If you’re going to call a product “Satan shoes,” you’ve created a problem for yourself. People are going to think they’re those weird cloven numbers worn exclusively by Instagram yogis and people who end every fourth sentence with “ … at the farmers’ market.”
So you’ll be relieved to hear this isn’t that. We’re talking about Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies, the real deal.
Satan shoes are a marketing stunt attached to a tabloid-baiting music video. They were released online this past week by rapper Lil Nas X and American art collective MSCHF.
What do they come with? Nothing special. A pentagram, naturally. A little blasphemous Bible reference. All the normal stuff Christians get a kick out of.
The je ne sais quoi in this case is a bit of human blood added to every pair.
A bit like the loaves and fishes, Lil Nas created a bounty here. You take regular runners, wave your hands over them, and they become $10,000-a-pop collectibles.
But the real miracle is the PR spill-off. This stunt – which would have had the Pope rolling his eyes back in the 80s – got all four estates of the realm riled up, the fourth one in particular. Nike objected to the use of their swoosh. They’re suing for trademark infringement.
If it was possible to buy this sort of publicity, no one could afford it. Nike, the cheeky hypocrites, pulled a similar trick back in the day when they, er, borrowed Revolution by the Beatles without asking permission. The happy result was the company’s most iconic TV ad.
In the lawsuit that followed, George Harrison fretted that some day, art might be used to sell everything from “sausages” to “women’s underwear.” Poor George. Blood in your athleisure wasn’t even a blip on his radar then. Nor, for that matter, was athleisure.
On the one hand, the Satan shoe raises interesting questions about art, commerce and the growing blob on the Venn diagram where they intersect. In fact, it’s becoming one circle.
But on the other hand – and here’s where we’re headed – this is what it takes to get people talking about wearing shoes again. It takes Satan.
The other day I went to see the boss. In order to do so, I had to first don several instruments of torture. There was a shirt with buttons. Awful. There were hard pants. Intolerable. There were socks and most wretched of all, there were shoes. Putting on real shoes after you have not worn them in months is a revelatory experience, and not the good kind.
Now that my mind has been freed from the malign influence of Big Footwear, I can see that real shoes are ridiculous. You can feel the blisters beginning to form as soon as you stand up.
Years ago, I asked a buddy who worked at a fancy clothing retailer how he sized people up as they came through the door.
“The shoes and the watch,” he said.
Clothes can fool you. Think of Gordon Lightfoot and that ratty jean tuxedo he didn’t take off for 30 years. But if men have money to spend, they spend it on shoes and a watch.
This nugget made an impression on me. It does so no longer.
On that streetcar ride into the office to meet the boss, I travelled one of Toronto’s main arteries and through the financial district. I saw a lot of people wearing a lot of shoes. None of them were what a year ago we would have called the markers of adulthood. No leather lace-ups. No high heels. Nothing that extends over the ankle.
You think, “Gosh, that’s a lot of jogging at noon on a Tuesday,” until you realize nobody’s jogging. This is just how we dress now.
The clothes will return because a jacket and tie says something about your intentions. Going to an important meeting without taking some effort to put yourself together creates the same impression left by the person you see riding a bike in jeans. They aren’t serious about what they’re doing.
But torture shoes? We can move past that stage into our eventual Star Trek future. Cozy slip-ons that don’t look like hospital wear – it’s possible. We have the technology. Most importantly, we have seen what it’s like on the other side. Six months ago, I was given Crocs as a gag gift. Today, I own three pairs. (It’s that bad. This could be a cry for help. I can’t tell any more.)
All that’s required is a visionary to make it happen. Kanye West made sweatpants okay. At the time, I thought it was a harbinger of doom. But now I see that it was only the first station of the new fashion cross.
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