By Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson
Summer is upon us.
And down on the coast some folks are asking, will girls go wild this year?
As some of you know, and the rest of you are about to know, for years I wandered the beaches from Gulf Shores to Panama City studying cultural clashes of the Southern variety. In that effort I had no choice but to explore the controversy swirling around efforts by Panama City Beach officials to keep the producers of the “Girls Gone Wild” videos from filming during Spring Break.
I return to this today, for at the heart of the matter was a critical question as yet unresolved.
What does the willingness of young Dixie darlings to expose their “charms” to be filmed by someone named Snoop Dogg say about Southern womanhood at the dawn of the 21st Century? …
Back in the 1950s and early 1960s our modest young ladies wore one-piece bathing suits, often with skirts, that covered pretty much everything. Occasionally one dared a two-piece that showed a little skin around the waist (no navel, please), but that was it. Then, in the mid-1960s the bikini, once seen only in French movies and on the pages of Playboy, became standard coastal attire. Year by year the suits became smaller and smaller until, by the time Ronald Reagan became president our beaches were littered with Southern belles in different stages of daring disrobement – none complete, but many close.
Not everyone approved of this revealing.
Even as the bikinis were shrinking, another phenomenon appeared to challenge the trend – the “Coastal Christian Retreat.”
Metropolitan mega-churches, Christian associations, and other groups began to buy up old motels, refurbish them, and rent the facilities to congregations and organizations that would bring groups down for a bikini-less wholesome good time. Some churches turned motels into evangelical centers, where young people lived while they spread the word among the heathens on the beach – no easy task, as one of them told me, for “how do you witness to someone who is drinking a beer and wearing a thong?”
That was a dilemma. Although the young lady wearing so little and drinking so much gave evangelicals a reason for being there, it was difficult to get her attention (much less that of the guys crowding around). So church folk began pushing local authorities to ban certain attire (or the lack of it) from the public waterfront – which many municipalities did. Panama City Beach was one of them.
Thus the stage was set and without knowing, old Snoop Dog walked up and stepped in it.
What followed could have been predicted. The “Girls Gone Wild” crew arrived to film. PC officials said “we’ll arrest you if you do.” GGW producers went to court. And a compromise was reached – it was permissible to go wild on private property, but not in a public place.
Which is OK, I guess, for a compromise, but it leaves unanswered the greater cultural question – what happened to turn our young ladies from Scarlett, who feigned indignation when Rhett stared at her “as if he knew what I looked like without my shimmy,” into a herd of shimmyless show-offs?
Some cultural critics snort and say “what do you expect when they stopped praying in school and started teaching evolution?”
Others recall predictions of just such behavior when Elvis appeared on the scene and only wonder why it took so long to get here.
A handful blamed Jimmy Carter. More blamed Bill Clinton. No one blamed George Bush – either of ‘em.
Me, I blame youth.
Having once been young myself, and having spent more years than I can recall raising and teaching young folks, I can say without reservation that among the rights that the underaged hold dear, none is more precious than the right to make absolute fools of themselves.
I do not see what is taking place as evidence of decline because most young people are already there (and once you were too, dear reader, so quit smirking).
What we have instead is a unique convergence of video-technology and crass capitalism with a predisposition to do something you will regret tomorrow. And quite honestly, we have a better chance banning technology and capitalism than getting rid of youthful stupidity.
What would Scarlett do if she was in Panama City and Rhett had a video camera?
There goes the shimmy!
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.