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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Opting Back in?

In July 2007, James Kunstler wrote a column titled Thuggo and Sluggo, in which he derided the “costume and demeanor of American young men … that raises interesting questions about who we have become.” In the week-long give-and-take that is the comments section, I responded:

I can tell you exactly why people dress like they do: we've realized the "dress for success" line is a bunch of hooey … If there's a message behind those baggy clothes, it's nothing but "I'm wise to your game, I'm not playing."

Now that’s not to say I wear “the uniform” that Kunstler derides: the baggy pants, hat on backwards, and all that… although I’ll admit to leaving my t-shirt untucked on occasion. The difference between me and Thuggo is that I’m wearing what’s comfortable, regardless of how it looks; he’s making a statement with his clothing. People in the lowest and highest income brackets, it seems, like to make a statement with their clothing; the rest of us are mostly concerned with staying warm or not getting arrested, although we’ll occasionally advertise a sports team or other activity we’re fond of.

So what’s the message Michele Norris is hearing?

I've been struck as we talk about change on a big level, what I've been hearing closer to the street -- in Chicago, in Pennsylvania, here in Washington, DC -- how many young black men are talking about change in their lives. At barbershops, someone told me that twelve people have come in and cut off their dreadlocks, talking about joining the army, talking about, you know, 'forget about the saggy pants,' pulling their pants up, leading their life in a different way. I think it's really interesting because we talk about change in buildings, and this election has really inspired change on a very personal level.

So if Kunstler’s Thuggo and Sluggo are cutting their hair and pulling up their pants… indeed, what’s the message? The optimist(?) in me wants to think that the kids are saying, “well damn, maybe the casino isn’t rigged after all, I guess it’s time to get in the game.” Of course, that attitude will lead to massive disillusionment down the road… because the casino is still rigged; Obama won the election with a combination of a sterling “ground game” with campaign offices stretching from the Internet even into the craziest corners of Planet Georgia, missteps by his opponents, and sheer luck. Take away any of those ingredients, and he’d likely be heading back to the Senate in January. That’s not to say Obama is unqualified — he’s certainly at least as qualified as anyone who has sat in the Oval Office since January 20, 1981 — but the race is not always to the swiftest, nor the battle to the strong, right?

The election has unleashed a wave of hope that has apparently washed all the way into the 'hoods and trailer parks, and even into Planet Georgia. I’ve heard two local people, both righties, say they’re praying Obama can fix things in the country. I’m not sure if there’s a dog-whistle that I’m not hearing, but it sure sounds good (and a heck of a lot more gracious than I was 8 years ago). But if everyone from the 'hoods to the hollers know things need to change, maybe there’s a chance that we’ll get the changes we need.

1 comment:

  1. Kunstler revisited his remarks on today's thuggish uniform this year with further remarks on the tattoos we see on everyone.

    Here's an episode of the KunstlerCast
    on "Tattoos and the American Costume."



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