A sneakerhead with multiple shoes behind him showing off his collection of different Jordans. Courtesy of Zia Mohajerjasbi.

Walking through the Nike store, shelves stocked with orange boxes embellished with the brand’s signature check mark fill the well-known sports apparel store. Multiple shoes decorated with bright neon colors, dark blue hues, and basic black-white trims display themselves along the aisles. Prices range from $60 to $50,000 for shoes with multiple uses: running, training, basketball, or volleyball.

With such high prices, the customer feels like no one has these same shoes. After buying those $50,000 Diamond Encrusted Air Force 1’s, he feels special, empowered, and untouchable; however, on the walk home, he passes someone wearing those very same shoes he just bought. All previous feelings disappear as he realizes he is no longer the only person to own those shoes, nor is he as distinguishing as he once thought he was with his previous purchase.

American consumerism wrongly pushes these consumers towards spending unreasonable amounts of money to purchase these “unique” name brands by using societal pressures and exclusive advertising tactics when in reality it brings more harm than good.

Today’s society creates a mindset in which if one does not own Nike, Coach, or any other well-known name brand, they are not considered part of the “cool kid’s group.” This generates a social pressure on not only young kids to fit in in their fragile time of youth, but also young adults and other age groups. In Macklemore x Ryan Lewis’ music video “Wings,” a young kid representing a youthful Macklemore, wears Nike shoes as the camera pans to the footwear his peers have on (Mohajerjasbi). The slow motion and pan of the camera emphasize the clean Nike shoes as superior to the dirty no-name branded shoes his classmates wear. The boy’s face shows content in knowing that he is the only kid in his classes to be “cool enough” to own a pair. Macklemore’s lyrics exclaim “my friends couldn’t afford them…I stick out my tongue so everyone could see that logo” (Gadsby). The difference in cleanliness between the different shoes puts Nike in this superior position above all other shoe brands. Because of this high pedestal, the boy is equally put at a superior “ranking” compared to the other kids.

Macklemore emphasizes this idea that “being seen to have shopped in a particular store can be a more potent status symbol than the actual ownership of the consumer item” (Smith and Raymen). This highlights American consumerism’s behavior in which those who cannot afford such items are isolated or looked down upon while those able to spend excessive amounts of money towards expensive luxurious items are put at a higher class. As a result, this association between expensive prices and the supposed superior quality it comes with fills the minds of the average consumer.

Payless Prank on influencers and fashionistas as they create a faux luxury store with expensive looking decorations. Courtesy of Wharton, University of Pennsylvania.

American consumerism constructs this idea that price dictates the quality and value of an object. When something carries a high price such as the $50,000 Diamond Encrusted Air Force 1’s, consumers link this to rarity, uniqueness, and more worth. Payless, an American discount shoe company, carried out this experiment in which they created a fake luxury brand named Palessi along with a launch party and faux authentic interior design (Price). They sold their own shoes at prices like $600 versus their normal price of $30-$40. With higher prices and the faux “luxurious environment,” influencers described the shoes as “sophisticated” and “made with high-quality materials” (Price). In reality, these fashionistas and influencers did not know anything about the brand, but after looking at the price and the store it was sold in, they assumed it was of higher quality and was unattainable. Today’s consumer automatically goes to the same mindset these young influencers had: price means quality.

Macklemore says in the “Wings,” “so expensive…I just got to flaunt it” (Gadsby). Shoppers today see these higher prices as something that needs to be shown off to others. This is all due to the fact that these goods seen as “modern symbols people wear to redefine their identity and social status” in which they “signify the purchasing power of those who acquire them” with the purpose of “separating the buyer from others who do not have the means to gain access to the same goods” (Ming). They see themselves on a different level as they buy something with so much “worth” because they have this power that not many are able to exercise. When they obtain these items, advertising creates this idea that if bought, it can change a person’s whole image and how someone perceives them. Along with excessive amounts of money spent, consumers are also pressured to go to unreasonable lengths in hopes of buying something that will make them feel more individualistic.

Sneakerheads lined up in front of a Nike store waiting for it to open. Courtesy of Zia Mohajerjasbi.

Because these products are advertised as one-of-a-kind, buyers go to extreme measures to make sure they have the product on their feet or in a nicely wrapped shoebox by the end of the day. In Macklemore x Ryan Lewis’ “Wings” music video, people are shown sitting outside late at night patiently waiting outside a Nike shoe store for the release of a new line of shoes (Mohajerjasbi). This is the reality of many “sneakerheads” in today’s society in which they collect shoes on top of shoes, spend hundreds of dollars, and wait forever in line just to get one pair of shoes. American consumerism and society are generating this societal norm of collecting high priced items such as shoes and going to such lengths to get them. With all of these shoes piling up in their closets, in reality, they realize, just as Macklemore did, they’re just shoes, nothing more, nothing less. He thought they made him unique when in reality, a lot of people have them. This reality relates to many people caught up in this fantasy. In the music video, the young boy spots a kid passing by with the same shoes as him and it ends up ruining his whole day (Mohajerjasbi). He said, “now I see it’s just another pair of shoes” (Gadsby). This highlights the reality in which many people should be living in. Shoes are meant to be worn, not kept in a shoebox in a storage room. Buyers think they become individualistic when they buy such items but when bought in such excess, is individualism the ultimate goal?

Advertising creates this idea that certain items are need-to-have and pushes American consumerism in a direction that sometimes holds violent outcomes. Macklemore visually and lyrically shows the violence which these items cause. He tells the listener, “my friend Carlos’s brother got murdered for his fours” (Gadsby). Additionally, the young Macklemore walking home gets his shoes stolen by some older kids in the music video (Mohajerjasbi). His face is not beaten up or covered in bruises, so it seems as though he gave his shoes away without a fight. He realizes that it is just a pair of shoes and nothing to risk one’s life for. These shoes that initially made him “fly,” later brought him back down to the ground. This culture produces violence that is not always shown on the front page. By highlighting a small part that happens when people have what others want, opens up the darkness behind the scenes of these big brand names. Although not their intention for people to get hurt, with the way the human mind works leads to unimaginable ways to get the things they want. These consequences are all due to the environment in which these high prices, ranking of classes, and societal stresses create due to the patterns and standards of American consumerism.

When it comes to shoes, some people have a hard time spending $20 for the basic kind.

When did American society get to the point where shoes can go for $50,000 or more?

When did the American consumer gain so much excess money that they can spend hundreds of dollars on multiple pairs of shoes that just sit in a shoebox in a storage room?

When did society let the shoes, clothes, or makeup one wears decide the ranking of the social hierarchy?

American consumerism has created this hostile environment in which price is greatly affecting the way in which classmates treat each other as well as judging how well off a person is. America needs to come back down from the clouds and come back down to its roots so that they can appreciate the basic necessities of life and help those who are not able to obtain them.

Works Cited

“Five Marketing Lessons from the Payless Shoe Prank.” Wharton University of Pennsylvania. 7 December 2018. https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/five-marketing-lessons-from-the-payless-shoe-store-prank/. Accessed 18 April 2019.

Gadsby, Harry. “Macklemore Wings Lyrics.” Youtube, 18 November 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJE2rs4NMrQ.

Jiang, Ming., et. al. “The devil wears Prada: Advertisements of luxury brands evoke feelings of social exclusion,” Asian Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 17, 2014, pp. 245–254.

Mohajerjasbi, Zia. “Macklemore x Ryan Lewis ‘Wings’ Official Music Video.” Youtube, 20 July 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAg3uMlNyHA.

Price, Emily. “Payless Opened a Fake Luxury Store with $600 Shoes,” Business Source Complete, 28 November 2018.

Smith, Oliver and Thomas Raymen. “Shopping with violence: Black Friday sales in the British context,” Journal of Consumer Culture, vol. 17, no. 3, 2015, pp. 677–694.