It’s a pants allegory. Before it was stolen, it could have been anything. Indeed, it was showing enormous promise, cantering around the training yard with all the other yearling allegories, preparing for a big spring carnival.
But now my picture book, Harry Highpants, has been pinched by the Americans and turned into real life, so that one day soon it’ll read like yesterday’s newspaper. The plot is simple. Harry Highpants wears his pants high. The skater kids in town and Carl the Builder wear theirs low. Into this pants milieu strides Roy Bland, running for mayor on a public decency platform, and vowing that all pants must be worn at “normal height”. The Bland campaign polarises the community, with the free panters and the normal panters eventually facing off at a Free Pants Convention. With the situation at flashpoint, Harry Highpants, wearing his highest pants ever, steps to the lectern and wins the crowd with a speech about the true meaning of freedom.
I had high hopes for the book, hopes pinned to the lofty belt loops of Harry’s trousers. I figured the kids would love Tom Jellett’s bright illustrations and Carl the Builder’s coin slot, and that first-year philosophy students would demand it be on the reading list alongside Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.
I told the publishers that it would do for liberalism what Dr Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book did for the arms race and the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine. In that story, the Yooks and the Zooks are in a hostile stand-off over whether bread should be eaten butter side up, or butter side down. “The boys in the back room” develop ever-increasingly sophisticated weapons, until the respective leaders of both Yooks and Zooks are leaning across their dividing wall, each ready to drop the small but deadly “Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo” on the other.
How would the great Doctor have felt if he released his book, and then the Cold War really had taken a turn over condiment practices? Think of how his parable would have been diminished had Ronald Reagan rounded out his Evil Empire speech with earnest mutterings about margarine, and a commitment to develop a new weapon called the Kick-a-Poo Kid. From Seuss’ perspective, it would have been a disaster. His allegory would have been destroyed. Snuffed out. Reduced to a rhyming rubble of shoddy reportage.
That’s basically what has happened to me. On August 1, Omnibus Books released Harry Highpants. Three weeks later, it’s reported that an Atlanta council member called C. T. Martin, the deputy chairman of the Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee, has proposed an ordinance to ban lowpanting, with penalties ranging from hefty fines to jail time. Atlanta’s youth has revolted, labelling this a racist law designed to give police another excuse to hassle African-Americans. There has been a Free Pants Convention. They actually didn’t call it a Free Pants Convention, preferring to go with the slightly greyer “City Council meeting”, but a Free Pants Convention it was. The old people booed the young people. The young people booed the old people. There were even underwear flashers, like 19-year-old James Fancy, who dacked himself for pants freedom. He carried a placard – “Clothes are not a crime”.
In the centrespread of Harry Highpants, the placards at my Free Pants Convention read: “I wear pants and I vote” and “Make pants not war” and “Choose Pants” and “Free Pants Now!”
The Fancy pants stunt was the last straw. It was all just too similar. I consulted an intellectual property lawyer, inquiring as to whether I could claim copyright in a pants crusade, and was told in no uncertain terms that I could not. Apparently the problem is that Harry Highpants is fiction, and it is perfectly legal for people to act out the things set out in fiction without having to ask the permission of the author, unless it is a public performance for profit. This has been established legal principle since the case of Schmo v Sendak (1974), where a 43-year-old man dressed in a wolf suit sailed around the world, danced wildly, returned to his bedroom, and then claimed sensationally on his return that his supper was still hot (the court was not asked to decide whether it had been reheated).
It remains to be seen how the pants laws play out in Atlanta. At this stage, it appears those opposing need a pants champion, ideally a highpanter such as Harry, to emerge out of the ruckus and stand side by side with the likes of James Fancy. I’m a long way away in Australia, but I’d suggest that prominent highpanter and former star of The OC, Mischa Barton, would be perfect for the role.
Whatever happens, I hope C. T. Martin’s pants laws are defeated. Yes, I’m disappointed that the people of Atlanta have lifted my allegory with their sticky, Coke-smeared fingers – but it’s not about me. The real issue is one of personal liberty and the rights of the individual. The real issue is about race. The real issue is about liberal democracy. Who gets hurt by lowpanters? Nobody. Only the lowpanter himself, and even then, only when he accidentally leans against a hot kettle or scratchy branch.
Viva la Pants. Viva la pants freedom.
(Also placards of mine, but you can have them, James Fancy.)