Thursday, July 13, 2006

Shoe Flinging

This photo (sorry for the Sasquatch snapshot quality) was taken in NYC between Lombardi's Pizza and DeSalvio Playground (aka Pedofile Park. There is a reason there is a sign prohibiting adults that are not accompanying a child) on Spring Street in NYC.

What struck me about the shoes thrown over these lines as that they all looked reletively new. I've heard stories that shoes hanging from electrical lines are code for something. I decided to see what I could find online.

This is what Wikipedia had on about "shoe flinging":
Shoe flinging or Shoefiti is the American and Canadian practice of throwing shoes whose shoelaces have been tied together so that they hang from overhead wires such as power lines or telephone cables. The shoes are tied together by their laces, and the assembly is apparently then thrown at the wires as a sort of bolas. This practice plays a widespread, though mysterious, role in adolescent folklore in the United States. Shoe flinging has also been reported in Australia.
Shoe flinging occurs throughout the United States, in rural as well as in urban areas. Usually, the shoes flung at the wires are sneakers; elsewhere, especially in rural areas, many different varieties of shoes, including leather shoes and boots, also are thrown.

A number of sinister explanations have been proposed as to why this is done. Some say that shoes hanging from the wires advertise a local crack house where crack cocaine is used and sold. Others claim that the shoes so thrown commemorate a gang-related murder, or the death of a gang member, or as a way of marking gang turf. A newsletter[1] (PDF) from the mayor of Los Angeles, California reports that "[m]any Los Angeles residents fear that these shoes indicate sites at which drugs are sold or worse yet, gang turf," and that city and utility employees had launched a program to remove them. These explanations have the ring of urban legend to them, especially since the practice also occurs along relatively remote stretches of rural highways that are unlikely scenes for gang murders or crack houses.

Other, less sinister explanations also have been ventured. Some claim that shoes are flung to commemorate the end of a school year, or a forthcoming marriage as part of a rite of passage. It has been suggested that the custom may have originated with members of the military, who are said to have thrown military boots, often painted orange or some other conspicuous color, at overhead wires as a part of a rite of passage upon completing basic training or on leaving the service. Others claim that the shoes are stolen from other people and tossed over the wires as a sort of bullying, or as a practical joke played on drunkards. Others simply say that shoe flinging is a way to get rid of shoes that are no longer wanted, are uncomfortable, or don't fit. It may also be another manifestation of the human instinct to leave their mark on, and decorate, their surroundings.

In the motion picture Wag the Dog, a spin doctor flings shoes into trees as a part of a campaign to call attention to a fictional war hero named Sergeant William Schumann, who was given the nickname "The Old Shoe." In another motion picture, Like Mike, a character is struck by lightning in an attempt to retrieve shoes from a power line, and acquires superpowers as a result. This is an unlikely dénouement.

In fact, shoe flinging is unwise and may cause utility outages. Attempting to retrieve shoes from overhead wires is dangerous and runs a risk of electrocution.

In some neighborhoods, shoes tied together and hanging from power lines or tree branches signify that someone has died. The shoes belong to the dead person. The reason they are hanging, legend has it, is that when the dead person's spirit returns, it will walk that high above the ground, that much closer to heaven.

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Here is a nice piece on Shoefiti Phenomenology courtesy of Just In NYC.

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