Sunday, March 20, 2016

Book Review - "Sneakers - Fashion, Dress and Subculture"

Dan and I have been going back and forth in recent months about a desire to stop looking at the "ephemeral" web and to start trying to read actual books. For many years my primary collection was physical books, and in the transition to electronic books, I kind of faded out my usual efforts of purchasing books on a regular basis. However, I've recently just given up entirely on physical books and am going completely electronic with Amazon.com. I can read those books on my iPad or my Mac and they are there forever. Virtually everything is available in Kindle format. So now there is no excuse and it is time to begin buying regularly and actually focusing on reading and getting deep into a topic rather than flitting about on my smartphone.

For a variety of reasons I am very interested in sneakers including the history of shoes and what makes them important to people's lives. They say that you know you are old when you don't understand the motivations or decisions of younger people and in some ways I am definitely at that stage of life. For instance - I just can't embrace the idea of going to a place where "bottle service" is routine and you spend $400 on a bottle of vodka. I grew up in sports bars or local taverns and while I absolutely conceptually understand that if you want to meet girls and this enables you to do so (they just go from table to table drinking with the guys) that is completely the thing to do. I just can't bring myself to think that this makes any sense and thus I am old. On another dimension - I didn't ever think much about footwear or brand name clothing. I worked in suits and then business casual and if I worked out it was old clothes or shorts or sweats.

The book I bought was about sneakers and it is a scholarly book written by a female academic. It was worth reading from my perspective but she warned readers in the free preview that you can get on Amazon that it was scholarly and not for everyone. She was right. There were many references to academic theories on groups and an entire male / female approach that grew tiresome if you weren't in the academic arena. However, since she warned me of that in the free preview before I bought the book I figured I wouldn't rate it on Amazon because I'd be the first rating that she'd receive and for all the work an author puts into a book they need a lot of 5 star ratings or it looks bad. If I wasn't going to give her a 5 star rating it is probably best not to rate her at all. But at least I paid her so she gets some cut of whatever Amazon charges.

The interesting thing about the book from my perspective was trying to align the obsession that many young men have with their sneakers (collecting, shopping, trading, and posting in social media) and thinking back to what it was like to be in a subculture that had its own norms and spoken and unspoken rules back when I was a teenager. From my perspective it was heavy metal music, where we bought black concert T shirts that proved that "we were there" and there was a distinct hierarchy to what was "cool" and what "wasn't cool". This extended to the guitars we bought, what records we bought, and what shows we attended. So I got it - being part of a group was good - especially one where you understood each other within some norms, even if many of them were lunkheads. The video "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" is a classic for a reason!

Sneakers and heavy metal are both big business (sneakers much more so, but the fact that Iron Maiden can fly around in their own jet and play for hundreds of thousands of people in South America isn't small change) and they have both been (mostly) appropriated by the masses to some extent. And yet both are still new, with new designs and metal having a foothold around the world in almost every city and creating new genres and always attracting new fans. For both it is likely the disaffected, and predominantly young males, that these cultures embrace, although the metalheads and the sneakerheads would likely feel they have little to nothing in common if they met up.

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