Original published on May 5, 2006.
The super-heroes in X-men are mutants, humans whose genetic codes have been altered by unknown means to add capabilities of warfare. One can produce lightning, another one kills people with a laser gaze, one can read thoughts, and one has retractable metal blades inserted in his hands. All of them, just as the super-hero iconography demands, have tight body-suits showing their athletic, or, if they are women, Playboy-mag standard bodies.
The super-human is the iconic ideal for ourselves, an image always near enough to create a subconscious striving and always far enough to render that striving vain. The super-human is living in constant warfare, there must always be an evil opponent, there is always the world to be saved.
The whole narrative, retold in millions of variations, depends on an evil opponent. Without opponent, there is no narrative, and the whole reason for a super-human existence would cease to exist. It is thus in the vital interest of super-humans to have evil opponents at their disposal – if there are none, new ones have to be created.
Super-humans need super-“gear”. There are super-bikes, super-cars, super-planes and super-suits; The super-man Superman wears his own “S” brand printed on his suit, Batman’s logo is projected onto the clouds of the nightly sky. The super-human is branded and depending on his tools and outfit – Superman, in “real” life a mediocre middle-class guy, becomes super only with his suit on and his glasses off.
And surely enough there is super-gear available to bring every mediocre middle-class person a bit closer to super-human status. It doesn´t quite make you fly like Superman, but it makes you nearly fly like Superman; it doesn’t quite make you jump and swing like Spiderman, but it makes you nearly jump and swing like Spiderman. And you don´t even have to know the secret headquarters of the various super-hero organisations. You can obtain this super-gear easily from the shopping center nearby, just go to the sneaker store.
Sneakers are named and designed to eliminate the last particle of the idea that they would in fact be shoes. Sneakers are not shoes. They are bikes (Hi Tec Enduro), airplanes (Nike Air Streak Spectrum Plus), drugs (Brooks Adrenaline GTS, Brooks Trance NXG), web browsers (Saucony Grid Web), space ships and outer space weapons (Mizuna Wave Spacer, Merrell Exotech, Adidas Supernova Control).
Sneakers are not shoes and they are not for walking. They are filled with gels, hexa-something structures, springs, artificial bones and acupuncture devices. They are super-gear for warfare in any terrain – in fact warfare with any terrain. If it is the rap warfare in the South Bronx, the fashion warfare in Manhattan, the warfare with suburban asphalt or the countryside terrain, the sneaker is designed to make you victorious.
In this narrative, the sneaker is the super-gear, the terrain is the evil opponent, and you are (nearly) the super-hero. As you are just nearly there, you don’t get your own super-hero brand, but at least you can obtain the magical might of the branded super-gear – now for only 299,90.
An object called “Supernova” cannot possibly look like a shoe. The plain surface of leather is historically loaded with the idea of a shoe. Thus the surface consists of fragmented patchworks of differently colored and structured derivates of the oil industry such as Nylon and PVC. Iconography has completely taken over the product: The sole is designed as if there are springs attached at the bottom of the shoe, creating the impression that you could move by jumping, the sneaker being a comic-strip version of an iconic symbol: Hermes’ winged shoe.
Sneaker designs, with their abundance of symbolic decoration pretending to have a technical reason, are the mannerisms of the post-industrial society. Super-gear production must be a mystery, an alchemistic-technological process supervised by shrewd designers and scientists in futuristic headquarters. Sneakers are supposed to be bionic extensions, genetically engineered for the constant super-human warfare of the 21st century.
We buy SUVs pretending to master every terrain, but we drive them on perfectly paved higways to our gated community. We wear sneakers which look like the outfit of super-heroes and super-athletes, but what we actually do in them is to walk around in air-conditioned shopping centers.