Obsidian Arts takes on “sagging”

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Image by Stephan Paley

Obsidian Arts Curator Roderic Southall believes a good art exhibition should help us to explore cultural questions as a community. And sometime those questions are staring us all in the face, but no one is talking about them.

The question that inspired his latest exhibition “Hang Time: The Enduring, Endearing Trend,” is this: Why do we react so strongly to guys who let their jeans sag below their hips? Southall says he’s constantly intrigued by the amount of anger and contempt he hears from people talking about “sagging.”

These youth, like every other generation before them, are simply pressing for a separate range of identity markers other than those used by their parents and elders. And yet the blantant amount of shaming that the reactions carry… the tragedy of the kind of community dialogue that it has generated. If I were asked to boil down the messages that are sent to saggers by those adults who object to it I would suggest the phrase “you low down dirty dog homo boy who lacks any positive sense of who you are . . . listen to me as I tell you how to be”. I think that accurately reflects how little I think the dialogue has been worth. Why we have such a violent community dialogue about clothing in the midst of all of the other social challenges is worthy of study and, in a way, celebration

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There are a few theories as to how exactly sagging came into existence. First, it started in prison because guards take away belts so inmates can’t hang themselves. Second, also based in prison, it’s considered a code that a guy is “available” to other prisoners. Third, it’s simply a fashion trend started by Calvin Klein and ‘Marky Mark’ (i.e. Mark Wahlberg).

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Whatever initiated it, “sagging” has lasted close to 20 years. And Southall thinks that makes it even more interesting:

Clothing style-trends usually move onto and off the fashion stage in short order. Sagging has a staying power that has surpassed many trends that have swept through and, for a period, defined what black people thought about themselves. That fact is pretty significant because it indicates that sagging is a long term response and reflection of its adherents… and the adherents that follow them by almost a generation.

Recent attempts to ban sagging from the streets have sparked even more controversy and debate. Can you be arrested for your fashion? Does the fact that you look like you might have done prison time make you a criminal?

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Obsidian Arts’ exhibition looks at the controversy and animosity surrounding the fashion trend, and excerpts interviews with “saggers” about why they wear their jeans the way they do. Their general response?

A) it’s comfortable

B) I like the way it looks

C) I can show off my collection of silk boxers

The exhibition also features music about the fashion, including Betty Wright’s song “Pull your pants up!”

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“Hang Time: The Enduring, Endearing Trend” is on display through January 30 in the lobby of Pillsbury House in Minneapolis.

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  • JJ

    “Just like any generation”…I agree with that observation.

    HOWEVER…this makes me cringe.

    First, just like every generation and its fashion trends (like ear-rings for guys in the 1980’s) — when you go for a serious job interview with saggin pants (or even a not so serious one) you will not get hired. At some point, just like every punk white kid in the 80’s — you have to check your fashoin at the door — or risk falling behind in life. Sorry but it is the truth.

    Second, saggin has moved past a fashion trend. I agree. What I think it now represents to most of “white society” (true or not, or fair or not) is “lazy”. If you cannot bother to pull your pants up, how can you be a responsible person, employee, student?

    African Americans especially have enough to battle in terms of discrimination — why make things worse for ourselves? Defeat stereotypes — don’t create new ones…I know it is not that simple — but on an individual level (i.e. getting dressed in the morning — it IS that simple).

  • Tony

    I would like to hear what Bill Cosby thnks of this article.

  • CL

    “If I were asked to boil down the messages that are sent to saggers by those adults who object to it I would suggest the phrase ‘you low down dirty dog homo boy who lacks any positive sense of who you are . . . listen to me as I tell you how to be.’ I think that accurately reflects how little I think the dialogue has been worth.”

    I wonder if Mr. Southall was conscious of the fact that, in his hypothetical verbalization of this “violent community dialogue” which disparages his subculture, he chose language that disparages someone else? “Homo” equating to “low down dirty dog”, perhaps used in place of “faggot” or another word which wouldn’t have been fit to broadcast?

    (Unless he actually meant that the objecting adult sees a sagger and assumes that person is a homosexual?)

  • Charles

    Jeepers.

    I object to those who wear pants up around their nipples.

    Makes me think they’re dishonest, lazy, ignorant, violent and have no self-esteem.

  • JP Armstrong

    I like how no saggers can read well enough to defend themselves.

    I would like to take this in a different direction; Medical. If you’ve noticed, a mans gait it different when his pants are below his ass? Expecially when his hands are full and he has to walk stiff and bow legged to keep his twig n berries from being exposed. If just wearing the wrong kind of shoes ruins you back, what does years of this lewd behavior do to a mans ankles, knees, hips and back? What kind of long term burden does this put on the medical system?