Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Pollux writes:

A puny, 1950s-style automobile navigates through a towering forest of stiletto heels and leather vamps. Ahead of the car there is a tunnel formed by the arch between heel and sole.

This strange passageway evokes the famous tunneled sequoia tree of Yosemite National Park, the Wawona Tree, through which cars could drive through until 1969, when it fell over.

The cover’s artist, Bruce McCall, doesn’t show us the forest canopy. Does it end at the shaft of the boots or extend all the way up the body of a beautiful but enormously tall woman?

My head reels with Freudian interpretations of McCall’s strange cover. A man putters down a road in a shrunken symbol of masculinity: an American car. He drives through woodland where women, or at least the symbols of women, tower above him, completely dominating him and the landscape.

The Mittyesque driver maneuvers slowly through the strange terrain. There are no confident clouds of dust emanating from the car. Caution! Knee High Boots ahead. Thurber’s intimidating women have put aside frumpy flower dresses and pulled on their Lumiani Novas or Michael Antonio Mckenzie Boots.

But my thoughts can travel down less psychosexual paths: I have ecological explanations for McCall’s cover as well. Is McCall pointing out that the leather boots, made from the skin of slaughtered carcasses, have replaced beautiful growing trees?

Where did the trees go? Have the Brobdingnagian boots simply kicked the pines aside or sprung fully manufactured from the ground? Has the earth been watered with buckles and sole stitchings? The cover conjures up surrealist spirits such as Magritte and De Chirico.

Perhaps, but this September 14, 2009 issue of The New Yorker was “The Style Issue,” and McCall’s cover is aptly called “Step Into Style.” Shoe expert Desiree Stimpert writes about the “flattering ways of knee high boots”: “One of the best things about cooler weather is the appearance of knee high boots. With a multitude of attributes, knee high boots can make chunky calves appear slimmer and cover lower leg flaws; keep your legs warm; and look incredibly chic. In short, they’re extremely flattering, very practical, and incredibly stylish.”

This issue of The New Yorker included profiles on Burberry, by Lauren Collins, and the internet shoe company Zappos.com, by Alexandra Jacobs. In Jacobs’ profile for the Annals of Retail, she writes that “owning a large collection of shoes in various styles and colors has, in the past decade, gone from being considered a sign of ultimate imperial excess (Imelda Marcos) to a constitutional right of the average American woman…”

McCall uses fall colors to adorn his boots. His boots are burnt orange, gold, twilight blue, aurora red, shady glade green. These are not colors I am privileged to see in Los Angeles, where Autumn is only the name of the Starbucks barista shoving over tepid cups of shady glade green tea over the counter.

Knee high boots, and the sexual power with which they are associated, are now for the average American woman, and no longer belong exclusively in the closets of a Pretty Woman, or La Femme Nikita, or your local dominatrix.

Ordinary women can actually collect shoes of all shapes and sizes. Consider Carrie Bradshaw or the Heineken commercial in which an ordinary woman shows off her group of friends an impressive walk-in closet lined with shoes. Her husband meanwhile reveals his walk-in fridge lined with bottles of Heineken while his friends shriek with delight.

McCall, whose work has appeared frequently this year, combines elegance with sheer mystery. I have the feeling that he can’t resist including a car somehow -he loves painting cars.

Whether the cover can be explained in Freudian, surrealist, or ecological theories, the boots are strongly and firmly planted in the ground. They move aside for no man, no car, and no tree.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree