Rioting Over Shoes? Really?
People around the world are rioting about a number of things. The Syrians don't like Mr. Assad; the Greeks don't like austerity; the Chinese don't like authoritarianism. Big issues, all. It's understandable that folks would get upset about any of these things.
We're having riots here, too. What are they about? Shoes. Not the absence of shoes, but their superfluity.
A shoe is something you put on your foot so you can walk over rocks without hurting yourself. It is not something you camp out overnight and elbow your way past policemen and an angry mob to pay a big price for.
I refer, of course, to the Nike riots of last week and last December. Each series of contretemps took place in various cities in conjunction with the release of the latest sneaker model.
I call them sneakers only because Nike does. A sneaker used to be a low-cut canvas shoe with a rubber sole. It was white. It was cheap. You wore them on Saturday afternoon when you were a kid, or if you were playing with your kids. Remember Keds, kids?
There's nothing very sneaky about the modern version.
Modern sneakers make wearers look as if they have two club feet, and they call further attention to themselves with neon colors or sparkles or anything else the Nike folks can dream up. And they cost a lot. One optimistic buyer last week immediately put his prize on eBay with an asking price of $10,000 Canadian. I don't know the result.
Nike is not alone in its ability to manipulate the American consumer; Apple does a pretty good job, too. Any new product or version of anything produces long lines of people anxious to spend hundreds of dollars for something a nanosecond faster than the one they bought three months ago.
I don't get it. OK, I'm - um - not as young as I used to be. I've never cared much for crowds or fads, unless they're related to golf. (There's another industry with a crazy product cycle, but at least no riots.) I have a high regard for my money. But really, where do all these willing, frequent buyers come from? I thought we were in an economic slump.
This crush to buy this stuff speaks well, I suppose, for American marketers, and heaven knows we all want the economy to get moving, but how many sneakers or i-somethings or drivers can one person use? How about waiting for some decline in the functionality of the previous edition?
Of course, the economy that benefits most from this rampant consumerism is China's. All - and I think I'm safe in saying this - all this stuff is made in the People's Republic, or at least somewhere over there where low wages are an issue except when someone wants a new toy. It is apparently possible for hypocrisy and globalism to coexist comfortably.
I enjoy life's little pleasures as much as the next guy, especially new drivers, but with gasoline approaching, or beyond, $4, groceries in an upward spiral and a very stubborn unemployment rate, some of the spare cash that made buying these things possible is going to be spent on more basic items.
How are we going to get along when the lead story on the evening news doesn't cover a mad scramble for whatever, but instead features interviews with depressed motorists standing by gas pumps? Oh. We're already there.
It's just a guess, but I bet the Greeks aren't shoving each other aside to buy new Nikes. They're likely to be wearing whatever shoes they have for quite a while.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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