As I write this from my apartment on the East Coast, I see the shadow of several sneakers against my window. They're swaying gently in the breeze, hanging over a power line outside my building. It's a familiar site in this city — and where I grew up in New York City. As friends and family there explained it, the sneakers appeared when someone in the area died. Other times, kids just threw them up there for fun, but the darker story is the one that always stuck with me. A few years ago, a man was shot and killed across the street from my apartment. No sneakers appeared then, but the existing shoes waved overhead like a flag at half-mast.
Every city and every country seems to have a different explanation for shoe tossing, some much more lighthearted than others. Director Matthew Bate (Shut Up Little Man!) explores the phenomenon in his documentary The Mystery of Flying Kicks. He invited people from across the world to contribute to the meaning of the mysterious symbol, encouraging them to send pictures, videos and leave voice messages on a special hotline.
A man in Australia explains that the shoes are a sign guys lost their virginity — a way to celebrate becoming a man. A caller from Spain tells us the shoes are a signal to police from the mafia to stay out of the neighborhood — an unspoken agreement between gangs and the authorities. In Los Angeles, the shoes are said to belong to deceased gang members, while a man in New York describes shoe tossing as a type of signature — a symbol that you accomplished something in the neighborhood and to let the world know that you were there.
The 14-minute short is a great look at a fascinating piece of urban myth that continues to evolve over time. [Spotted via Robot Mafia]
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