According to one of Freud’s most notorious theories, a shoe fetish originates when a little boy sees up a woman’s skirt and, noting the lack of a penis, looks down traumatized. The next thing he sees is a shoe, and as a result he spends the rest of his life obsessed with feet and footwear.

“This is a crock of shit,” says Chuck Kleinhans, who is not a psychiatrist but a professor of radio, TV, and film at Northwestern University. If our feelings about shoes came from such a clearly defined moment, he says, they wouldn’t be so varied. Case in point: While doing research at the Kinsey Institute library, Kleinhans came across an image–an elaborate shoe that bound the feet in rope–that he recognized from a feminist antipornography poster. The picture had been lifted by that poster’s designer from an issue of Hustler, but Kleinhans discovered that the magazine had appropriated it from a poster for a 1930s S and M organization. Used at various times to arouse and to protest, it was actually conceived with an eye toward forming a community. “The image was used by people who belonged to a stigmatized subculture to try and find people similar to them.”

As the first speaker in DePaul University’s four-part lecture series “Love and Beauty,” Kleinhans will talk about our complex relationship with high heels, looking at how they’re used in advertising, fashion, and rock music (think Tina Turner). “High heels are a code that can be used in lots of different ways,” he says. “I hope we can loosen up and think a little bit differently about them.”

“Stepping Out: The Social Semiotics of High-Heel Shoe Images” starts at 6 PM this Wednesday in room 154 of DePaul’s Schmitt Academic Center, 2320 N. Kenmore. For more information call 773-325-7840. —John Sanchez

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): shoes.