Monday, November 06, 2006

Iceland Iconography

Certain requirements emerge when one enters an independent existence; when one leaves behind the psychological bubble-wrap of the parental protectorate to live by ones own means. One of these is the indelible task of shopping.

Before long, a person living in the swarm of an identical hunger-based hysteria learns of particular insights, wisdom splintered off the timber of lore by peers more eager to engage the kernels of urgency than yours truly. Like a microcosmic pandemic, the swirls of info are ingested by minds not quite yet tyrannised by sleep patterns contrapuntally perverted into unrecognisable, unpalatable and pointless shadows of a former logic. An open mind can quickly become aware of the error autocratically reigning over that very mind. With haste, the subject is, at once, disgusted and relieved, the fresh knowledge now enabling a progression forward.

How many wasted pennies massacred amongst the beeping cacophony of a Tesco checkout? Too many, to be sure.

How many minutes annihilated under the glow of Tesco aisle-lighting? Cumulative line graphs weep over it.

How many motor neurons raped by suggestive product placement? Fuck Tesco!

Correct, a change was on the horizon. Rather than frequent the gigantic corporate clout of Tesco, the gaze was shifted to the average corporate clout of Iceland.

[It’s important to note here, to potential readers outside the sphere of the British grocery market, that Iceland is a middle-sized player in the well-saturated field of food retail. Akin to Wall-Mart in style, generic to the very core.]

Iceland’s angst-ridden automatic doors welcome the passive consumer into its threshold, infra-red sensors scorned by years of humble drudgery sometimes choosing a puerile attempt to make the entering individual affronted by a refusal to submit to its predestined act. And what are the aural strains to envelope the ear-drums at soon as structural penetration is accomplished? It’s nothing other than a fine collage of mid-90s boy-bands, sprinkled down from the ceiling-affixed speakers like a perverse tribute to Zyklon-B.

If those insulting melodies weren’t nauseating enough, there’s the visual bombardment of special offers to overwhelm an already-dejected disposition. Their prominent display of ones and twos may please a concealed wallet, but what lies behind those placards are bound to displease even the most impoverished digestive system. Vibrant billboards singing scripture from the manuals of Marketing 101, the most perfunctory of buzzwords and easily-recognised branding, a slice of idealistic imagery on a poster and a scoop of basic signifiers employing the primary colours are its gist. It’s a hyperbolic depiction of what Guy Debord termed ‘the spectacle’, a superficial covering draped over everything by capitalism. This is undoubtedly a full actualisation of that analysis, one that, were this a better world, would be considered a caricature, but, alas, a degenerate sincerity is in play here.

Stacks of bright-coloured products lace the shop-layout, forever being destroyed and resurrected elsewhere, in another corner perhaps, a cycle with no end. A store-manager scuttling in black soles towards a misplaced tube of edible factory sludge, then off to crown a mountain of soft-drinks littered with hard-Cs, finally to retire to a back room for five minutes to eat a homemade ham sandwich. Life never got more fulfilling!

Iceland’s enclosed corridors, with their overbearing high-shelves, are oppressive to the nonchalant customer, one simply visiting to buy a loaf of bread and a pint of milk. Surely a contrast must be made to the colossal floor-plan of the big Tesco up the road – pumped-in oxygen, white and spacious, is this not a utopia if anything?

It is not. Each oppresses in its own right. This must represent a duality of distinct neuroses, Iceland’s tight and absolutist-shelving topography, and Tesco’s pale warehouse chic; it’s a combination of parallel disorders: a mix of claustrophobia and agoraphobia. Both deal in the business of pernicion and the bastardisation of the human subject. Minor differences in means of doing so do not mask a blatant truth.

A trip to Iceland ends in the marvellous and inevitable confrontation with the checkout staff. Sometimes, admittedly rarely, a jovial greeting and/or smile can mark the collision. More often, contempt is poorly shrouded; a situation barely a notch away from open hostility. If being forced to watch a coveted container of eggs get violently flung from one metallic surface to another isn’t enough, the terse temerity of monetary demands will certainly complete the thrill-ride and satisfy those adrenalin glands for another week.

This policy of belligerence shoves the contented consumer out the very doors he passed just ten minutes ago, an entrance now metamorphosed into an exit. Standing on the pavement, it arrayed with trampled chewing-gum and quickly-congealing spittle, only one question looms on the mind: is there enough cash for me to go in again?


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