This morning on NPR, Alice White, a member of the Catholic Church expressed pleasure at the way that Joseph Ratzinger (AKA Pope Benedict XVI) is using his power to squelch dissent within the church. Her justification for Ratzinger’s campaign of intimidation: “People are killing people over tennis shoes.”
The argument that Alice White made seemed strange to me for a couple of reasons. First, her argument relies on a causal connection between the murder rate and ability of one person in the Catholic Church to tell everyone else what to think.
Second, her argument is based on a peculiar claim of fact: That “people are killing people over tennis shoes.”
Where? Where are all these sneaker murders taking place? I’ve never seen anyone killed for their shoes. I’ve haven’t even heard anybody laughed at for their shoes in maybe 15 years.
The truth is that there is no epidemic of shoe-motivated murder. People are not killing people over tennis shoes. Go to Google News and do a search for yourself. You won’t find any news stories about people killing people for shoes. That’s not because there’s a mainstream news coverup of shoe murders. It’s because they’re not taking place.
Nonetheless, Alice White is not alone in her claim that the world is suffering from an epidemic of tennis shoe homicides. It’s become a shorthand expression for adults advocating crackdowns of one sort or another to claim that kids these days are busy killing each other for their shoes. The idea is that human life has become as cheap as a pair of shoes because of the erosion of traditional authority. Too much freedom is deadly, it’s said.
It all started back in the 1980s, with a couple of isolated incidents, years apart, in which teenagers were killed, and their shoes were taken after they were killed. In these few cases, which received a great deal of publicity, the murders weren’t really motivated by the desire for someone’s shoes. The reasons for the murders were much more complex than that. Yet, people began saying that these murders had taken place only because the murderers wanted the victims’ nice shoes. The stories people made up about these two murders became increasingly exaggerated, until people began claiming that there was a crime wave of teenagers being killed just for their shoes.
The idea survived, and continues to be communicated by people like Alice White, who support crackdowns to restrict people’s freedoms. They say that people are killing people for their shoes, and so we need to submit ourselves to the authority of leaders who will tell us what to do, what to say, and what to think.
The moral of this story is pretty clear, but it isn’t the one that people like Alice would like you to take away.
Your shoes are safe, and nobody is going to die if you think for yourself.
Post Script: In a weird and twisted silver lining to the dark, Ratzinger-shaped cloud that begins this story, I came across a most irregular web site called Killing Sneakers. Killing Sneakers is one of those web sites set up by people who are fascinated with shoes to the point of fetishism. There’s nothing sexual about it that I’ve seen, but it does involve a sort of odd ritual of anti-idolatry.
The site is devoted to people who like to share photographs they take as they destroy their shoes. So, although people are not killing people for their tennis shoes, people are killing their tennis shoes. There is photographic proof.
Maybe, if they pray about it for long enough, Alice White and her ilk can come up with an argument for why the rampant destruction of shoes on the Internet makes it necessary for everyone to obey their Pope.