When Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi hurled his size ten shoes at President Bush during a press conference in December last year, the news went around the world at a suspiciously celebratory speed. He was still shouting imprecations with secret service people kneeling on his chest when the YouTube videos came out.
He got thrown in the clink almost as fast, but I imagine that al-Zaidi had no idea that he was starting a world trend. Just a few days later, in January 2009, a bunch of Bosnian protesters in Sarajevo got together to express their feelings about their political leaders by throwing shoes at their effigies. The organisers of the protest even provided shoes, though many people apparently felt strongly enough about it all to bring their own footwear. No doubt it doesn’t feel as good without the solid thwack of contact with real flesh, but it must be better than nothing.
Then, a few days ago in February, a student at Cambridge chucked his shoe at the visiting Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, who responded either by become infuriated or by remaining calm, depending on which country is reporting the incident. The shoe didn’t make the target, but it did apparently make the point. And now, the CPM state secretary in Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, has had a slipper flung at him during the Nava Kerala march by a chap who, perhaps because he missed, is reported to have been drunk.
When under pressure, people make do with what they have in terms of equipment and showmanship. Al-Zaidi tossed a pair of Oxfords. The Times said the student in the UK used a “heavy grey trainer”. The Indian used a chappal. “This is a farewell kiss, you dog!” shouted al-Zaidi. “Dictator!” yelled the Cambridge student. “V S Achuthanandan zindabad!” shouted the alcoholic Indian.
But given the increasingly woeful state of the world and the increasing tendency of people to want to express their feelings about it (viz. blogs and YouTube videos and suchlike), it seems to me that shoe companies are sitting on a very large opportunity.
The resurgent place of the shoe in contemporary culture is a phenomenon worth acknowledging. Al-Zaidi’s shoemaker is already getting chest pains from the exhaustion of an increased workload because suddenly throngs of admiring wannabes want his product. It was a start to have erected the sculpture of an enormous bronze shoe in Tikrit, to honour the spirit of al-Zaidi, at the cost of five thousand dollars and the labour of a bunch of politically-aware orphans; but due to political considerations it had to be taken down almost immediately. No; individual action, however ephemeral, is the way to go, so what might work better is for established shoe companies to invest in some R&D devoted to lines of shoes designed to be thrown at people (or their effigies) for a better lifestyle experience and with better results.
A shoe meant for throwing at an object of hate could use some specialised features. Imagine the benefits of a lower strip-off time; better aerodynamics for longer and steadier flight; optimal heft for hurling; a spot designed for good handgrip; sights attached for precision aim or, in a higher-end product, heat-seeking sensors to guide the shoe; extra bounce for maximum ricocheting in the event of a miss; motion-sensitive bells and whistles to draw attention or, conversely, camouflage patterning for stealth; and maybe it could be emblazoned with a readymade catch-all protest like “Take That!”.
Of course these are recessionary times, so unless these wonderful new products are reasonably priced, we’ll all have to go back to rotten tomatoes.