Shoefiti: Why People Hang Shoes on Power Lines
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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!