It may seem odd to think that every year, dozens stand in huge lines for hours to purchase basketball shoes. Is there a point to this practice? What is the benefit of spending hundreds of dollars on shoes that some never even wear to play basketball? Status, and coolness.
The above image shows approximately 50+ people waiting in line for the Air Jordan 11 Concords on December 22nd, three days before Christmas. The crowd appears to be mostly male and mostly people of color. It is the evening, it is raining, and, judging by what they are wearing, it appears to be quite cold. There is a barrier to keep people in line, which shows that the organizers of the event expected a large population to show up to stand in line and buy the shoes. This suggests that, in the past, many people have shown up to wait in line for shoes like these. The people that are most visible in line appear to be quite stylish, wearing hats and expensive-looking shoes. This all occurs in a city, with bright lights helping the people in line to see as darkness falls. The line appears to extend all around the block.
Typically a male-dominated activity, collecting shoes is a sign of status. These shoes can range anywhere from $100 to $1400, with some even extending to $7500.Therefore, by wearing such expensive shoes, males are showing that they can afford expensive things and thus play into the gender role of being wealthy enough to take care of someone. A male who wears expensive shoes is asserting his masculinity in the same way that a woman who carries a designer bag is asserting her femininity by showing that she knows what is and is not trendy.
A stereotype that we see in Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle is that, in order to be a Cool Black Guy, young black males must possess the right kinds of shoes. There are entire sites dedicated to keeping self-proclaimed sneakerheads up to date on the latest shoes. When he begins getting into basketball and becoming a cool guy, Gunnar is encouraged by his friend to buy new shoes. There is an entire section titled “The Shoes” that is dedicated to Gunnar’s struggle to find the right pair of basketball shoes (Beatty, 88). Gunnar is teased when he picks up a cheap pair, and is instead led to “ a section of the store where the state-of-the-art, more expensive models were on display” (Beatty, 89). There is a clear reverence for these shoes, and Gunnar is forced to sign a document saying that if his shoes led to a crime, he would not blame them.
At times, people who engage in this practice are mocked and viewed as materialistic and foolish for being tricked into wanting an item of clothing badly enough to stand in the cold rain just to spend a few hundred dollars. Especially when it comes to items that are viewed as a part of black culture, people tend to be more critical.
It is important to think about the other items that all types of people stand in lines for for supposedly illogical reasons. Foolish as it may appear t some, the practice purchasing shoes like the concords can be a cultural and meaningful experience not meant to be mocked by outsiders.
Beatty, Paul. The White Boy Shuffle. NY: Picador, Henry Holt and Company, 1996. Book.
Poe. “Freshness Mag.” Niketown New York Air Jordan 11 Concord Launch. 23 Dec. 2011.
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