The Bush shoe: A symbol with sole

It has been just over a week since Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi hurled his shoes at American President George Bush, but the pieces of flying footwear have already become a powerful symbol for worldwide frustration and anger.

In the United States, 236.com had a field day with the incident, setting the clip to classical music and suggesting ways for readers to show their solidarity. Meanwhile, numerous grass-roots groups have developed, some suggesting that mailing shoes to President Bush might be the best way to express dissent with his Presidency.

It's hardly surprising that the symbolic shoes are so powerful to so many people. To a great extent, a political history of the past few decades could simply be a catalog of symbols and sound bites. In the late 1980's, for example, a burger commercial became a cultural phenomenon when a Presidential candidate asked his opponent "Where's the beef?" In the intervening years, ribbons of red, pink, white and yellow have gained massive meaning for huge segments of the population, while wristbands of various colors have become markers of causes ranging from testicular cancer to Goth rights. In the recent election cycle, candidates were accused of being unpatriotic or even treasonous based on their wearing of traditional clothes or eschewing of flag pins. Symbols as disparate as a rainbow flag or the middle name Hussein have, in a very real way, become replacements for convictions and strongly verbalized beliefs.