Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sneakers: The Gateway

Regarding my last post I think it’s important to also pay homage to the sneaker community by drawing attention to its natural transition into fashion.  The retro sneaker scene has opened the door wide open beckoning new members of the fashion world.  Retro sneakers are the gateway drug that introduces a generation to the fashion world.

Now that a generation once unable to buy these sneakers has the means to we do.  A part of our generation our professional athletes who are buying up these retro sneakers or being provided them based on whatever sneaker deal they have.  Having that much money and mentality of buying what they once could not sneakers isn’t the only thing they buy or get interested in.  Many pro basketball players are now even involved in the fashion industry and own their own niche boutiques.  Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Kanye West, A$ap Rocky are just a couple names of young men with the means now who are wearing these retro sneakers all the while buying up and exploring newer fashions.  With the world changing because of social media and these athletes and celebrities being able to show off their goodies fashion and sneakers are a culture of their own. 

If you’ve listened to the A$ap Rocky record, Fashion Killa, he almost overwhelms you with designer names.  Lebron James & other NBA players are frequently seen in older Jordans, but mix in designer shoes as well.  The frequency at which followers see these individuals’ rock retro sneakers and designer clothing and shoes makes them more aware of the world of fashion.  Instead of baggy jeans with a t-shirt accompanying the retro Jordan 12 Taxi this coming weekend we will see more fitted pants and designer brands rounding out the outfit. 
We can now get out retro sneakers and designer tees.  We’ve made it, look at us.  The large influence of the generation that couldn’t get those sneakers and can now has opened doors to fashion, which is see easily if you search Instagram hashtags for #OOTD (outfit of the day) or #todayskicks or #sneakerhead.  Retro sneakers in a very big way have opened the flood gates of the fashion industry.  Once you get into higher end quality products, typically these will be designer brands, the transition into Allen Edmonds, ColeHaan, Prada, Jimmy Choo, Fendi, Tod’s, Ferragamo, and John Varvatos to name a few is easy.  Once you get into designer sneakers the transition into those clothes comes next. 

Anatomy of a Sneakerhead

It’s always an interesting experience to browse sneakers with Tank.  For those of you who don’t know me well, Tank is my little brother.  I’ve been a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana for 7 years now and Tank is my Little.  I met him when he was 7 and he’ll be 14 in a couple weeks.  He is always pointing out these new shoes to me to which I’m enamored and must explain how I owned them when I was his age.  The term retro refers to new old I suppose, so when he says new he means they just came out, in his eyes and experience, but to me they’re old because they’ve been released before, it’s an old design. 

“I don’t watch the NBA anymore, not since the glory days of Jordan and Bulls passed.  Those were the good ol’ days”  This is the same rhetoric you hear from many people, interestingly enough, people who were only kids in those days.  I’m talking the late 90s here, where the rise of the NBA superstar became very much apparent with marketing and especially sneaker deals.  Larry Johnson, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Shaq, Penny Hardaway, Tim Hardaway, Chris Webber, Latrell Sprewell.  These are just a few names I can rattle off the top of my head that had sneaker deals.  Nostalgia is an interesting phenomenon and is cause for much of this big retro sneaker hype that we are experiencing today.  Nostalgia is why walking into Finishline or Champs or Footlocker often feels like you stepped into a time machine and visited your childhood fantasy regarding sneakers.
I always ask the question of why and am not satisfied until I have answered it in some way, which leads me to ponder the psychology of a retro sneaker.  Why is it that the 90s sneakers have made this huge emergence and not only sold well, but done so at an ungodly price hike compared to the original price? 
I grew up during this basketball “golden era.”  Just to clarify, I think the NBA is at its peak in terms of talent and marketability right now, so I don’t really buy into the golden era of basketball, nostalgia also makes everything look better in retrospect.  While we are here let’s define retrospect.  According to the great World Wide Web a basic definition is this: a survey or review of a past course of events or period of time.  A retro sneaker is just that, a review of a period of time expressed through a sneaker being re-released to the general population.  Nike is a very very smart company.  I’m not sure if you knew this but Nike now has the contract for all NFL apparel.  Nike has taken innovating sports to another level with technology like the fuel band and NikePlus as well.  Nike also owns Jordan Brand.  Nike used to own ColeHaan, but in order to focus on the sports side of things sold it off to a holding company.  All that to demonstrate Nike knows what they are doing.  I grew up in the inner city with not very much.  Like most kids in that environment I idolized these basketball players who came from similar circumstances to make it in the NBA and become millionaires.  I wanted to walk like them, talk like them, smell like them (yep, remember when Jordan released that awful cologne?), and most of all I wanted to wear what they wore.
There’s an entire generation of us, we grew up wanting to be Jordan.  Macklemore’s song about sneakers hits home for many like me (if you haven’t heard it, check it out).  Again, most of us who idolized these figures and wanted to wear their shoes also grew up poor and were not able to afford these luxuries.  Let’s fast forward a bit.  While fast forwarding keep in mind none of us wanted to be poor and some of us grew up and found a way to not repeat socio-economic habits and break the cycle of poverty and make our ways to success.  We now have money.  We now have means to that end, to grab that sneaker we so coveted growing up, we can now touch what seemed unattainable.  Again, Nike is smart, Nike knows and has probably been studying this generation for quite some time.  Knowing that we have cash they began unloading all the sneakers we yearned for as kids.  Nike is extremely innovative so it makes zero sense that they would release retros because they’ve run out of good designs.  Retro sneakers are a cash cow aimed at taking advantage of the opportunity a bunch of previously unfortunate kids all grown up with cash now apportion them.  I’m not trying to demonize Nike or the idea of retros in any way, I have been eating them up, even though my style doesn’t really support casually wearing sneakers. 
I wanted to be like Mike, but couldn’t afford it back then, now I can, you can call me a sneakerhead.  That’s how it goes.  Kudos to Nike for noticing opportunity and kudos to all of us who can finally get The Glove, Kamikaze II, Elevens, and Air Max Ones. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Addicts, Stereotypes, and a Bait Car

A shadowy figure walks past an unattended automobile. It's unlocked. The engine's running. No owner insight. Without hesitation, the perp climbs into the driver's seat and speeds off, thinking he has evaded punishment. Unfortunately for him, a hidden video camera has been installed on the dashboard and a nearby police force has been watching his every move. The suspect has been caught. With the press of a button, the officers shut down the vehicle. The suspect is arrested on the spot and led away in handcuffs. He has been snared with a Bait Car (CableNation).

At first glance this show seems entertaining enough.  I happen to catch an episode this weekend and after about the first 5 minutes my laughter turned to sorrow, my sorrow into concern, and finally my concern into these words.  All in all this show targets and marginalizes a very focused demographic, African-American* Males.  Watch the show for long enough and you see the trend without even looking into Cable Television Advertising Bureau statistics that the “criminals” are all young African-American males.  As the camera pans from scene to scene it capture street names that make it very obvious what areas of town they are setting this operation up in.  Sadly ironic any street that bears the great name of Martin Luther King Jr. is synonymous with crime and poverty.  Seeing that sign alone tells the viewer something, or else why would it be a detail offered at all?  Now a vehicle unoccupied and running is set in a high crime area as police officers with cameras and fancy electronics lie in wait for what they call perps, but let’s be honest are more like prey or victims.  Is stealing a car ever ok? The answer is simply no, however, nothing exists within a vacuum and several variables must be considered when viewing this show or even considering following me down this cognitive path. 

 Here is my disclaimer and asterisk that should be considered when reading this.  I’m a Caucasian male, who would be considered upper-middle class.  I fit snuggly into the average viewer TruTV is targeting with their programming (I’ll mention numbers later).  I did grow up in a bad area of town riddled with crime.  I also grew up as a minority with my community, meaning I grew up in a mostly African-American populated area.  All this to paint a picture that at best I can be is moderate regarding the issue of race relations at face value.  Just past the surface is this though, in college my favorite courses were regarding racial reconciliation and today’s culture.  My hope in this is others will consider more than just being entertained when viewing programs and events in life. 

 Here are some figures to consider regarding TruTV’s demographic statistics:
  • Median age: 43 (CableNation)
  • Median income: $43,000 (CableNation)
  • 67% of cable network viewers are male (Media Matters for America)
  • 84% of that viewership is Caucasian (Media Matters for America)

Great, a bunch of numbers and some obvious observations, so what?  What kind of message is this show sending?  What does this program teach the viewers about the perps and how does this mold their perception of the general population outside of television?  The majority of folks who view this program are middle class Caucasian men.  Middle class Caucasian men laughing at the dumb decisions of criminals.  Criminals who are all African-American.  What kind of depths do these seemingly simple observations by a viewer reach when it comes to how they live their everyday lives?  What happens when they go into a predominantly African-American area of town, do their assumptions change, do those doors get locked at stop lights, and do they treat others well?  Do those others deserve to be treated well if those others are just what they are taught to be by the shiny tv screen? 

I have a great idea for TruTV, set up hidden cameras in  AA meeting.  Introduce an onslaught of tasty alcoholic beverages and see what happens.  Eventually when the participants of this sick social experiment succumb to the pressure of that weakness or cultural bent they have let’s chastise them, all on national television. Is this sick?  Isn’t it just offering an opportunity to someone and recording the results?  Of course not!  The same is true of Bait Car. Placing an unoccupied vehicle in a high crime area of town is the same thing.  Unpacking the variables behind what causes the high crime is where people get lazy and just start buying into stereotypes though.  High crime areas are typically products of their past, simple predictable outcomes of a cyclical socio-economic environment. 

 Maybe you’re entertained by this show.  I was too, and then I paid attention to that little feeling of discomfort my idle mind typically rejects and opened this can of worms, a can I’m very uncomfortable with.  Do I find this show entertaining? No.  I’m not saying view the world from my perspective, different experiences and perspectives are what the world beautiful, I’m just prescribing considering other views and look deeper than the surface of things like this.

*You won’t see me often use the terms Black or White as I’ve never met someone actually the color Black, I find it more appropriate to reference heritage over colors that actually aren’t accurate.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Where is God (Aching)?

My assumption is that some consideration has been given to the logic that leads to the answer of, “Where is God?”  I’ve discovered a new aspect of God in my life recently, one that is much more emotional in a personal way than I’ve experienced before.  God has always loved poor people and hated war in my eyes.  I’ve understood him from a large sweeping, generalized, universal standpoint.  Was it personal? Well, of course, in a way.  It was personal that Jesus saved me and yada yada, however, I think God is such a big idea that it’s difficult for us to perceive him personally, unless something does actually happen in our lives.  Based on our experiences in life we begin to build a context, for which we place God in, and sometimes that can be unhealthy or even incorrect, but that always leads me back to asking people to consider how they came to those conclusions.  All that to say this, there is a word that plays over in over in my mind and heart recently that describes God, for me, where I am right now, and that word is ache.
Ache.  Such a simple word, but is heavy and deep.  What does it mean to ache?  What does it feel like to be aching from something? 

In the bible there are phrases and imagery used of aching like, moaning and hurting down to the bone marrow or joints.  Bone marrow is the imagery used to express the depths of a person, the deepest parts.  The aching I am referring to is something that eats at you at the deepest level, which some would argue is your soul.  Aching is pain that hurts your being, your soul, a deep pain.  There is nothing you can do about it, no medicine to numb the pain, and nothing big or loud enough to distract you from how painful this thing is that is aching your bones and soul away.  It’d be like a mother losing an infant child to death’s cold grips.  This kind of aching mother is the God I now have become familiar with. Often times we are taught about a God who looks around at all the bad in the world and is angry or impatient.  All too often we personalize that and begin to feel certain things do or don’t happen to us because of God’s disapproval. This leads us down a cynical and dark path though, one where the loving aspect of God as a father is lost and we embrace this distant, unrelated, deity that we cannot touch or even relate to.  This turns the world awfully small and cold.  The kind of aching I’m talking about is when tears stream down your face and you cannot control nor describe why they flow.  The seat you occupy gets deeper and deeper as you sink into this numb feeling of pain.  Logically something may make perfect sense, but just going through it hurts so bad because there was or is a loss so large or deep that it impacts your soul.  I think aching only happens when there is something that impacts you at your depths. 

God aches.  Experiencing a God who is not disappointed or angry or saying you should have tried harder or been better, a God that doesn’t hold you to a standard (unfortunately there is a large population that misunderstands and therefore teaches a particular verse that says we should be perfect), but a God who aches with and for you., experiencing a God like that is, well, relieving.  Knowing that you can cry, you can hurt, and you can moan in agony without any repercussions or judgment is something special.  God aches for us and with us, that’s the God I’ve experienced recently.  While I cannot tell you of any deep prayer time or bible reading I can tell you of the feeling of an aching God’s presence.  So hurt, moan, and ache, it’s something we need to go through.  Jesus wept when a dear friend died whom he had total control and power to bring back to life.  Why did He weep?  I think Jesus wept because he ached for the pain he saw in people he loved.  Jesus wept.  God aches.  There is peace in that.  Shalom.

Where is God (Logic)?

I suppose this is the question we would probably be best suited to ask ourselves throughout our experiences.  The healthiest thing we can do is reflect on where God exists within our environments and experiences. This frequent reflection gives us a stopping point of sorts, a ground zero, a base line off which we can operate and live.  The question doesn’t beg a logistical answer either, it’s not asking a location or longitude or latitude coordinates or even a pie in the sky ideology that boasts an old guy with white hair sitting in the clouds with a shiny crown on either.  Where does God exist within your experience, how is he involved, how to you view him, etc, etc.  That’s the question to ponder.

One of my professors in college used to always get on me about writing in a passive voice.  I write in a passive voice because I’m open to being wrong and I’m also open to my experience being just that, an experience in a broader prism of experiences that others have, allowing for unique experiences and individuals space to experience life and God on their own.  Standardization of anything within the context of spirituality is dangerous; space for unique experiences must be made.
So, back to pondering this huge question; maybe you won’t have or get to an answer, but the thought alone has great value.  Due to some recent life-altering circumstances I’ve been pondering this question a lot lately.  I’ve been thinking of writing about this for a bit anyways, but a comment from a friend really urged me to.  I once heard one of my favorite minds and writers say that writing shouldn’t be something you simply do, but something that is burning inside of you that you are compelled to get out of you.  My friend’s response to a simple comment I made was the extra nudge I need to compel me.
She was telling me how she was depressed and needed to take some meds.  My response was that she should also drink some Jesus juice.  When I use the term Jesus juice I’m referring to wine, based on his first miracle to turn water into wine. I don’t think she understood my little joke, but her response was still peculiar and moving to me.  “Oh, He’s been ignoring me lately.”  I take that to be in reference to Jesus. Using deductive reasoning I also take that to mean she feels like the circumstances surrounding her depression are caused by a lack of Jesus’ attention.  Following that same path a little further down that implies that bad things happen because God lets them and that somehow that means when bad things happen it’s because God somehow has turned his back or is too busy. The implications of this understanding of circumstances and God are quite complex. That line of thought would support several unhealthy and false conclusions like good things only happen to people God favors or conversely bad things only happen to people who God is ignoring or has no love for.

It’s not just what you think of God, more importantly, in my humble opinion; it’s why you think what you think about God, analyzing the logic behind your conclusion.  Considering where God is starts with analyzing why you have come to the conclusion that you have.  My hope for anyone I have the opportunity to have a relationship with throughout my life is that I can always lead folks to consider this question.  Considering this question alone is huge for someone’s life.  May you consider where God is in your life, keeping in mind it’s different for everyone, and that’s perfectly okay.