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Shoefiti: Why People Hang Shoes on Power Lines

Updated on May 7, 2012
Shoe tossing
Shoe tossing | Source

Is shoefiti an art? Are you wondering why people hang shoes on power lines? Well, I was too!

Merriam Webster's Dictionary defines art as: “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” The controversy lies in what connotes aestheticism, naturally beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Generally speaking, I do not find graffiti particularly artistic, perhaps because I don't appreciate public defacement of bridges, buildings, trains, and signs. I have, upon occasion, however been impressed by the sheer talent exhibited by some of these graffiti artists. I've taken a second glance and wished this artistic expression was painted onto a more appropriate canvas.

Strangely, I am mesmerized by shoefiti. This curious art form used to be called: “chucking chucks”, “tossing the galosh”, or “shoe slinging” .”Shoefiti” was coined by Ed Kohler in 2005. From the term spawned a website (www.shoefiti.com) where he collects shoefiti images from around the world and attempts to make sense of this odd form of art. Originally, shoefiti described shoes hung from power lines, however with the addition of “shoe trees” and most recently a group called “knitta please”, the term continues to expand in meaning.


Shoefiti History

Shoe tossing has been observed in areas of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Mexico and Ecuador.

This art form is shrouded in mystery which helps perpetuate the fascination behind shoe flinging. Some have theorized it began as a military practice as early as World War II, where soldiers would fling their combat boots over a telephone or power line to symbolize the completion of active duty or basic training. These boots were often spray painted orange. Other such rites of passage have been implicated in this ritual such as: graduations, births or marriage. In Scotland, shoefiti is associated with a young man's loss of virginity. Shoe trees frequent college campuses, perhaps following Scotland's tradition, or as a symbol of a particularly successful sexual conquest. Some shoes might dangle to represent an athlete's achievement of shoes that have reached their xxxth mile.

The More Macabre Side of Shoefiti

Perhaps the most prevalent theory of the purpose of shoe chucking is the advertisement that a crack or heroin house is nearby. Supposedly, drug seekers need only look to the house closest to the hanging shoes to score. Symbolism is attached to the hanging shoes for the heroin user, as once the drug has taken you, walking away is no longer possible. Or perhaps that heroin addiction will steal the very shoes off your feet. Many argue the drug house marking, saying no dealer would be so stupid as to point law authorities to the location of a drug hub. However, others say the shoes are used to throw off police by continually moving shoes from location to location. It would seem an unlikely explanation in rural areas where gangs don't normally infiltrate.

The law does, however take notice of the shoes on power lines. They've witnessed a definite correlation between shoefiti and gang activity. They consider it an act of gang territory marking. Some purport gangs fling the shoes of murdered gang members to commemorate his or her death.


Shoes and Spirits

Some legends purport a more ethereal side to the practice. The shoes of people who've passed away are hung in order to be higher to the heavens, to God, to the spiritual universe. It's a way to celebrate life and symbolize the deceased passage to Heaven. When the spirit of the dead person returns, he or she will then walk above ground, never to touch the earth again, to live eternally closer to heaven. Similarly, some believe the shoes will keep one's house safe from ghosts and evil spirits

Teenage Shenanigans

A theory that remains sound and constant is shoefiti is performed by bored teenyboppers attempting to find a source of amusement in the wee hours of the night. Perhaps they're upper middle class kids in a growth spurt who've been blessed with a new pair of Nikes or Addidas and find amusement faring them adieu up on the wires. Or maybe they're pranks played on a drunk who awakens to find his shoes strewn up high on unreachable power lines. Or, it's been said it's the end result of bullying where the victor takes the shoes from the victim. These pranks make sense in light of the unspoken shoefiti rule of: always fling your shoes in the middle of the night, and/or when no one is around.

Welly Wanging

Welly Wanging
Welly Wanging | Source

The Next Olympic Sport?

Being unable to identify the slinger is of the utmost of importance. The only exception to this rule might be in New Zealand where boot throwing, now a sport, has its fair share of spectators. This unlikely sport has its origins in Great Britain where the participants compete to throw a Wellington Boot the farthest, aptly called “Wellie Wanging”. New Zealand's version of Wellington Boots are called Gumboots which are basically rubber waders or galoshes popular among farmers, outdoor workers and a perennial favorite for Kiwi kids. The North Island's rural community called Taihape prides itself on its odd flurry of flying boots, especially during its annual Gumboot Day. Granted, one may practice year round at the town's official gumboot throwing lane located behind the main shopping center. Since 1985 people have been flocking to the gumboot throwing capital to win the coveted Gumboot Trophy. Finland has also joined in the fun with a very similar equivalent to the annual Kiwi tradition.

Source

Cultural Meanings

North America still grapples with the meaning of shoe throwing. In the Middle East, however, there's no debate that shoe throwing is a deep insult and expression of serious contempt. Iraqis showed their contempt towards Saddam Hussein by taking off their shoes and beating his statue. No one can forget the Iraqi journalist, Muntadhar al-Zaidi who chucked both of his size 10 shoes at former President George Bush.

Shoe Tossing- Shoe Trees

Shoe Trees

Unlike shoefiti, shoe treefiti seems to remain a uniquely American “tradition”. I'm referring to the practice of people tossing their shoes with the goal of hanging them on out of reach branches. Again, people wonder why. The resounding answer seems to be why not. Probably there are a plethora of reasons, some more obvious than others. In reality, there are probably as many reasons as there are shoes dangling from these symbolic trees. Some shoe trees have been spotted at universities, near fraternities where they are thought to represent sexual conquests.

Knitta, Please

Knitta, Please

No doubt there are quite a few staunch graffiti opponents, and rightly so. I will admit I've occasionally ogled at some of the pure talent displayed by some graffiti artists. However,there's a new form of street art that is next to impossible to find offensive or distasteful... It's called Knitta, Please and they are a group of knit and crochet artists adorning a wide variety of public spaces, most notably street signs, lamp posts, trees and fire hydrants. Started by a group in Dallas, TX in 2005, they are still fairly new to the scene. They "tag" their objects when the streets are semi-barren and leave their signature mark: a paper bag with the phrase: "Knitta, Please" or "Whaddup, Knitta" or "I Love (heart) Knitta!"

If you know of any other theories about the origins of shoefiti, let me know!

Comments

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  • Lady Guinevere profile image

    Debra Allen 

    4 years ago from West By God

    It is gang and drug related in my area. It isn't used for a house because the shoes are hanging over the power lines in front of out neighborhood on the main highway.

  • Hankscita profile image

    Sandy 

    4 years ago from Florida

    I was looking at shoes hanging from a wire just this morning while walking the dog. Seems so wasteful to me. I always think someone somewhere could use those shoes. Great Hub. Shared and Upvoted.

  • PegCole17 profile image

    Peg Cole 

    6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

    This answers some questions for me. I had wondered for some time what was the significance and heard various things like the drug connection. I like the style in which you presented the possibilities. Interesting! Also the Knitta thing is bizarre. I live in the outskirts of Dallas and have never seen this.

  • ThePelton profile image

    ThePelton 

    6 years ago from Martinsburg, WV USA

    I saw a couple of pairs of shoes hanging from a powerline in my neighborhood, and thought someone had done it to be mean to someone else. I had something like that happen to me as a child.

  • profile image

    drokreative 

    6 years ago

    Ladder & Scissors + Yard Sale = Problem Solved.

  • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

    Elsie Nelson 

    6 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

    Thanks, Xenonlit. My interest piqued when I saw a real life shoe tree. I had to figure out what the deal was. And, we have some shoes hanging on power lines near our house. Which are now down... I don't know what that's about. Thanks for the Tweet and G+!

  • Xenonlit profile image

    Xenonlit 

    6 years ago

    When you tackle a topic you do a scholarly job of it. I am tweeting and will G+ this because people are going crazy trying to figure out the shoe mystery. Thanks for giving some answers.

  • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

    Elsie Nelson 

    6 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

    TG, same concept as shoe trees. It's become a tradition, really and it can mean a million different things. Some people do it for the heck of it, while it has significance to others. I find it oddly fascinating! Thanks for coming by.

  • That Grrl profile image

    Laura Brown 

    6 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

    I have always wondered about this shoe thing. I didn't know it had a name, of any kind. Now, how about the shoes which get stapled (or nailed or something like that) to trees and other likely objects?

  • shaft007 profile image

    shaft007 

    7 years ago

    very very clever

  • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

    Elsie Nelson 

    8 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

    Oh how cool, I would have loved to have seen that VW Beetle, Patty. Glad to shed some light on the practice of shoefiti. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

    Patty Inglish MS 

    8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

    I participated 4 years ago in an art project in which a dozen women knitted and/or crocheted a complete cover for a Volkswagen Beetle. I did a few bunches of grapes as accents. It was fun and the car was featured at Winterfair festival here that year.

    The shoes on wires was a mystery until I read yoru Hub, although I'd seen something about the phenomenon in films. Rated Up and awesome.

  • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

    Elsie Nelson 

    8 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

    Angel, hey... that's a fantastic theory! I just hope my kids don't get wind of the idea in order to "upgrade" their shoes. See, there's a lot to know about shoefiti! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

    Elsie Nelson 

    8 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

    Thanks for reading, lyjo! Glad you now have a name for it. I live in the suburbs and we have our first pair of shoes hanging on a telephone pole at the end of our street... I rather like them there, actually.

  • angel115707 profile image

    Angel Ward 

    8 years ago from Galveston, TX

    very cute hub will rate up!!! You know growing up in the 80's and 90's.... shoes weren't flung for any of those reasons...usually they were children's shoes , around tween age... and it was when the parents didn't have much money, you'll notice the more prevalent in poorer communities and the only way the kids can get the parents to by new shoes is to fling them up there...you'll notice the flapping heal or toe, and every one can see the parents forced their kid to wear rotting shoes...lol then the parents are forced to get more, in order to attend school! ( I guess I had a variety of friends back then) but that's what they were for, for us, from New Orleans to West Texas.... hmmmm the crack house sounds related..ha ha...

  • lyjo profile image

    lyjo 

    8 years ago

    Very interesting hub, we live in the outskirts of a town, that has far too many bored teenagers, lots & lots of Shoefiti, never knew there was a word for it, thanks, awesome, take good care,

  • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

    Elsie Nelson 

    8 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

    Thanks so much, Sage. I find the pictures quite interesting as well. In fact, I have considered going on a hunt for all shoe trees in my state and taking some cool pictures.

    Carrie, I think you're onto something. Truth is, I've never seen it happen. No one's ever told me they've done it. I do believe you've solved the mystery!

  • Carrie.M profile image

    Carrie.M 

    8 years ago from MI, United States

    Has anyone actually ever witnessed someone doing Shoefiti? I have lived in a number of cities where Shoefiti is quite prevalent. I have walked the streets at many different times of the day and night and not once have I witnessed Shoefiti in the act. Shall I introduce the theory of aliens?

  • Sage Williams profile image

    Sage Williams 

    8 years ago

    wordscribe - Interesting hub, I have never heard of Shoefiti. But I can recollect of taking photos of shoes hanging over a wire or hanging down from a bridge. I never really gave it much thought, other than it mads a great composition for a black and white photo.

    Love the cultural meaning of shoe throwing and the picture to go along with it. I do remember when this happened. I thought it was pretty odd at the same time, it was funnier than hell to watch.

    Sage

  • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

    Elsie Nelson 

    8 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

    Thanks, Cheeky Girl and mythbuster. I suppose the yarn is up there permanently. Good question, though, never thought of that. I appreciate you both taking the time to comment.

  • mythbuster profile image

    mythbuster 

    8 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

    Never heard of this before. Interesting hub, wordscribe43! Thanks for sharing.

  • Cheeky Girl profile image

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Shoe throwing? Why not. If the shoe fits the face you hate, throw it, I say. LOL! I am kidding. But I am smiling at this and it is a strange but funny hub here. Bush getting a shoe thrown at him...pity it missed. LOL! And er, no, I am not a Democrat. Near where I live it used to be possible to see the odd pair of trainers hanging on a Phone line. Yes the drug thing is a possible connection here too. Or just kids who are bored.

    The Knitta thing is interesting. How does one "launder" the knitta exactly? Must be up there permanently. Cheers for an unusual hub.

  • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

    Elsie Nelson 

    8 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

    Ha ha, could be, onegoodwoman. Thanks for stopping by!

  • onegoodwoman profile image

    onegoodwoman 

    8 years ago from A small southern town

    Never tossed a shoe, but I have "hummed" some glass across the room......might they be the same skill?

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