first crime
And I never thought that we was gonna see each other (see each other)
And then I came out
Mammy moved me down south
Oh, I'm with my girl
Who I thought was my world
It came out to be that she wasn't the girl for me (girl for me)

In the song Sean’s “Mammy” moved him away from the criminal element of his young life. I’m sure my brother suspected as much about the story of this song. He’s an officer in the criminal justice system, working daily with society’s castoffs and the young men who are dealing with the consequences of trying to live outside the boundaries.

It would be irresponsible to give our kids’ ears and minds over to the record producers and radio programmers, who have never had our families’ spiritual or mental health on their agenda. In mental health terms, it would be “crazy” to not be strict with what our kids listen to on radio or watch on TV, or when they get in at night during the summer, or with whom they go out, or where they go, or what they read. Effective parenting, the kind that advances a positive legacy or raises the “generational IQ” of the family, is full contact and hands-on.

I just sent one of my children off to college. Not only is she changing from girl to woman before my very eyes, my role is changing from director to advisor. My rules were designed for her formative years. Today, out from under my roof and hundreds of miles away from home, she makes virtually all her own decisions regarding media and personal behavior.

When she was an infant, we prayed. As a child and adolescent, we set rules and guidelines, enforced discipline, and prayed. Now, we offer advice and we pray. But she has been imprinted by our lifestyle and standards. If there was any consistency in our choices as parents, I expect that Dad’s rules will inform her choices.

I don’t expect much in the way of moral rectitude from the record companies. Their mission is often more money than art. I spend most of my music budget on contemporary gospel anyway (Go Tye Tribbett and G.A.!) I know better than to scream “censorship” every time a song is edited or banished from the airwaves. Smart marketers have turned protests into record sales for years. Media choices are plentiful, and anything that can be said through media is being said.

That said, we will control the family playlists and viewing schedule. Despite what you might think of our conservative parenting style, we will expose our children to a wide range of ideas, and some of those ideas will be unconventional. I expect my children’s schools to help me stretch their minds and test the merits of people’s choices, and moreso as they get older. As Don Was suggests, we will focus on our own family and schools when it comes to the tunes to which we bounce.

But don’t be na├»ve. Music impacts behavior, the same way attitudes impact action. As young people grow, we have to help them see that their thoughts and meditations (including the songs you sing) impact decisions they make. And good instruction gets more graphic and more detailed as they get older. Scared straight!

Note to Sean Kingston: I just read about your pledge to not use curse words in your songs and rap.

“I don't really curse in general, when I am talking to people. I come from a good home. It might slip out sometimes but it's not really that big of a deal. To put it in my music, that's not the message I am trying to send out. That's not the type of artist I am trying to be.”

Read more from the Modesto Bee/Assoc. Press.

Thanks for moving in the right direction.

Any other pop songs that reflect the hardness of life come to mind?