How many pairs of shoes do you own? Be honest. Resist the temptation to defend yourself and salvage your masculinity by discounting shoes from two years ago that are no longer “part of your rotation”. Bullshit. Go count your closet right now.
Ten years ago if you had a penis and answered “ten or more” you would have been gay or European or both. Today, a collection of ten or more shoes is no longer unacceptable for a fashionable male, it’s almost a requirement.
The photograph on the right is Kanye West’s shoe closet (incidentally this week Kanye made news for lashing out at a photographer in an airport). Kanye might be the poster boy for the cultural phenomenon I’m getting at, not because he is the worst offender, but because he is the most high profile and this lyrics often address these concerns directly. At least in his first album. Personally I think he lost all his cultural credentials after graduating to the big leagues of rap… but that’s another story. Check out the lyrics to “All Falls Down” if you doubt that Kanye ever had a culturally important message.
Man I promise, I’m so self conscious
That’s why you always see me with at least one of my watches
Rollies and Pasha’s done drove me crazy
I can’t even pronounce nothing, pass that versace!
Then I spent 400 bucks on this
Just to be like nigga you ain’t up on this!
And I can’t even go to the grocery store
Without some ones thats clean and a shirt with a team
It seems we living the american dream
But the people highest up got the lowest self esteem
Capitalism, baby! New markets for products. We must always generate more consumption. When one market is saturated (women), shoe consumption has no choice but to grow toward the next market (men).
Here’s the thing though, where there is no need (as in the fact you don’t need eight pairs of Jordan’s) producers must create an artificial need (as in the relative status your conspicuous consumption conveys). And it works.
Because whether you like it or not, whether you admit it or not, you are a part of this herd. Your manufactured “need” for a cool new pair of shoes is only as strong as the arms race of new shoes the people around you are sporting, and in the world of big money rappers this relative peer group is really throwing down so you better be ready to compete.
There is a fair amount of evidence of self-awareness when it comes to this among rappers, that is to say they all know they’re doing it and they’re fine with it. They rap about it, they joke about it, and they do it anyway. There is a fair amount of self-awareness surrounding the same phenomena with women (Sex and the City, to the well-heeled Communications major, is often a thought provoking meditation on the pressures of the consumer lifestyle women face in modern society).
But while women and black people have been watching this trend shape their cultures for years, I’m not seeing the same awareness among white men. Maybe because we’ve never been culturally oppressed. Either way the writing is on the wall. We’re all gonna buy more shit.
Because consumer capitalism is the single strongest (and arguably most unquestioned) force undergirding our society it shapes our culture subtly and powerfully. A lot of people stand to make a lot of money by convincing you to buy more shit. Change is just slow enough that you don’t ever really think about it. Try to pinpoint, when did someone convince you that $100 was an acceptable amount to pay for sneakers? Nobody did, there was no moment when that happened: culture told you to. And because market pressures shape our culture more than anything else, culture is going to keep pushing you in the direction of shopping and dressing more and more like a chick.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go buy some new shoes.