Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Shoed I . . . or Not?

So, there I was, sitting in Starbucks, surreptitiously sipping my homebrewed coffee in an obscure corner to save money -- but nibbling on a cheap cookie I'd paid for to legitimize my being there in that 'third place,' should I by chance of bad luck be uncovered with my contraband caffeine -- and feeling all moralistic about not spending so impulsively as that thoughtless herd of others caught up in the consumerist stampede, roiled by market, fashion, or peers to buy-buy-buy, when I happened upon an article that took me aback:
How do we understand life in a commercial, consumer-oriented society? Academic traditionalists and hard-headed advocates of "practical" research often dismiss scholarship on material culture, including shoes, as frivolous nonsense. So they leave thinking about questions like why people buy shoes and what they mean in people's lives to Marxists, Freudians and others who decry commercial culture, treat consumers as powerless dupes or, at best, reduce every "unnecessary" purchase to some form of status competition.

The result is a desiccated understanding of history and culture. In an academic article, [the British sociologist Alexandra] Sherlock decries "the postmodern tendency to fetishise the shoe, both in the Marxian (commodity fetish) and Freudian (psycho-sexual) sense, for what it 'stands' for rather than what it is." Even when they contain an element of truth, such theories are as simplistic and misleading as the claim that ankle boots indicate an overly aggressive personality. Commercial culture -- our culture -- deserves better.
Good Lord, all this time that I'd been thinking myself a moral person, I'd merely been thinking like a Freudian -- or worse, a Marxist! -- casually dismissing other free-thinking individuals as dupes of commercial culture! After reading Virginia Postrel's "Boots Were Made for Talking, About Who We Are" (Bloomberg, July 10, 2012), I'll never again be able to look at my thick old Curitel cell phone without reflecting that I really ought to invest in a brand-new Apple smart phone and thereby assume a more stylish look.

And while I'm considering this, I need some background music . . .

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