The iconic Converse Chuck Taylor gym-shoe is a hundred years old this year. Converse has commissioned a special centenary advert, starring Pharrell Williams, Santogold and Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, singing, dancing, and celebrating this wonderful, incredible, amazing shoe.
You can also watch a hilarious video of Pharrell talking, with an admirable lack of irony, about what the Chuck Taylor means to him. ‘Chuck Taylor’s have come into my life on at least two different occasions’, he says, as if talking about the arrival of some kind of spiritual force.
Perhaps Chuck Taylor’s really are some kind of spirit force. Marx talked about the fetishization of commodities, how in capitalist societies we imbue commodities with a sort of aura or spiritual power, make them objects of worship and collective identity.
Another Chuck Taylor, this one the Canadian philosopher also known as Charles, makes a similar point in his recent book, A Secular Age, where he says: “Commodities become vehicles of individual expression, even the self-definition of identity. But however this may be ideologically presented, this doesn’t amount to some declaration of real individual autonomy…”
He continues: “My buying Nike running shoes [or Converse Chuck Taylor boots] may say something about how I want to be / appear, the kind of empowered agent who can take ‘Just Do It!’ as my motto. And in doing this, I identify with those heroes of sport and the great leagues they play in. In so doing, I join millions of others in expressing my ‘individuality’. Moreover, I express it by linking myself to some higher world, the locus of stars and heroes, which is largely a construct of fantasy….Of course, it goes without saying that a more genuine search for authenticity begins only where one can break out of the Logo-centric language generated by trans-national corporations.”
Converse’s Chuck Taylor’s are undeniably very strong brands. They were the epitome of Fifties youth culture, worn by jocks and T-Birds alike. They went with the skin-pipe jeans to make up the punk look of the Ramones. All the male members of Blondie wore them on the cover of Parallel Lines.
And my generation, and the generation beneath me, seem to love them and identify with them just as much. In my attempts to find dates on the Guardian’s dating website, I noticed that one of the most common features by which girls in their mid-twenties or early thirties described themselves was their love of Converse shoes. It cropped up an amazing number of times. Loves: long walks in the country, evenings by the fire in a pub, Converse shoes.
So struck was I by this love of British women for Converse shoes, that when I next went out buying sneakers, I decided to get a pair of black Chuck Taylor’s. ‘You can’t go wrong with Chuck Taylor’s', the bright, trendy girl in the store told me. ‘I’ve got eight or nine pairs of them already’.
I like my Chuck Taylor’s. I’m now part of the Ramones / Strokes / Pharrell / Blondie / Grease / entire female population under 30 trans-national community. I belong.