Our View – Shoes embody shift to ultra-capitalism

Birkenstocks were once associated with the countercultural movement of the ’60s, adorning the feet of the few hippies who weren’t barefoot and refused to contribute to that which was ultra-capitalistic and “resisted the man.” But now these shoes have recently taken on a new meaning.

Now the classic style of these sandals “the Arizona” pratically require a bank loan to purchase and instead of appealing to America’s youth, they are being sold to former hippies and baby boomers as an investment in comfortable shoes.

Now even supermodel Heidi Klum is cashing in one these sandals, both in designing and wearing some of the footwear. Although the loss of a silly shoe made for America’s youth is largely inconsequential, it is extremely reflective of an overall shift in American culture, especially of its youth, toward apathy in the political atmosphere and social causes of our time.

This trend is certainly not because of a lack of causes. If the ’60s and ’70s can be noted as a period of time when the world seemed to be up in flames, with the pointless war in Vietnam and the deceptiveness of the Nixon administration to name a few, our generation too can relate to the causes of our time.

While Iraq is certainly a far cry from Vietnam, the Bush administration’s tactics are eerily similar to the sneakiness seen only three decades ago with the Nixon administration. The Christian right has tried endlessly since the ’80s to undo any progress from the feminist movement of the ’60s and ’70s, slowing the progress of such important legislation as the Equal Rights Amendment and trying to reverse the decision made by the Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade.

The stratification of classes, and ultimately races, has also been increasingly widened, a far cry from the equality called for by the Black Panthers and their earlier predecessors of the Civil Rights Movement.

Why is it that this generation has abandoned these ideals? Why aren’t values like peace, equality and love for all people still popular? Were they a fad?

Luckily for aspiring social activists, there’s a new way to become socially involved without having to reduce spending or take to the streets in outrage. Capitalism, in its infinite adaptability, has found a new market with young people as a means of delivering them with socially responsible goods.

Don’t want to buy clothes made in maquiladoras or sweatshops? There’s a store to accommodate your style and your conscious at the same time.

Don’t want to buy meat from animals that have been left in cages and pumped full of hormones and steroids? Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Wild Oats welcome your business. Hate the recent homogenization of stores and American culture? Buy from mom and pop shops.

Oddly, this seems to be the most effective way of eliciting change. The shift in demand has all but moved the market from shortcuts and dishonest practices to ethical, responsible corporations without requiring the organization of a “traditional” movement. Those who want to see the change buy from these ethical stores. The world is slowly but surely changing with the help of consumerism, amazingly enough.

During an interview Noam Chomsky, the political activist, linguist and writer, in an attempt to stir activism in today’s students, said that students need to be “honest, critical, [and] accept elementary moral principles.” If these principles are incorporated into today’s common values, maybe the new surge in conscious consumerism can catapult this change even further and reach companies that refuse to abandon their unethical ways.

As for Birkenstocks, they are just becoming tools for this new kind of change through consumerism.

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