by Hunter Johnson on Unsplash

You have to have a bank account and a level of sneaker addiction that is incredibly serious to shell out twenty grand for a pair of sneakers.

However, assuming you have that kind of dime and most assuredly nothing else worthy of your financial attention (such as critically important charities, helping starving vets, hell, I dunno) you can acquire these:

Air Jordan 3 Retro “We The Best”


At some point, and I have no idea where that point lies, we have to ask, how did a sneaker end up getting valued at more than some cars? You wear them, they fall apart, they stink. And your twenty grand? Really?

But you want those sneakers. Somehow they make you into…..well, not Michael Jordan. What you did was buy Michael Jordan more cigars.

Your Shoes or Your Life..or Both

In 2015, reported that some 1200 kids are murdered annually for their sneakers ( That number continues to rise. The hype that surrounds these sneakers- all wholly imaginary, the implied promise of “ being like” Jordon or Le Bron or anyone else who shills these shoes — causes kids to be shot or beaten for their footwear.

In November of 2016, Nike unveiled their HyperAdapt Self-Tying shoes for a mere $720. For those of us far too lazy to lean over and tie them ourselves, and who for some reason feel the need to have flashing blue LED lights announcing where we’re walking, these are perfect. They would be vastly more useful if the shoes also had a motion sensor alarm that went off every time the wearer — face pressed firmly into his iPhone- was about to get run over by a bus.

Here’s what one breathless reporter had to say on the tni website:

You can hear a whirring sound. And it encases the foot. Seems more like an Iron Man’s shoes, right? Yes, but they are not made of Iron. The whirring sound is the mechanical elements. But that noise is not high. And one more feature is the large blue battery light and five tri-color LEDs. These make the shoes look just brilliant!

It’s not the Second Coming. It’s a shoe. A mass-produced thing.

Now let’s be fair. Lots of folks are sneakerheads. There are plenty of people so addicted to the next new pair that the release will engender the same kind of excitement as the next iPhone. Hey, each to his own. This has been going on for a long time. While I may not necessarily comprehend the attraction, that doesn’t make me right. What’s wrong is killing for shoes, or jackets, or any other branded thing.

More Expensive Than a Porsche

The most expensive pair of Air Jordans ever sold went for $104,000. ( Who knows, perhaps the great man himself wore them at one point.

It’s not just Jordan himself who influences these purchases. Celebrity rappers also wear them, giving the shoes an additional cache that young Black kids want to emulate. That makes a kid who just got a $200 pair of sneakers an easy target- and it can cut his young life short just for the sake of his shoes. A kid whose mother bought him that pair because he was getting straight As at school. A kid with a future. Um, not any more.

At what point did a shoe become more valuable than a life? When the almighty effectiveness of branding convinces people that a consumer item can somehow transform their existence. It then becomes a totem, rather than a shoe.

Branding can convince people that having, or looking like, or being like a given celebrity are hugely desirable. But what is more desirable than to find our own way in the world-defined by our own accomplishments?

One Sneaker To Rule Them All

The entire Hobbit series is based on the fantasy of One Ring to Rule Them All. An item of such power that the bearer was invincible. Not, of course, without great cost. But the temptation of that power was what controlled anyone close to it. Interestingly, branding works the same way. When a celebrity endorses a product, it implies that having or wearing this item is going to somehow make us rise above average. But it doesn’t. That feeling is just like the placebo effect. It only works if we believe it.

The real moral of the Hobbit tale was the rejection of such power, whether by the Elf Queen who herself was tempted, Gandalf, who knew its evil, or all the other players who could have, but chose not to, avail themselves of its power. They chose not to be corrupted. In many ways, the damaged, bifurcated character Gollum is a perfect representation of an uber-consumer culture. Gollum is us if we’re owned by things we desire. That’s the very definition of an addiction. Sneakers, opioids, drugs, food, clothing, makes no difference. If we’re willing to kill to acquire, we’re sick.

Somehow we are convinced we’re not enough as we are. Not pretty enough not thin enough, not handsome enough, not interesting enough. That is precisely the emotion that virtually all ad campaigns exploit to make us buy their stuff. Or steal it. We are never enough just as we are. Except that we are.

So a very special sneaker takes on the importance of influence and power. Belief is a very powerful thing. It is immensely potent- and it’s what leads people to rise above their circumstances and become something remarkable. Shoes can’t do that. We do.

Things vs. Character.

We spend a fortune on stuff from Beanie Babies to Botox. Some of which speaks to our desire to be part of a tribe, or to differentiate us from those of other tribes. It’s great fun to look pretty, dressed up, handsome, attractive, fancy…that’s not the point. It’s when having something become the be all end all rather than being in life that we find ourselves robbed of time, treasure and purpose.

Photo by Dominique Cottin on Unsplash

We have always adorned ourselves, whether with woven necklaces, beads, hammered gold or cowrie shells. Virtually every civilization since the dawn of man has expressed extraordinary creativity via dress, jewelry or possessions. That’s how we express status. For example, in the Masai culture of Tanzania, your status as a man is entirely dependent upon the size of your cattle/sheep/goat herd. The more you have, the higher your status. The man who has the largest herd is likely to be the chief or leader. The assumption is that if his herd is that big, surely he must be wise. That doesn’t always follow. He may just be that good at acquiring animals- but not necessarily talented in issues of human concern where his people are involved. But that’s Masai culture. In some ways, are the rest of us all that different? I don’t have the answer but sometimes I wonder. That’s over my pay grade.

The author in Myanmar
Photo by Lasaye Hommes on Unsplash

Picking Up Shiny Objects

I’ve spent plenty of my own treasure obtaining shiny objects that did nothing to enhance my life. What that did do is move the economy forward while emptying my bank account. I was as gullible and foolish as anyone else who was convinced that a shoe was somehow “worth” $720. Or $20,000. Or $104,000.

No it’s not.

I did my time being Gollum. Always driven, searching, angry, dissatisfied, looking for my holy Ring. Buying tons of stuff that I honestly believed at the time would make my life better.This or that dress or shoe or scarf or purse that I genuinely was convinced would make me more attractive, lovable, desirable. While some items gained the temporary admiration of some friends, more often than not it got me jealousy. Or envy. Not the desired response at all. If anything, having nicer things than other people got me more isolated. Just the opposite of the marketing’s implication.

Once acquired, that item just became part of my stuff. Then on to the next shiny object. That set of habits in part set me up for bankruptcy in my early forties. There’s nothing like losing everything to find out what really matters.

As a species we will always want to adorn, dress up, play with the vast creative enterprise that is how we express our individuality. The challenge, perhaps is to be able to see behind the branding curtain and be able to discern what constitutes hype and hyperbole, and what constitutes our character.

No mass manufactured item is is worth dying for. Our loved ones, our principles, our values, maybe. But not a sneaker, no matter who endorsed it.