Make America Cranky Again!

Is it Really a Free Country?

We need more kooks!
You've heard the old saw, "It's a free country?" Is it? Here's another in the annals of free speech wars. Rhode Islander Alan Sorrentino wrote a letter to the Barrington Times with these remarks: "To all yoga pants wearers. I struggle with my physicality as I age. I don't want to struggle with yours." Funny? Offensive? Does it even matter?

The answer to the third question is: apparently. Local resident Jamie Burke was outraged and interpreted Sorrentino's remarks as sexist and–to use a PC term–sizist. Were they? Burke didn't  investigate, she organized a protest whose content was, in my view, pretty funny: a parade of hundreds of assorted yoga pants wearers marching by Sorrentino's house. That was cool, except the marchers ignored the "Free Speech" sign on his lawn. Had the protestors done their homework, they would have also discovered that Sorrentino is a gay Democrat and Hillary Clinton booster.

Apparently context is out. But here's the deal–even if Sorrentino was a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist, he still has the right to express fashion views. Burke, of course, has the right to counter them. But methinks she doth protest too much. Not that she's wrong about the boorishness of men commenting on women's bodies, but in a state where the highest peak is just 812 feet, she raised a proverbial mountain from a mole hill. Sorrentino didn't gender his remarks and in Western Massachusetts where I reside, they certainly would not apply solely to women. 

I find the whole incident sad–maybe even a prelude to the national divisiveness and anxiety made manifest of Election Day.  Or was it just the touchiness of the white middle class? Hip-hop and skateboarder fashion has been satirical fodder for years. But maybe that's okay because it deals disproportionately with black kids and working-class whites.

Let's talk about fashion. Name a period in American history in which fashion has not come in for ridicule. Snowball throwers once targeted the increasingly tall hats worn by upper-class men, bloomers and shirtwaists were viewed as the demise of Western civilization, and who wears a raccoon coat or flapper dress any more? There were times in which only cowboys and miners wore Levis, men wore a jacket and tie to go to a restaurant, and many college profs lectured in their academic robes. Like many Baby Boomers, I once donned hippie-like garb–a favored outfit consisting of various flapping leather-fringed accoutrements designed to make certain I was never in sharp focus. I wore these things because they made my elders uncomfortable and wouldn't have dreamed of seeking their approval. Heaven forbid! I would have changed immediately. In the 1970s I was suckered into buying a pair of stack-heel shoes–an exercise in futility, given that I'm only 5'5".

That last point raises another. Unless people are constantly unsettled about their appearances, there is no fashion industry.  When I see a picture of myself sporting the "coolest" clothing from the past, my impulse is to burn the photos, not preserve them for posterity! Count on it—whatever "latest" item you wear now will embarrass the hell out of you in just a few years. Skinny jeans are all the rage and come in all sizes, a contradiction in terms if I ever heard one. Wait? Wasn't it just a few years ago we were all supposed to buy "relaxed fit" jeans? Want the latest "hot" item in footwear? Toss those Uggs, because the beautiful people are wearing Bean boots. Great footwear–for wet weather and the woods. I can hear Leon Leonwood Bean guffawing from his Freeport, Maine grave!

Is it sexist to comment on fashion trends? Maybe, but if there's an element of equality, the fashion industry makes everyone look silly. I'm currently amused by male hipsters clad in skin-tight checked trousers with a too-short unmatched sports coat, untucked shirt, and clashing porkpie hat. Unlaced work boots aren't the brightest idea either.

A final point: according to reports, Sorrentino is an inveterate letter writer known for his idiosyncratic humor that many people don't get. (I can relate, bro!) Every town has them–if they still have a local paper. They are often the town "character," the sort you discuss with your friends. ("Did you read Alan's latest screed? Crazy old bugger!") Maybe the nastiness of the Internet has made us forget that most cranks are harmless. I must ask, though, are we really a free country if we make pariahs of our grumps?  

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