It has been just over a week since Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi hurled his shoes at American President George Bush, but the pieces of flying footwear have already become a powerful symbol for worldwide frustration and anger.
In the United States, 236.com had a field day with the incident, setting the clip to classical music and suggesting ways for readers to show their solidarity. Meanwhile, numerous grass-roots groups have developed, some suggesting that mailing shoes to President Bush might be the best way to express dissent with his Presidency.
It's hardly surprising that the symbolic shoes are so powerful to so many people. To a great extent, a political history of the past few decades could simply be a catalog of symbols and sound bites. In the late 1980's, for example, a burger commercial became a cultural phenomenon when a Presidential candidate asked his opponent "Where's the beef?" In the intervening years, ribbons of red, pink, white and yellow have gained massive meaning for huge segments of the population, while wristbands of various colors have become markers of causes ranging from testicular cancer to Goth rights. In the recent election cycle, candidates were accused of being unpatriotic or even treasonous based on their wearing of traditional clothes or eschewing of flag pins. Symbols as disparate as a rainbow flag or the middle name Hussein have, in a very real way, become replacements for convictions and strongly verbalized beliefs.
Over the years, numerous marketers, politicians, and activists have attempted to create images and symbols that capture the public's interest. Usually, they fail; in fact, the best symbols are often the most unintentional. Devoid of pedigree or clear message, they seep into the public consciousness and completely change the tenor of an age. This is definitely the case with the shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist. As al-Zaidi continues to be detained by the government, shoe manufacturers throughout the Middle East are claiming responsiblity for the offending size tens. The current front-runner is Turkish shoe manufacturer Baydan shoes, whose Ducati Model 271, aka the "Bush Shoe" has enjoyed a quadrupling in sales. One of the company's biggest markets, oddly enough, is the United States, where a company has ordered 18,000 pairs.
Regardless of how many shoes Baydan sells or how many get sent to the White House, it's pretty clear that al-Zaidi's protest has offered a way for millions to express their frustrations with the Bush administration. In the process, they have helped support at least one business in a season where so many are hurting. With any luck, President Bush will find a way to deliver his forthcoming shoe bonanza to America's many under-shod citizens. Of course, if that doesn't work, maybe they can build a shoe annex into his Presidential library!
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He, unfortunately, doesn't have too many pairs of shoes.
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