We spent this past Thanksgiving with close friends in New Jersey, and some of the kids ventured out into the wilds, by which I mean the mall on Black Friday. Alongside the great deals and the tales of massive crowds, they came home with pictures, and one in particular (above), really caught my eye. It’s an American flag made out of gym shoes.
Shoes have a peculiar power as metaphor. There are, of course, Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Cinderella’s glass ones, which, with their magical properties, take the ordinary or impoverished heroine home, or to the castle, depending on her deepest desires. But shoes as metaphor have been around much longer even than that in both legend and history. According to one rabbinic tradition, when the biblical Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, they bought shoes with the proceeds. And the prophet Amos rails against injustice with a similar reference: “Because they have sold for silver those whose cause was just, and the needy for a pair of shoes” (Amos, 2:6) At the burning bush, God tells Moses to remove his shoes, for he’s standing on holy ground. And then there are the hideous photographs of piles of shoes at Auschwitz, stripped from those on their way to the gas chamber. Shoes can represent disgusting excess, as they did when it was made known that Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, had 2700 pairs of them, or they can symbolize our disconnect from nature, as it does for the new generation of barefoot runners out there.
So what does the flag of shoes mean? Is it a symbol of American materialism? Even the flag is now made of shoes? Or does it communicate inclusiveness? Everyone in this country should have access to the bounty that shoes represent? I’d venture to say they meant it as the second, but it’s probably a little of the first, too.
Fascinating what a pile of sneakers can conjure up.