Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Think I Feel: A Mediated Shoe Review

by Drew Martin

At The New School I once wrote a paper that compared air conditioning window units to television...this was before flat screens, when TV's were boxier. I reduced each to the common denominator: squarish metal and plastic devices, which you plug into an electrical outlet, adjust to a certain setting and then sit back and enjoy the machine's purpose. Though the AC unit is not an image displaying device, the window unit physically blocks your view from the outside world, just as the TV distracts your attention from reality. And though there is no obvious message transmitting through the AC unit, it does alter your senses. It cools you and makes you feel better and in doing so it makes you stop thinking about how hot you were, which is certainly a consuming thought. In a cooler, calmer state your mind can focus on and entertain other thoughts.

In the movie The Family Man, Nicholas Cage's character is transformed from a high-powered, single New Yorker into a middle class father and tire salesman in suburban New Jersey. In this state he tries on a $2,400 suit while shopping in the mall with his family. To a bewildered wife played by Téa Leoni he says "It's an unbelievable thing. Wearing this suit actually makes me feel like a better person." This pretty much sums up fashion and how we perceive clothing. Like air conditioning, we focus on how things make us feel but we neglect how they make us think.

I recently bought the above pictured Tretorn boots because I wanted dry feet on rainy day commutes. Shoes are a form a media...they send a message and they influence how we feel and therefore how we think. As far as the Tretorns are concerned...they are a bit clownish, too wide and my pair leaked from the toe and sole on my maiden voyage. I thought they would make me feel warm, dry and "cool" but they make me feel a bit silly and the slight leak makes me feel vulnerable. I think I was seduced by a shoe that does not live up to my dream of it. It makes me think further about design flaws in everything.

When I do think about shoes in more general terms, I usually remind myself of a passage I once read about an early encounter of the British and native Americans (perhaps it was from The Last of the Mohicans). The native examines a stiff, heavy Western shoe and compares it to his soft moccasin. He concludes that the foreigners are so insensitive and clumsy because their soles are too thick and can therefore not 'sense' the earth with their feet.