Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Good intentions, bad law

Several municipalities in my state, Louisiana, have made "sagging" (the wearing of baggy pants so low that one's underwear is exposed) illegal - as well as the roughly equivalent female practice of pants being cut so low as to similarly reveal their undergarments (as well as a lot of abdominal skin). Atlanta is now trying to legislate trouser placement.

This is a classic example of good intentions gone awry.

As Lutherans ought to know very well, the law can't fix every problem. While this isn't a theological issue, it is an example of the impotence (that's impotence, not importance) of the law when it comes to fixing sinful behavior.

At best, decency laws keep order. Public nudity is illegal, if for no other reason that it would create chaos. Can you imagine the number of car accidents? Cell phones are bad enough on our insurance rates, but naked people walking around on the sidewalk? Some people would wreck their cars craning their necks for a better view, while others would drive into a ditch trying not to look, averting their eyes, and reaching for the "eye bleach." There is a reason why some things are simply best kept hidden.

However, the problem with laws against droopy pants is that we're not talking about nudity, something that is easily definable. Most "saggers" wear boxers under their comical pantaloons. These are no more risqué than gym shorts that we all had to wear in grade school PE class. They're shorts, not a whole lot different than what has become acceptable attire for men and women nearly year-round in the South. In fact, boxers reveal far less skin than typical swim attire. How do you enforce a law against droopy pants when it would be perfectly legal to shed the pants entirely? What is actually illegal - the sagging pants or the exposure of boxers?

Similarly, current women's fashion may be skanky, suggestive, or just plain trashy - but unless nudity is involved, such things are impossible to regulate. What if a girl wore a pair of Victorian bloomers under her get-up, covered with a thong and low-rise jeans - could she be arrested? Can sports bras be outlawed when women routinely walk around the beach in bikinis?

Once again, the trashy fashions are symptomatic of a lack of self-respect, a desire to project oneself as a hunk of meat, a juvenile desire to debase oneself for the sake of peer-acceptance, a childish crying out for attention. The "fashion" is indicative of a repugnant attitude - toward oneself and toward one's peers.

The problem is that attitudes can't be legislated and good fashion taste cannot be achieved with threats of jail time.

Enforceable laws must be clear, and they must address behavior. If I wear a pair of basketball shorts and go out in public, this would not be illegal. But if I wear the same shorts, covered up with goofy-looking pants that are way too big so you can see my basketball shorts underneath, now this would be illegal? Police officers would be put into an impossible enforcement situation, and it will also detract them from enforcing other laws. Besides, what to do with repeat offenders? Do we really want people in our already overcrowded jails and prisons for fashion faux-pas?

Ditto for the women who show as much skin as a streetwalker. Unless she is really engaging in the behavior that she seems to want us to think she does, she's doing nothing illegal - even if she is setting a poor example for young girls and expressing a terrible image of herself. The truly sad part is that a lot of young women seem to think showing me their "drawers" makes me think they're attractive. I just feel sorry for them. How starved for attention must one be to walk around a bookstore or school campus practically naked? How sad when one's personality, intellect, charm, virtues, talents, self-confidence, grace, and refinement are so utterly lacking and non-existent that a girl feels the need to practically expose her buttocks to get someone somewhere, anyone anywhere, to cast even a glance in her direction? It must be a desperate and lonely life. The word "pathetic" comes to mind.

The bottom line is this: people will do all sorts of things to denigrate themselves, to be laughed at behind their backs in a desperate bid to fit in with somebody, to seek out even bad attention rather than to be just a number among six billion other ignored and lonely people. This kind of wretched self-image can't be fixed with legislation, cops on patrol, fines, jail time, billboards, and a campaign of public service announcements.

If the law could fix everything, we could simply outlaw modern art, hand-dryers in public restrooms, and hurricanes!


Peter said...

Actually, the law is pretty good at curbing outward sinful behavior, just not sin. And, looking at your pictures, I think there should definitely be a law, with the offense punishable by the adminstration of a giant wedgie.

Father Hollywood said...

...or a de-pantsing. :-)

The law is sometimes good at curbing outward sinful behavior, but it has serious limitations (of course). For example, if a local Church of Satan were to open down the road, the law couldn't do anything about it - other than to *protect* it. It would actually be against the law to interfere with their worship.

Civil law is not mainly concerned with sin, but with keeping social order.