When I saw the image of German shoe manufacturer Adidas' latest effort at teen exploitation; a shoe featuring a plastic shackle attaching the shoe to the ankle, the last thing I thought of was slavery and the first thing I thought of was the 'jailbird chic' culture that has our young and would-be young folks pretending to the lofty cultural and social status of convict. In fact I had to smile a bit since a gang of tragically hip home burglars was finally apprehended in my neighborhood after having performed over 50 burglaries in the last year -- unable to run from police because of their fashionably laceless shoes and hugely oversized shorts which made it impossible to run and to hold the pillowcases of loot and their pants at the same time. At least they were properly attired for the next stage of their careers.
Slavery was however, the first thing some thought about. The Rev. Jesse Jackson expressed his own outrage yesterday:
"The attempt to commercialize and make popular more than 200 years of human degradation, where blacks were considered three-fifths human by our Constitution is offensive, appalling and insensitive,"
The idea that racists would wear such things on their own feet, or worse, would force reluctant black teens to wear expensive shoes in shame seems far-fetched enough to suggest that life for some people is a continuous Rorschach test where every blot looks the same; where the shackled briefcases you might see in the financial district, being accompanied by a Brinks guard or two can only remind us of the anti-bellum South.
Of course it's all too fashionable to get neck and face tattoos and affect the garb and gaudy patter of convicts and ex-convicts and soon-to-be convicts -- as though the human degradation of our exploding prison system, choked as it disproportionately is with minorities, wasn't also offensive but it's self inflicted, self perpetuated and popular and has been for a long time. Addidas, it seems to me, is trying like everyone else to cash in on fashion, exploit extant popular culture and is not commercializing or popularizing a longing for slavery as much as trying to make a buck out of being outrageous in already outrageous times.