Thursday, April 5, 2012

To Snopes or Not to Snopes

Yesterday a friend of mine shared a picture on Facebook. It showed a young man with droopy pants and had the caption, “Did you know that sagging pants originated in jail, and the inmates would purposely sag their pants as a sign that they were ‘available’ to other inmates for sex?” For some reason, I found that hard to credit and searched for “sagging pants” on Sure enough, Snopes declared the rumor false.

While sagging did gain its start in the U.S. prison system, it was not a clothes wearing style authored by imprisoned homosexuals intent upon advertising their interest in casual flings. Sagging pants became the behind-the-bars thing thanks to ill-fitting prison garb: some of those incarcerated were provided with clothing a few sizes too large. That oversizing, coupled with the lack of belts in the big house, led to a great number of jailbirds whose pants are falling off their arses. (Belts are not permitted in most correctional facilities because all too often the lifeless bodies of their inmate owners have been found hanging from them.)

I thought about posting this information and the link as a comment on my friend’s post, but I know I indulge my tendency to be a know-it-all far too often as is. I’m not sure what made me suspect that the caption on the picture was not quite correct. I think it may have been my impression that the issue of prison sex is far more complicated than the caption suggested.

I found myself wondering just how much of the ill-fitting prison garb is due to budgetary constraints and how much is an attempt to humiliate prisoners. If you don’t have any control over how your clothes fit and aren’t even allowed to own a belt, it can be embarrassing. Of course, there may just be the practical aspect: it’s hard to run if your pants are falling down, making escapes difficult. At any rate, I think it’s admirable in a way if the petty humiliation of badly fitting pants became a fashion trend as a show of understanding. 

Now that I’m retired, I’m more insulated than I used to be from the urban legend du jour. One of my former coworkers has a mother who passes along every internet rumor unvetted, and what my coworker got from her promptly got sent to the rest of us. I started out debunking them, but realized one day as four of my coworkers tried to pop popcorn by dialing a certain number with their cell phones that they didn’t care if the tall tales were true or not. They just found them fun. 

With other friends I found that correcting misinformation just got me removed from email lists, without improving their critical thinking skills at all. Not that being removed from those email lists was a bad thing. I still got the important information. It’s just that it gradually sunk in that nobody loves a smart ass.

So I did not correct my friend on the origin of saggy pants. Who knows? Maybe she’s right and Snopes is wrong.


  1. My absolute bugbear is when friends repost things which originated in the US without (a) checking them or (b) at the very least changing the numbers to make them appropriate for an Australian audience. The classic one for me was a recent one about the census, which claimed there were 2 million prisoners in Australia. Really? Nearly 1 in 10 people is imprisoned here?

    I think I would have noticed that.

    I annoyed one friend immensely by tearing that particular status's numbers to bits, supported with references from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Because apparently I am overly anal about the accuracy of reported numbers and have too much time on my hands. Heh. On the other hand she hasn't done it again, at least not on a setting that I can see.

    1. Intersection VictorianApril 8, 2012 at 3:27 AM

      I remember my mother, a teacher, telling me that often students took American statistics, replaced "America" with "Australia", and assumed they still applied when in fact they didn't.

    2. Oh that's hilarious. Mind you, a friend of mine is now doing a post-grad qualification in health management in which every single example is quite obviously lifted from a US textbook. It's a bit annoying when the questions don't relate at all to the system you're living with!

  2. You know, every once in a while while getting lost in the internet you stumble upon a gem like this. I enjoyed reading this, and it has been bookmarked. Thanks for writing it. :)