The importance of pants - Joel Hall

On more than one occasion, I have expressed the opinion that reality television programing has contributed to a breakdown of values and morals in our society. However, every once in a while, a reality show strikes gold, and serves as a valuable teaching tool.

Last week, "American Idol" contestant and Atlanta native, "General" Larry Platt, became an overnight sensation with his viral hit song, "Pants on the Ground."

In a catchy ditty that was comical and repetitive, Platt expounded on the fact that young people need to look respectable, in order to be taken seriously.

If you missed it, the lyrics go something like this: "Pants on the ground, pants on the ground, lookin' like a fool with your pants on the ground. With the gold in your mouth, hat turned sideways, pants hit the ground, call yourself a cool cat, lookin' like a fool. Walking downtown with your pants on the ground. Get it up! Hey, get your pants off the ground!"

Platt is obviously not a singer. The execution of the performance brings up memories of William Hung's 2004 performance of Ricky Martin's hit song, "She Bangs."

Hung wasn't a singer, either, but his off-key performance made him an instant celebrity, earning him airtime on a number of late-night talk shows, as well as cameo appearances on television shows, in movies, and cartoons.

However, while it seemed like the world was having a laugh at Hung's expense, Platt's performance struck a deeper chord with America. In what may be the most effective public service announcement in the last ten years, Platt's song served as a battle cry against fashion trends which have contributed to making many young black men unemployable.

Many young people, regardless of race, opt these days to dress without belts, making their pants drag ridiculously low to the ground. While the style has become synonymous with Hip-hop and increasingly popular with young, black males in the last decade, many experts say it originated in the prison system, where belts are taken away from inmates to discourage suicides, and belts being used as weapons.

It is widely believed that in the prison system, sagging pants serve as a signal to other inmates that the wearer is open to homosexual advances. Legislators around the country have attempted -- with some success -- to draft local ordinances making pants sagging illegal, because of the negative culture associated with it.

While Platt's song used humor to drive home the message, the message itself was very serious. As an active young person in the American Civil Rights movement, he had an appreciation for the negative consequences of being perceived negatively.

Up until the late 1960s, black Americans were barred from much of the American dream, simply for being black, and regardless of what they wore. As one of the many people beaten during the infamous "Bloody Sunday" protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., Platt could appreciate that a lot of people died so that black people could be taken seriously.

While sagging pants may be an unimportant topic to many young people, Platt recognized that they present a stumbling block to black men who want to succeed in America. "Pants on the Ground" is ingenious, because it gets the message across to youths, without sounding like it's coming from an out-of-touch parent, or an unsympathetic school official.

In a simple, non-confrontational way, the song lets young people know that presenting the best version of themselves can open up the doors of success.

Platt's "Pants on the Ground" song has become popular, because it is funny, but ultimately, it may have a deeper impact on American youths than Hung's rendition of "She Bangs" ever could.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.