A new ice-cream parlour has opened opposite my house and it’s a bit grim. It’s a chain, apparently: Basingstoke, Plymouth, Oxford… There’s nothing wrong with the place, really. It’s just the branding: The name, the signage, the pink and black and red and white interior.
The owners are clearly ignorant of the rules of the game. The rules are: A bit hipster, Scandinavia-meets-Pacific-North-West, wooden tables, exposed brick, white tiles, beards, tattoos… It’s not that difficult. Even fucking KFC has started doing it now. It’s in the marquee in British Bake Off, for fuck’s sake.
Now I’m all for originality and I have as big an aversion to that nebulous group we call hipsters as anyone, but let’s be realistic. We are living in an age with a new, weird kind of fascism: The homogeneity of global, urban consumer taste is all-pervading and to open a shop with a pink and black interior is to advertise your “otherness”, or at least your cluelessness, to the urban customers you wish to entice.
I’m not sure exactly when it set in, but somewhere in this millennium, everybody started thinking alike. The subcultures which had previously defined young people and kept them apart from their elders subsided. Vintage clothing further blurred the generational gaps. Here’s a disturbing fact: A 16-year-old’s record collection now contains 40% of the same tracks as a 60-year-old’s.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, the last of the proper grannies died: Those ladies who wore nylon dresses, ate salad cream and disapproved of ‘living in sin’ and ‘the gays’ were no more. In a recent EU survey, 99% of Britons said they wouldn’t mind if a gay couple moved in next door. Europe-wide, this figure is well over 90%.
In urban areas in the Global South, western liberal values like gay rights, marriage for love and women’s rights are in the ascendency, thus breaking down the cultural peculiarities which made the world a much more diverse place twenty or even ten years ago. Meanwhile, global super-brands from Apple to Beyonce stalk the earth for new markets, sucking more and more consumers inexorably into their crowd-pleasing thrall.
In the age of big data, governments and corporations are increasingly able to design according to the wishes or predispositions of the crowd. “Crowdshaping” involves using personal data drawn from the people inside a defined physical area to shape and reshape their experience. For example, town planners make traffic lights which change according to real time traffic data, or DJs play songs taken from the audience’s home computer playlists.
Which is to say that the present and future of our society is a tyranny of the majority. It is a society where we are closely monitored, and everybody thinks and acts alike. Meanwhile, Germany dominates Europe economically and Scandinavian aesthetics rules culturally. Sounds rather like the Third Reich. But with hipsters.
Which kind of makes me want to hang out in the ice-cream shop just on principle. But I bet they don’t even have fucking WIFI.
I have no idea what went on in the minds of the advertising creatives who, in 1973, decided that the best way to market tea was to invent a group of quasi-gnomes from Keithley. And why have Tetley kept doggedly re-booting these whippet-bothering bores over a forty year timespan? “The Tetley Tea Folks are back”… “Collect all seven tea folks” … “That’s better, that’s Tetley” … Superhero Teafolks … Medieval Teafolks …
Let’s compare the competitors:
The PG Tips monkey is awesome.
The Churchill dog is funny and reminiscent of a popular historical figure who won a war.
That Russian meerkat is cute and has an even cuter baby meerkat. Nailed it.
As for the sexy Cadbury’s Caramel bunny…
So, now the tea folk are back (again) with a completely superfluous superhero rebooting:
What with tea being one of the biggest growth areas in the food and drink industry at the moment, Tetley are keen to cash in. But the growth in tea is all about diversification and choice. Which might be what is so jarring about the Tea Folk.
The food and beverage industry encourages us to decide between decaf monkey-picked single-plantation white tea and detoxing vanilla-scented chai, while the Tetley Tea Folk come from a world where the only choice is “mug or cup, love?”.
Is it because I am so bourgeoise that I cannot abide the Tea Folk? Perhaps their real-ness and Northern-ness throws my own inauthenticity into relief. Do I subconsciously long for the girl I used to be: Northern, authentic, working class?
Do these dwarf-like harbingers of sentimentality remind me that I have betrayed my Yorkshire roots for the glamour of the cosmopolitain elite?
I never delete people on Facebook for holding opinions that are different from mine. As an advocate of free speech, I welcome comments from lunatics, ‘KIPpers and even Tories (Of course, the first two are far from mutually exclusive).
In spite of all that, my Facebook feed around election time reminds me how much I have surrounded myself with woolly, liberal do-gooding pinko space cadets like myself.
To take an arbitrary example, no fewer than 33 of my FB friends “like” the Green Party. Conversely, not a single one of my friends “likes” the Conservative Party.
So, it should have come as no surprise today that my Facebook news feed reads like a Euripidean tragedy. Between gnashing of teeth, pulling of hair and crying into gluten-free yofu muesli, we had:
“I’m so, so sad”
“FUCK YOU ENGLAND”
“I can’t believe it. Devastated.”
Then I realised: We need to stop being unhappy. In every country of the world, including even formerly socialist places like Sweden, corporate control has made politics redundant. What you do or don’t do at the ballot box pales into insignificance compared with what you buy, where you bank and how you spend your time. We still have the power as consumers and (non-)workers to change the world should we wish to.
I voted Green and then went to Tescos on the way home and bought bacon and used their free plastic bags. That makes me as deluded and confused as the working class people who vote for ultra-capitalist UKIP.
Similarly, those people who are moaning about the election results, yet continuing to work for global companies whilst taking out credit cards and loans to buy shit they don’t need that’s been made in sweatshops from conflict minerals by third world slaves are just as hypocritical as me.
On a global scale, we are the 1%. We blame the Tories, but don’t realise that it is us, yes you and me who are the enemy….
The reason “they” have it all is that we all want what they have. It’s called false consciousness. The only way out of this mess is to create a system with values other than “their” values.
Those who are too chicken shit to consider a sustainable, anti-growth economic model may as well just quit moaning and get out there and make some money.
Liked this? Now read: Whatever happened to the leisure society?
So, the latest figures show that Oxford has again received the dubious accolade of being the most expensive city in the UK to buy a house.
Anna White’s daily Telegraph article here more or less sums it up.
It has occurred to me that one of the primary reason of this statistic is that wages in academia are in free fall, with so much work being done by junior academics and Post-Grads.
The article I wrote on the subject gives a pretty decent overview/explanation for those interested:
The media reaction – both through official and unofficial channels – to the news in France has made fascinating reading and viewing over the last few days and has run the full gamut of political opinion.
Progressive media like Films For Action took the line that we should treat this tragedy like any other killing spree. Here’s an excerpt from the Films For Action article:
“What happened today, according to current reports, is that two men went on a killing spree. Their killing spree, like most killing sprees, will have some thin rationale. Even the worst villains believe themselves to be heroes. But in truth, it was unprovoked slaughter. The fault lies with no one but them and their accomplices. Their crime isn’t explained by cartoons or religion. Plenty of people read Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and managed to avoid responding with mass murder. Plenty of people follow all sorts of religions and somehow get through the day without racking up a body count. The answers to what happened today won’t be found in Charlie Hebdo’s pages. They can only be found in the murderers’ sick minds.”
It is an unfortunate internal contradiction of the West that freedom has to include the freedom to not believe in freedom. But how much any society can tolerate intolerant people remains to be seen. An unusually wide range of views was given oxygen, including those uncomfortable right wing views which tend to be suppressed on things like the Channel 4 News.
This all gives credence to the idea that freedom of the press is something worth preserving.
Mic.com’s Mark Cogan wore his metaphorical “Je suis Charlie” badge with pride, in this article, saying
“The events of Wednesday remind us of the striking fact that at least 66 journalists were killed in 2014, many for daring to express unpopular or dangerous ideas, to speak truth to power and to tell the stories that powerful institutions around the world, from terror groups to transnational corporates, would rather not have told. Now more than ever is the time to stand forcefully against those who seek to silence criticism or expression through violence and terror.”
Perhaps the most interesting perspective – and one which has been given very little coverage is the view from inside Islam. Most notably, the tensions between the moderate and fundamentalist strains of the religion and how they view each other. A really good explanation of this can be found on Juan Cole’s blog here. The basic crux of his argument goes:
“…in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France. Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination. This tactic is similar to the one used by Stalinists in the early 20th century.”
Further insight into the Muslim mindset was voiced by Catherine Guilyardi on this Al Jazeera news piece. Catherine says that everyone – Muslim and Non-Muslim – need to unite against Fascism.
“Fascism is the rejection of people who are not like me and do not believe like I believe… The Middle East is the first victim of this fascism with what is happening with Daesh (ISIS)”
Clearly, yesterday’s news threw into relief the fact that we in Europe and the Middle East are currently grappling with the question of how much intolerance we can tolerate.
The most important thing about all the media hype is to not get caught up in the frenzy. Ten people will die in car accidents today in France, but the TV will not have special reports into car death. Or heart disease. Or cancer. It’s also interesting to note that not a single newspaper or TV report I’ve seen asks the question of why these men have Kalashnikovs lying around. If this had been a white-on-white killing, the news would have been dominated by gun regulation chatter.
The incident is being used by lots of people to further their own agenda, be it liberal, fascist or something in between. For all its intelligent or interesting analysis, the media is a spectacle. The best way to react to all of this might be to turn off your TV and be good to the people around you.