So I’m doing a bit of research into my favorite subject–life as a Formerly and how I wound up as such–and I came across this English prof at U Mass Amherst, Kirby Farrell, talking about what happens when our subconscious wish for immortality enters the symbolic realm.
Take it easy! I’ll get to the Christian Laboutin/Ernest Becker connection in a minute. Coffee.
Right. Inherent in becoming a Formerly, of course, is that nagging awareness that you’re getting older (not old, mind you, but oldER) and that means that you are closer to death, whenever he has a mind to pound on your door. Sorry–not trying to bum you out, but it’s the truth, no matter in what dark, dust-bunny filled storeroom of your consciousness you choose to stash that reality. It always has been true, even when you had huge hair and danced with moronic frat boys to Sheila E in the late 80′s. Oh, wait. That was I. Yeah, but I think I saw you there, too, by the keg. And your hair was not exactly small, either.
ANYway, in shorthand, Becker’s The Denial of Death explores human culture as a creation with which we attempt to defend ourselves against the knowledge of our own mortality. We make up an elaborate set of stories that we tell ourselves and each other about what it means to be a valued member of our various societies, essentially to distract us from freaking out about the inevitable. These stories also help us come up with ways that we can symbolically leave our mark, by performing grand and heroic feats while we’re still alive, and thus, symbolically at least, expand our power and live forever. (Naturally, “heroic” is in the eye of the beholder and some people think it’s heroic to kill people who don’t believe what you do. I’m going to go with “dickheadish” on that one.)
Farrell was quoted in a film, Flight From Death: The Quest for Immortality, talking about material wealth as a symbolic barrier against death.
“…the ability to command the wills of other people by paying them something, is, in effect, a magnifying of your own self…a magnification of your own strength. If you can potentially make anyone in the world do your bidding because of your checkbook, then in effect you have everyone in the world extending your power. You have millions of hands and arms.”
Which brings me to shoes. I do not have a lot of money, but I seem to have a lot of shoes. This may be because I like to shop just a little too much and now that I’m a Formerly who has had twins and my ass isn’t where it used to be and nothing fits quite right, shoes are my last best option. I probably have (gasp!) 100 pairs of shoes, and I can truly justify no more than five, seven at the most, given my single pair of feet.
But perhaps my shoes shopping is part of my denial of death–and, I would argue to my husband who daily reminds me that we are On A Budget–a much less odious manifestation of this phenomenon than killing people who don’t agree with me and safer than jumping out of airplanes to prove that I’m not old.
Ladies, back me up here.Ã‚Â I share the desire of the rich to have millions of, if not hands and arms,Ã‚Â feet and legs. So I buy shoes, which, with the help of stores like Century 21 here in New York and DSW, I am able to do without being rich. With 100 pairs of shoes, my symbolic life is extended by, let’s say, 100 times. Imelda Marcos, who reportedly at one time had 3000 pairs of shoes, is going to live symbolically a very long time (for reasons other than her footwear collection, as well.) I have friends who are going to live symbolically longer than I will, and some less long, assuming shoe shopping is their primary strategy for attaining symbolic immortality.
Do I need more coffee or am I onto something here? I may eventually biodegrade, turn into the soil that will grow the food that will feed my progeny’s progeny’s progeny’s progeny, but my shoes (especially the ones with the man-made uppers) will live on in a landfill on Staten Island long after I’m gone. And that gives me comfort. Unlike the Laboutins, which gave me NO comfort, so I gave them to my friend Rhonda, who, come to think of it, never wears them either. I mostly wear Merrells these days. Yes, they’re ugly. But I’m a Formerly. I like to be comfy, so that’s a trade-off I’m increasingly willing to make.
How many pairs of shoes do you have? Don’t lie to make me feel better.