Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for March 9th, 2008

Sneaker collecting is dead!

Posted by digglahhh on 9 March 2008

Once an idiosyncratic, almost anthropological pursuit practiced by hip-hop devotees, sports fans, and urban fashion connoisseurs being a “sneakerhead” is now simply about hollow consumerism.

Sneaker manufacturers churn out one low-quality, theme-packed, limited edition gimmick shoe, after another, at unprecedented rates, all the while forgoing attention to detail on the reproduction of retro classics. As is often the case when mainstream producers discover a niche market, the suppliers did a better job of feeding the market before they were fully aware of its existence. Why is it so difficult to understand that the essential beauty of something that arises naturally in the marketplace will only be preserved if it continues to evolve organically?

But this post isn’t really about sneakers, it’s about identifying impending co-optation, exploitation, and death through language and labeling.

It didn’t take much sneaker savvy to see what was going to happen to “the sneaker game” when fourteen year-olds with five pairs, all released this calendar year, started calling themselves “collectors” and the “box-stacking” photo became de rigeur on the (supposedly) urban teen’s Myspace profile. A “collection” isn’t some sort of goal to aspire to; it’s the natural outgrowth (side-effect?) of a passion. And veterans of the sneaker culture don’t refer to themselves as “sneakerheads.” Personally, my relationship with sneakers is a part of larger culture(s) with which I identify. To call myself a “sneakerhead” would be treat the signifier as the signified.

That outsiders, particularly the mainstream media, have a cute little name for a group of people who participate in a lifestyle, is a sure sign that the purity of the community is compromised—a process of erosion that will progress exponentially. It is only a matter of time before you will be gazing at the putrid shell of what was. Shortly after that, you can only curse what your culture has become.

The term “hippie,” in the sense that we understand it now, was coined by a San Francisco journalist in a piece about the Blue Unicorn coffeehouse to refer to the new generation of Haight-Ashbury residents. Within a few years, “hippie” was being widely used by the mainstream press. The Haight-Ashbury residents weren’t calling themselves “hippies.” It wasn’t long until the term gained enough traction that every slacker in search of drugs, sex, music, and fun headed West, destroying the socio-political underpinnings of the lifestyle as it originally existed in the process. Of course, next came the stereotyping, followed by a marketing wave that completed the neutering process.

So beware that cover story in New York magazine or People identifying some group with whom you share a passion. The Nehru jacket will follow soon enough. Meaning, substance, and texture will be replaced by a two-dimensional stereotype subtrate upon which corporate America will culture a hideous market fungus., The edginess of the lifestyle will be turned into soft smooth sides. Salsa becomes onion-flavored ketchup; bagels nothing more than tiny loaves of Wonder Bread with holes in the center. Resist the labeling of your passion. By doing so, you resist definition, and hence pigeonholing, subsequent exploitation and metamorphosis, and ultimately, cultural death.

For the sneaker enthusiasts, we have it easy. We can just hope the fad runs its cycle and soon we can go back to finding classics at remote outlets and mom and pop stores for 30% of retail price. And we can go back to the day when wearing a pair of Nike Air Pressures leads to suspicious looks from the NYPD and being pulled out of the security line at the airport.

Posted in digglahhh, language, pop culture | 8 Comments »