Is Anyone Else Tired Of "Swagger?"
Working with young people, while constantly being bombarded via the internet, television, and magazines with gossip and pseudo-news about contemporary pop culture, I often find myself wondering whether or not I am alone in being fed-up with the concept, the notion, and/or the practice of “swagger.”
For the unhip among the readers, swagger is a way of wholly conducting oneself. Quite simply, it is a type of hubris—the way in which an otherwise “cool” person conducts him/herself. It’s the almost tangible air of self-importance, accompanied by a level of arrogance and/or self-assuredness in attitude these individuals project. In many cases, this attitude is complimented with a boastful strut and manner of centering attention and focus on oneself. It is a spirit of pomposity most often exemplified by the current crop of (mostly Southern) rappers, which is reflected in the overall tone of their music, their manner of dress, style, and overall attitude. Oddly enough, those possessing “swagger “appear to possess the same attributes as “thugs;” an over-exaggerated sense of masculinity bordering on machismo, with a celebrated sense of “street sense” (with hints of “bad boy” and/or criminal tendencies).
Those who fancy themselves as having “swag” (the abbreviated root word of the term used as a sort of slang-within-slang) portray themselves as world-beaters…as individuals who set the pace for individual style more so than most others. This reflects the almost inherent competitive nature of swag. Because of this, these individuals caught up in the notion of swag often jockey for position to attain the social acknowledgement of having the most swagger. In some instances, this has lead to the socially looked-down upon practice of “swagger-jacking;” appropriating someone else’s unique projection of individualized “style.”
A rather tiresome concept, it has even—questionably so—managed to find its way into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It’s defined as the act of
And although pop stars have started to tout the term as well, swagger is a concept which has both its foundation and basis primarily in urban culture.
A type of arrogance born out surviving daily life in inner-city America, the concept of “swagger” evolved from what it originally began as—a modest but persuasive sense of style and a simple coolness (under the stress and potential jeopardy of inner-city life) a particular individual projected to those around him/her. Quite simply, it was a personal attribute one developed (out of necessity) for surviving daily life in the ‘hood. It was the low-key sense of assertiveness and confidence certain individuals carried which conveyed those watching, whether bystander or bandit, the attitude that, I can handle anything that comes my way. From an anthropological standpoint, it was people projected a silent offense for those ready to start trouble.
This sociological dynamic began to shift with the growing prominence of rap music and the rap culture. The entertainment and social phenomenon spotlighted life in the ghettos of America via its graphic messages and imagery courtesy the music and music videos. Prior to this though, the nature of rap music had evolved (or devolved as some might say) from a form of good-natured entertainment and cultural expression, to a vehicle for expressing social/political discontent and urban youth angst. From social discontent, it was only a short hop to rap becoming a celebration of the urban sub-culture. On the East Coast, it gave a voice to urban discontent, while on the West Coast, it took on a congratulatory tone for being able to survive –and in some cases thrive—in crime-ridden urban jungles. And (currently) Southern Rap celebrated the counter-productive traits of a socially-dysfunctional subculture by praising and promoting guns, gratuitous drinking and drug-use, splurging in strip clubs, and “partying like a rock star.” With Southern Rap, the advertisement of such negative lifestyles is done so only to make money, without a hint of remorse or concern as to how such negative imagery steers young impressionable minds (and working with at-risk kids for as long as I have, I see how such “swagger” is emulated and aspired to daily). The upshot is that like a few other negative things in pop culture, the idea of swagger promotes style over substance, image over reality, and celebrates the idea that “hustling” will be lucrative and lead to a prosperous…a dream ironically more unreal than the imagery that such purveyors of “swagger” try to peddle.
In essence, swagger is another socially-derived idea which burdens free-thinking individuals—mostly males—with the idea that we have to bow to someone else’s idea of what’s in, cool, acceptable, or liked. For (mostly urban) males of color, it’s not enough to have to be a soldier, ball/baller, hustler, or thug (proper)…now society has piled on another useless expectation, mostly as a way of catering to the idea that “every woman wants a man with a little ‘bad-boy’ in him.” More so, it gives yet another set of misplaced priorities to those with weakened wills and heard mentalities, the focus on general acceptance of one’s “swagger,” in the ultimately false hope that it will build their already fragile sense of self-esteem. Small minds who embrace the idea of swagger tend to focus on what one has rather than who one is inside. And in the vulnerable subculture of urban and minority communities where this notion is pervasive, those fixated on "swagger" often have very little in the way of disposable assets available to craft an image. Ultimately, it further distorts the idea of what a “man” is in today’s society.
I say, if a woman (or a man) is worried about how much “swag” I have, then he (or she) is not ready to be in the presence of a mature adult. “Swag” is something little boys with aspirations of manhood worry about; true men already know their social value.