Culture of the Flying Shoes

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            During his final visit to Iraq before he steps out of office, American President George W. Bush has to dodge a pair of flying shoes aimed at him by an angry journalist in the audience during a press conference. Muntadar Al-Zaidi, the attacker, was easily restrained by the other members of the press in attendance but it took a while for them to recover from the shock of the moment as he was able to throw the second shoe seconds after the first and shouted at Bush, calling him a “dog”.  Al-Zaidi was held by the Iraqi authorities while Bush lightly shrugged off what happened, even cracking a joke about it.

            Immediately after the incident, television networks replayed the story and the video clip numerous times, often doing multiple repeats of the clip in one news item. Moreover, the said news clips have become viral videos, viewed hundreds of thousands of times in video sharing sites like YouTube. Recently, an Internet game that has equally become popular features a Bush cartoon or cutout behind a podium and the purpose of the player is to aim and throw a shoe at him and try to hit him. It has been more than a week since the incident but clearly, the “flying shoe” has fascinated the world. It is interesting, therefore, to examine the possible reasons behind its popularity.

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            In Arabic culture, to be slapped with a shoe is the ultimate insult one could inflict to another. Throwing shoes at President Bush could, therefore, be interpreted as symbolic of the personal feelings of the journalist towards the American president. In his anger, he wanted to insult the American president and throwing his shoes at him was the worst and most apt thing that he could imagine doing. If he had simply blurted out his anger verbally, it would have not been sufficient. He had to accompany words of insult with gestures. Action speaks louder than words, after all.

            The Iraqi government expressed its disapproval over the incident. Even the journalists who attended the press conference may have not liked what Al Zaidi did because they themselves were all over him right after he threw the second shoe and after they have regained their composures after the initial shock. The majority of Arabs, however—and possibly even some members of the very audience members who were present during the conference only that they are too diplomatic and tactful to admit it—were only too glad over what happened and even looked upon Zaidi as some sort of hero who was brave enough to do what they have long wanted to do with President Bush whose meddling with Middle Eastern politics and policies regarding the war in Iraq and its reconstruction afterwards have been unpopular among the people.

            To the rest of the world, specifically to that of Western culture, the impact of throwing shoes at someone might not be as severe as it is regarded in the Arab culture; but throwing anything at someone, done out of spite, is still insulting. In the West, usually, audience members would throw eggs, crumpled paper, empty tin cans, or tomatoes, to express anger or ridicule at a speaker or a performer. Nevertheless, throwing something to someone onstage is usually taken as a last resort. The audience would boo and heckle first before aiming things at the performer. Also, throwing a shoe is usually reserved for fun, like among friends during a friendly banter or a mock fight.

            The “flying shoe” incident, therefore, for most Americans has the effect of being more amusing than insulting. The American’s fascination, which could be true to the rest of the world, is to the whole situation itself: someone hurls a shoe at the American president, he ducks and it misses him, the thrower tries a second time and a second shoe flies across the room, the President dodges it again, then everyone is all over the thrower… The whole scene is almost surreal and absurd, thus, it is funny.

People always get fascinated when an aberration occurs, when something unexpected happens, and when something out of place suddenly becomes a part of a scene. There are audience reactions that are appropriate and expected at certain occasions. People throw things at the singer during a rock concert or a stand-up comic whose act is not funny. During a speech, the audience either applauds or boos the speaker. In a Senate debate, the speakers take turns with the microphone and only during their turn could they hurl insults and even then, they consciously try to be diplomatic and tactful and therefore, lace their undesirable words with rhetoric. However, if two Senators engage in a fistfight in the Senate hall, that is fascinating. So it was with the “flying shoe” incident. Nobody has thrown a shoe at an American president. That is not how you vent your anger towards a head of State. You write an editorial, make a documentary, get interviewed on national television, and address your disapproval not at the person himself, but to the office which the person holds. The ridiculousness (and interest factor) of the situation is compounded by the fact that the culprit is a journalist and the function was a press conference. The shoe throwing was much unexpected, and definitely not classy and befitting the event. If someone had hurled a verbal insult at President Bush in the middle of his speech, it would have simply caused a slight furor. But Al Zaid chose to throw a pair of shoes. It has never been done before; it was funny; out of place, and simply a historical moment.

Just like the Monica Lewinsky incident for Bill Clinton or the Watergate scandal for Nixon, every time people would look back at the administration of President George W. Bush they would remember how an Iraqi bid the end of his presidency goodbye with “flying shoes”. The West would have something new to associate the act of throwing shoes at someone. Finally, this would be symbolic of how, not only the Arab world, but most Americans felt about the latter years of his administration as President of the United States.

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Culture of the Flying Shoes. (2017, Feb 13). Retrieved from

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