While effects of modern political discourse on the marketplace of ideas has been thoroughly examined, the question of the effect of discourse on the marketplace for shoes has been grossly neglected in the field.
The market for footwear has shifted dramatically, from Nike’s Air Jordan boom in the late 80s through Ugg shortages during the 2003 holiday season, yet the causal role of political discussion in the protean shoe industry remains largely a mystery.
This case study creates a historiography of various socio-cultural-religious perspectives and their impact on the quest for proper footwear. Via an interdisciplinary lens of feminism, critical race theory, economics, law and economics, theology, sociology, micro-sociology and social psychology, a person-by-person account of political discourse’s causal role in shoe purchasing was recorded. Researchers escorted prominent thinkers in various disciplines into an “average American mall,” along with a control group of American shoppers. The subjects at the mall were then asked to counterfactually eliminate those factors that were necessary to their purchasing of a given shoe. The subjects were then asked to delineate “but for” which qualities would influence the purchase of a given pair of shoes?
The following quotations were recorded from each subject. They evince the pervasive and profound effects that political discourse has in the shoe marketplace.
“The Feminist Approach,”
Susan Moller Okin,
while examining an Easy Spirit:
“Although gender has proven to be a highly socialized phenomena, the line of the shoe does portray a classical contour of femininity that appeals to my visceral sense of style. I also like that the heel of this shoe is high enough to enable an equal eye-to-eye gaze with a taller male—an increasingly important factor in corporate America. Further, the base of the heel and cushioned sole are wide and accommodating. These shoes, supportive in their lift, rather than debilitating and binding like the footwear fashioned for generations of our sisters, have the right balance, equilibrium, and vertical gender equality that I find essential. Lastly, I noticed the steel toe. This is a perfect addition. One never knows if and when a good kick to the groin may be in order. I’ll take these shoes. Who needs the E.R.A. when you have Easy Spirits?”
“The Critical Race Theorist Approach”
while examining the white shoe as reasonable business attire:
“For race-crits, racism is not only a matter of individual prejudice and everyday practice; rather, race is deeply embedded in the office space, the boardroom, the board members, their suits, and perhaps even the shoes themselves. In C.R.T.’s Postmodern Narratives, racism is an inescapable feature of western shoes. The aspects of race and class have been and are still inscribed in the most innocent and neutral-seeming concepts. Even ideas like “truth,” “justice,” “flats,” “pumps,” or “boots” themselves are open to interrogation that reveal their complicity with power and race. The notion that one shoe itself is reasonable for the workplace is inherently infected with Western values of “neutrality” and “objectivity;” values that have proven to seamlessly coexist with bigotry and racism for centuries. The reasonable business shoe is infused with bias, stripped from all notions of passion, caring and sensitivity identified with race and associated with “the other” throughout Western thought. Postmodern business-wear’s strength is in its ability to destroy elitism and vitiate the wardrobes and norms that promote elitism. Aberrations from and evolution of the reasonable shoe are a necessity if workplace equality is ever to be achieved. Anti-conformity with the white shoe is as imperative as the induction of racial and gender norms into the shoe.”
“The Globally Conscious/ Law and Economics Approach”
while considering Nike’s new LeBron sneaker:
“Nike products are synonymous with Third World sweatshops and have become symbols of labor-rights violations, paltry wages, forced overtime, and abuse for hundreds of thousands of workers. Despite pressure from around the world, Nike still chooses to maximize profits by undermining human-rights standards. Nike originally led the push into low-wage countries with poor human-rights records for the purpose of profitable exploitation. As the world’s number-one shoemaker, with annual sales over $10 billion, Nike could easily afford to reverse this practice and ensure decent pay and conditions in its factories, thereby pressuring other companies to follow their lead, yet they have consistently chosen not to do so. It is for these reasons that I only buy Reebok.”
“The Political Science of Hegemony Approach”
explaining his view on the penny loafer:
“On the purpose of the United States’ Ballistic Penny Loafer Defense (BPLD), there is a fair measure of agreement across a broad global spectrum. Potential adversaries regard it as an offensive shoe. Reagan’s SWWP (Star Wars Wingtip Program) was understood in the same light. China’s Chief of the Ministry of Culture simply reflected a common understanding when he observed that, ‘Once the United States believes it has both a snappy suit and a strong shoe, it could lead them to conclude that nobody can dance or dress like them; and they can dance with anyone they like anywhere in the world. There could be many more dances like the one in Kosovo.’ The reaction of most of the world to what was perceived as a reversion to the ‘Foxtrot’ of a century ago, with the ‘colonial powers of the West, and their overwhelming fashion advantages, subduing natives and helplessly clothing their countries without the ability to defend themselves.’ The West went on dancing as they choose, all the while ‘cloaked in fashionistic righteousness.’
“The Political Science/ Pundit Approach”
while examining the Asics Gel Cross-Trainers issued in new colors:
“There’s no way I’d buy these red-white-and-blue Asics Gel Cross-Trainers, I can tell you that. Their implicit acknowledgement that these colors can and do run, makes me sick! Besides, we’re in a No Spin Zone here, buddy—I’ll be damned if I’m gonna buy some cross-training-Nancy-metrosexual-spin-cycle-shoe, pretty boy. Let’s go to Florsheim’s. I am outta here.”
“Micro-sociologist/Religious Zealot Approach,”
Omar Mohammed (former head of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence),
while trying on a pair of Timberland boots:
“The soles on these boots could do quite well either in the mountainous training camps of Afghanistan or fighting the Jihad in the sandy terrain of Iraq. The look has the right urban-assault feel, thuggish and strong, and further, the heel seems quite apropos for housing small explosive devices. It is a Jihadist’s dream come true; fashionable footwear for all occasions. Allah Ackbar; these are the shoes for me.”
“The Executive Approach”
George W. Bush,
as instructed by Karl Rove while examining U.S. Army general-issue combat boots:
“The state of the American shoe is good and is strong. Make no mistake, citizens of America, we are in a time of War. And there are evildoers out there. But with these sturdy, wholesome, compassionate shoes, America will stamp out the evildoers wherever we encounter them.”
The Control Group:
the approach of an average American wandering aimlessly through the mall, disposable cash in fist:
“Much like the presidential elections, I wouldn’t say that any particular quality or issue appeals to me directly. I don’t care about price. I don’t care about form. I don’t really care about function. In fact I don’t so much want to buy shoes that I like, per se. The most important factor for me in making my choice really is purchasability. I read a lot and I pretty much will buy whatever shoe people in the know think a person like me should buy. It seems like, currently, the Reef Sandals are leading in the polls, so those are the shoes I am leaning toward.”
This experiment demonstrated the dialectical relationship between the market place of ideas and the market place of shoes. Like contrasting forces of gravity they simultaneously pull and repel. At times the shoe fuels the rhetoric and at times the rhetoric fashions the shoe. The correlation is clear, but determining which holds a greater causal influence upon the other is a subject for future research. This is the first step in opening a door to a wellspring of new study. The results demonstrate vividly and conclusively the correlation between political thought and shoe purchase. But does the shoe wag the viewpoint or viewpoint wag the shoe?