I am always loathe to make predictions. All too often, I'm just plain wrong, and I hate the idea of leaving a paper trail. Once in a while, however, I feel particularly inspired and stick my neck out. Thus, I would like to predict that 2009 will be remembered as the year of the shoe.
Like all cultural trends, the roots of this phenomena will have commenced in a completely unanticipated fashion -- in this case, George W. Bush. Recently, he made his final trip to Iraq as US President (I'm certain that he will return there in the coming years as a private citizen, perhaps as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer.) During a press conference, an Iraqi reporter who had already been vetted, X-rayed, patted down and (no doubt) cavity searched by the US Secret Service found a way to vent his anger and frustration. He removed his shoes and hurled both of them at our Commander in Chief. If you haven't seen the fracas, it's a worth the YouTube viewing. (Note how much faster the photo journalists reacted than the presidential security detail.)
Bush, as you know was not hurt, but Dana Perino suffered a black eye in the ensuing shuffle. (Ms. Perino should keep the shiner; it will make her easier to distinguish from the other blond zealots when she inevitably joins Fox News.) With Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on vacation, this sad little incident was likely destined to be quickly forgotten. And then fate intervened.
Shifting from Baghdad to New York, picture a city reeling from the slump in property values, the mortgage meltdown, financial scandals and rising taxes. Into this mix, insert, Stephen A. Millies, an Amtrak employee and New York City commuter. He was attending an Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) hearing where the board had just voted to increase bus and subway fares by 20% while cutting service. In sheer frustration, he vented his rage by attempting to throw a size 10.5 Redwing shoe at MTA CEO, Elliot Sanders. Of course, this is New York, not Iraq, and security was provided by MTA police, not the US Secret Service, so Millies was surrounded and subdued by MTA security before ever launching his humble missile.
It was then that it all became clear to me: 2009 will be the year of the shoe. Within weeks, somewhere in Europe, disgruntled students will pour into the streets, remove their old sneakers and hurl them at the powers that be. (Greece, of course, will stick to Molotov cocktails.) The Chinese government will ban the wearing of shoes in public, and foreign dignitaries will have to meet President Elect Obama barefoot from now on him. (Perhaps Michelle should hire a Japanese interior decorator for the private residence.) The UN, meanwhile will assemble a working group to consider the implications of the global shoe crisis, and Nike will team with Hasbro to release a line of Nerf shoes. (All the fun of 'giving' them a piece of your mind with none of the pain of receiving.)
The only thing that prevents this laced and loafered trend from being absolutely hilarious is the fundamental despair that it illuminates. In Iraq, the attacker Muntadar al-Zaidi may go to prison over this for a very long time. It's a good thing that he already knows something about captivity, having been kidnapped by Shiite militiamen last year. And half a world away, a man is so desperately angry at the inevitable decline in his standard of living that he acts impulsively. What these men have in common is a spreading sense of hopelessness: they may live in very different societies but they share the same fear of a world gone mad.
So I am confident that 2009 will be the year of the shoe. What I cannot predict is whether it will symbolize renewal or anarchy.