Sunday, March 04, 2007

Urban Fashions: I Thought They Were Fads

I taught high school and middle school for 11 years up through 1990 and I saw a lot of fads come and go among teenagers. When I went to work at Job Corps in 1992 as a residence hall advisor, I started seeing and hearing what I thought were knew, and very weird fads. They were different, to put it mildly.

First of all, most of the young people who attend Job Corps are from the inner city. What I was seeing among the young men was a fashion statement I didn’t understand. They were wearing their jeans so that they would sag to the point where the waist of the pants was down below their butts.

Girls didn’t buy into it. But most of the guys did. They wore loose-fitting, sagging jeans and overly large shirts. It was the epitome of slouchy.

The other fad, or what I thought was a fad, was rap music. It was loud, vulgar, and had no tune. It was more like vulgar chants set to an overpowering bass beat.

Alas, what I expected were just fads of the 1990s, much like disco was during the late ‘70s, turned out to have some longevity. After a 14-year hiatus, I’ve been teaching again for the past three years and both the fashion and the music trends that began since I left teaching the first time are still going strong.

In fact, they have spread. What started as urban, primarily black-culture fads have spread to male teens in general. And, although the girls don’t participate in the saggy look, they obviously don’t mind it; otherwise the boys would have given up on it long ago.

Of course, teenagers have been driving their parents crazy for decades. The 1920s had the Charleston, a relatively vulgar dance for its day. The 1950s saw the birth of rock and roll, or as some conservatives call it, the devil’s music.

In the 1960s, the Beatles had a huge influence on the youth scene. They were called mop tops because of their shaggy hair style, which by later standards was conservatively short.

Then came the punk look of the 1980s, and the metal heads of the 1990s, and the body piercings. All the latest teen fashions and music styles were more outrageous than those of the previous generation.

I understand that these are statements by teens who are trying to become individuals, separate from their folks at home. In searching for their individuality, of course, most of them fall on the bandwagon of the latest fashion fad – hardly individual.

But rap, or hip-hop, or whatever you want to call it is totally perplexing to me. Most teen music, however outrageous, was at least, well, music. It had a beat, a melody, and sometimes even some harmonies. It might have been loud and repulsive to older generations, but few people would claim that it wasn’t music at all.

I will make that claim about rap. Like I said earlier, it is more like an annoying chant form. It has no melody, no harmony, and I dare anyone to create a lead sheet for one of the rap numbers. It has, in my view, no socially-redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Obviously, others will disagree. But I believe my floccinaucinihilipilification of rap music is entirely justified. (I always wanted to use that word in a sentence.) The same can be said about the ridiculous fashion of wearing your pant waist around your knees.

If you want to be identified as a ghetto-cruising gang banger, just cruise around town blaring rap music, wearing a tee shirt that’s three sizes too big with your jeans below the crotch. It’s a pitiful sight that I see way too often.

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