It was 20 years ago when Chuck Taylors were last comfortable on my feet. About six months ago I was lamenting this and wishing Converse would consider how many old soles with spirited souls would love to sink back into esos zapatos maravillosos because, really, they were the coolest modern footwear ever. They offered no real support but our feet were young, they were strong, and it was the shoe that proved the wearer cared enough to not care about what was supposed to be cared about. For the most part, Chucks were cheap and, despite their fashionably chic aura, they were the epitome of utilitarian fashion itself. Far more so than anything the Birkenstock Nation ever came up with. No better time to lace them up than at that point in life when adulthood has lost its power to sway sanity, and left mature toes wanting to sweat and stink in a “fuck this high-priced spread and all its debts!” canvas-rubber rebellion.
Lo and behold, this past July gave us the Chuck Taylor II, an updated version of the once “official shoe of the NBA” complete with modern cushioning and support. Whether or not the company had gleaned my thoughts out of the ether, it’s only a matter of days or weeks until I try out a pair, hope for the best and pray they’ll feel good enough to keep me up all night playing hours and hours of Ramones and air-Johnny Thunders. Fingers and toes crossed.
Shoes are the foundation under society, its industrial hardening of commerce, expectations, and systems of mobility. No matter how much emphasis is placed on style, couture, flash or sensibility, they are as fundamental as it gets for determining how culture, both politically and philosophically, is arrayed. At one time, all roads of consequence may have led to Rome; at a much later time, they mostly led to Sears. Nowadays, probably to Walmart or American Apparel. In either case, the concept of freedom of choice—the cornerstone of capitalism—has been grossly undervalued or suspiciously overpriced. Converse (now owned by Nike) may no longer be made in the USA but this is just another inconvenient truth that we, the people, have to live with. Because… as fall golden arches, so fall golden arches that fall.
No shoes, no shirt? You gotta have them if you want service or industry. As politicians in expensive designer suits piss and moan about “making America great again,” you have to wonder about their vision. Ronald Reagan, whose father was a shoe salesman, enabled US corporations to cut costs by outsourcing, which allowed a fine morning of supply-side hope to become a contentious evening of retail-side angst. However America’s re-greatness is sought, its people can rest assured it’ll be cheaper to buy it from China. We owe them money anyway. Debt? Presidential nabobs don’t care how many shoes their ex-wives owned. Why should we? Pre-nuptial contracts are bliss. Once upon a time I wanted my MTV. Today I want my Chuck Taylor IIs. It’s not ignorance, it’s necessity sans the mother or invention. How do I reconcile such choices? Simple. I just do it. Celebrities don’t apologize about wearing Armani. Devils wear Prada. Angels wear Weitzman. Me? Sneakers and work boots.
About a year ago I had a heated conversation with a friend on the merits of modern footwear, especially women’s shoe design and the political/social ramifications of same. She’s never been a person to mask her feelings. About anything. She’s a dedicated, barefoot Southern California surfer living in a hell of hipster-infused economic oppression. “Any shoe with a heel taller than half an inch is totally, utterly, unequivocally evil!” she screamed. A gun owner, she can’t afford bullets. There are times when I want to marry her, if only for the sheer mouse-that-roared aspect of it. She was born to rant and I’m sure that love has been based on much shakier grounds than that. In the interests of love, I’ve never had the heart to throw this video (please pardon the ads) at her. I’m sure she’s already seen it and flamed out over it. Nike was the Greek goddess of victory, and I don’t think I could bear having a shortboard hurled at me. It hurts.
The fact is:
High-heeled shoes had their origin amongst upper crust Europeans back in the days when there were no sewer systems and streets were full of garbage and shit. In an effort to rise above it all, they attached blocks to the soles of their feet. Admittedly, that may have been one of the more sensible ideas those pompous high-nosers had, til you factor that they wanted the lower classes to live in filth—why support municipal efforts to clean up “their” pitiful environment? Of course, when conditions did improve, the men of the courts and all their landed gentry buddies decided, “Hey, dude, that was cool when we wore those shoes that let us look down on everyone. Let’s do that again! Louie said he’d buy the beer; we’ll take my coach!”
The style caught on. You weren’t a man of the world unless you had sculptured, elevated heels on your fancy court shoes. It was kinda punk rock at that point (takes a prince to be a Prince), then the local cobblers got into the act and next thing ya know… Nike comes out with the Air Louies (which the king loved). There were so many different models too: Louie IIIs (the first successfully marketed Louie after the ill-fated Louie Is & IIs), the deluxe Louie IVs, the redesigned Louie Vs all the way up to the wildly popular Louie XIVs and beyond. Reebok and Adidas managed to crack the market too but nothing could touch the Air Louies.
Then the feminists of the day ruined everything.
Da women of da court got tired of da men having all da fun and getting all the attention with their “Let’s see who can wear the highest heels, get all drunk and gaga and stand up the longest before we get hungry!” games. So, one of the gals (think her name was Marie? Or Antonia?) talked a poor cobbler (think his name too was Lou?) into an idea. At the next big ball—whilst all da guys was struttin’ aroun’ wid their ales and 5th symphonies and showin’ off their latest “most excellent” air-Mozart moves—a pack of powdered princesses popped into the middle of the prancin’ pit and lifted their big ol’ skirts and showed off their new high heels. The music stopped. There weren’t no sound. An ale mug hit the floor breaking the silence and one of the guys said, “oh.” Then Marie or Antonia giggled, “Anything you can do we can do better?” The men screamed, “Girls! Run away!” and immediately fell on their faces, pulled off their shoes in panic, and scrambled. Again, “Run away!” This time they got outta there. The music resumed and the girls took over the prancin’ pit, a’toe tappin’ and a’heel hunkin’ and a’gigglin’ away knowing they had struck a blow for the Sister’s Satin & Silk Struggle and the Anti-Defamation Damsels. EQUALITY! The men never wore their Air Louies again and everyone (except for Joan d’Arc’s sister Jeanette) lived happily ever after.
The end? Never. Mr. Peabody (and his boy Sherman) and his Way-Back Machine may prove me right or wrong but, when considering the image of the shoe as a symbol of power, it’s good to remember the Stonewall Riots of 1969. It was there that the Gay Liberation movement established itself with the most effective blow yet against THE MAN. In full view, drag queens chasing policemen “running away!” down the streets of NYC—stilettos raised and crashing down as weapons. They were mad as hell and they weren’t gonna take that shit anymore. And today, once again the ubiquitous high-heeled pump may be toppling society’s male hegemony. Take note, O, Great Fundamentalist, Anti-Feminist Doctrines, it’s the shoe to reckon with. The unseen 9/11 built from the ground up, not from the top down. It’s quite a platform and absolutely no one in the free world knows how much money is invested in that industry, or to what extent our overall economy is standing on that beautifully pained foot.