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Pique'n'yer interest

Symbol control: Legislating the subjective



Ask Gary Siplin, and he’ll tell you it’s all about sex. And not your mom and dad’s lights-out, face-in-the-pillow, let’s-not-discuss-it, missionary sex, either. No vanilla in this parlour. Rather, it’s about gay sex, the type of gritty and godless exchange that plays out in prisons all over the world.

Siplin is an Orlando senator, and he’s hip to the sultry back-story surrounding sagging pants — meaning he thinks prison folk styling that look when lifting weights and watching TV gets boring. If he can get the House of Representatives on his side, then school children throughout the state will be barred from sporting sagging pants in educational corridors across the jurisdiction. Budding futures will be plucked from the jaws of peril and returned to the promise only a tight-fitting wardrobe can guarantee. As for violators, they’ll be suspended.

All we're trying to do now is trying to inform folks that we have a fad now that does not have a very good origination," Siplin told Reuters news agency earlier this month.

Siplin isn’t alone in his quest. Just a few days before the announcement, Riviera Beach, a municipality in Florida, passed a similar law. Violators of that decree can end up in jail for two months. Which is pretty ironic.

This kind of thing is common in Florida. About a year ago, Atlantic Beach Theatres was the chosen venue for a performance of The Vagina Monologues . They had it up on their marquee, in plain view, and a child wondered aloud about the definition of the V-word. Complaints followed, and the theatre company replaced the offending English with the word “hoohah.” And so it was that the theatre-going public was privy to a riveting performance of The Hoohah Monologues . Bet you wish you were there.

Strip away the specifics — including the sexual overtones, which comprise a whole other tangent — and these little dramas seem to be about controlling symbols floating around the public ether. Symbols are ubiquitous, but their meanings are far from universal.

Take Siplin himself. About a year ago, he was facing criminal charges for some sketchy campaign practices. When confronted by a battery of TV cameras, he bolted across a lawn, scaled a chain-link fence and ducked into a waiting car. The action and its trigger represent guilt, cowardice and corruption, hardly the stuff of a promising future. Quite the opposite: Though his conviction was overturned, it would appear Florida has a senator whose second term does not have a very good origination.