Don’t Harsh My Thongs

19 07 2013

What’s with all the thong hate? No, not THOSE thongs. “Thongs” are what we used to call flip-flops down here when I was a kid.

Not our feet, not our beach. Image courtesy of KSL Broadcasting, Salt Lake City UT (ksl.com)

Not our feet, not our beach. Image courtesy of KSL Broadcasting, Salt Lake City UT (ksl.com)

Whatever you call them, I read six articles published in the last week referencing the horror of people wearing flip-flops (Slate,  Huffington Post, MSN, CBS, Fox, and Jezebel), and saw on my way out the door this morning that the Today Show  was, as usual, coming late to the party. At least Jezebel took the contrarian (shocking, I know) position that there is no shame in sporting ugly, exposed feet.

Apparently, feet need a good PR push. They’re variously described in these articles as “gross,” “disgusting,” “nasty,” “super gross,” “smelly,” “filthy,” “unsightly,” “skeevy,”  and “unappealing.”  Place them in a flip-flop, put them in an urban environment, and you get a violent reaction. Mix in podiatrists and lack of arch support, and you have shoe heresy.

After my initial knee-jerk reaction to people dissing my favorite form of footwear — after all, I live in South Florida and we have raised thong-wearing to an art form — I found I had to agree with at least SOME of the argument. Thongs + urban dirt = skanky feet. I lived in New York City for six years and never once even considered wearing flip-flops on the street. I wore Doc Martins, a form of urban combat wear for your feet. It was simply self-defense; I have this thing about people stepping on my naked toes. It hurts.

And let’s not forget the general filthiness of large collections of humans living in very close proximity to one another. Big city streets are big time nasty.

What’s actually interesting in all of this is not that there are something like 18,000 bacteria on your flip-flops (including Staphylococcus aureus, according to the 2009 study referenced in all of these articles). It’s that thing I referred to in the last post: the social media hive mind.

It used to be that print and broadcast tended to move in story cycles, so that if one pub covered a topic and the article/segment was interesting and well-received (or at least received a lot of attention), you could count on similar stories from the competition. Now that everyone’s wired (a gloriously inaccurate term), the cycle is practically instantaneous. And when enough news outlets (i.e. mainstream media), news purveyors (i.e. bloggers, gossip sites, opinion sites), and social consumers come together on a topic, it becomes a cultural phenomenon (albeit an often brief one). Because the timeframe is so compressed, and sharing anything even remotely interesting is basically built into whatever you’re reading/watching, we get topics that spread like viruses. Hence that “viral” thing.

What used to seem like these big cosmic coincidences now happen so frequently they’ve lost much of their luster — and therefore any truly lasting impact. In a moment too meta to contemplate here, an author whose book I recently edited told me I need to read Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious, and the next day Mr. Berger was on CBS talking about how stuff catches on — or doesn’t.

So, I wonder what the next Sharknado will be? Of course, if we knew that, we’d stop trying to do this marketing thing, become consultants, and wear our flip-flops on the beach in Bora Bora.

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