03 Mar 2011
- Written by Tony Nichelson
Both men were handsome actors, and both films were popular to large numbers of impressionable young Americans.
Over the past two to three decades, we have witnessed a steady decline in the appearance, demeanor and ethics of young urban men… at least to some observers. Sagging pants, wild hair styles, over-sized clothing, sports jerseys as formalwear, neck tattoos, and a fondness for guns and drugs are all characteristics of modern American “Thugs”. All of the people who fancy this attire are not thugs, but the style is deeply rooted in the urban core, and has evolved through fashion houses, Madison Avenue marketing campaigns, and broad cultural acceptance, even among young, white suburban teens. What?
We’re all forced to look at boys’ underwear in public places, “wife-beater” T-shirts in the grocery store, and obnoxious behaviors that shock the consciousness of casual observers. Yet these boys often have attractive young girls on their arms. “How in the world could she possibly be with him,” we ask? “What does she see in him?” “Doesn’t she know he’s a thug?”
Of course she does, and that’s the whole point. The phenomenon of young ladies embracing young urban thugs puzzles many of us, but we’re not the ones who matter. Young girls have always gravitated to “Bad Boys,” that’s what makes being a bad boy so appealing…you just might end up with the best girl. At least that’s the theory.
The fact is that young urban thugs have the thing known as “swagger,” often coupled with machismo, bravado, and street savvy. These young men have always been among us, only in different forms. In the 1950s it was James Dean. In the 1960s it was the Hippy class. In the 1970s it was “Superfly.” In the 1980s it was hard rockers. In the 1990s it was Tupak Shakur and the East Coast / West Coast rappers.
Today, it’s straight-up thugs from Compton and the “Dirty South.” Young people – especially young ladies – from all of these eras embraced the bad boy images, interspersed with occasional flashes of “G.Q.” styling, and the disco era. Today, it is perfectly acceptable for young urban thugs to wear a Jordan jersey to a wedding or to a funeral, and really feel well-dressed for the occasion. Their girlfriends see nothing wrong with this picture.
An even more ominous development is that thugs are often the most visible men in the immediate area. A colleague commented to me recently, that, “There was a time when the men would walk down the street, and the boys would step aside. Now, the boys walk down the street, and the men step aside.”
Sad, but true. Men are absent in far too many cases. Men with jobs, and homes, and families are not visible on the street-corners of urban America. Young girls see thuggish masculine “images,” and equate these with real manhood. The girls like the way he walks, or the way his partners cater to him, or the cash he happens to have that day. A high-profile urban thug can command as much attention and respect as any local politician can, and typically has more influence on a ghetto crowd. This is impressive to young girls, often girls without a father in the home to help counteract such an empty delusion.
Still worse, young urban thugs provide a measure of “protection” in ghetto environments. TV images show grimacing faces, never-a-smile photographs, folded arms, and a devil-may-care attitude; all things that are attractive to impressionable young girls who have never seen or known anything better. Television, movies, videos, Facebook, magazines, and every other media source have consistently portrayed “Thug Life” as glamorous, exciting, profitable, dangerous, and event-driven… all things young girls find appealing. Socioeconomics are secondary to the experience of dating a real thug, even if he is just pretending.
Some girls grow out of this phase. For others, it takes many years, several babies by an absent thug, domestic abuse, and economic ruin because consistent employment is not a part of “Thug Life.” These guys –young urban thugs – are rebels without a cause, and the women they love will one day have to answer the question, “What was the attraction?”
(Anthony Nichelson is Public Affairs director for the Citadel Radio Group and founder of the 110 Institute.)