Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Lost In The Supermarket

People say to me well, they don't actually, but if people were to actually read this thing, I imagine that they might once or twice ask: Chris, what do you mean by "demographically insignificant"? Some observations, then, to describe the feeling of utter alienation that befalls me on certain forays into the Spectacular landscape.


Sunday our mission was to scout a digital camera for K. I had an unavoidable doodad to return/exchange, so this involved a trip to a giant chain store which shall not be named but which should be familiar to anyone travelling upon one of our stultifying and depressing main thoroughfares. Situated in a similarly giant modern "shopping center" surrounded by a massive asphalt griddle. Of course there are no shade trees to park under.

Approaching the store, the wave of air conditioning is so powerful that one feels from several meters the cold wind as the doors open for preceding shoppers. Once inside, the climatic difference is so drastic that it is literally shocking. All of our senses (save smell, these places don't smell like anything--does a mirage have a smell?) are assaulted immediately. Imagine a confluence of Chuck E Cheese and a WWF event and you have an approximation of the ambient noise/visual overstimulation quotient, if not the social dislocation felt as you realize that most everyone around you seems to think that, yes, this is a perfectly enjoyable environment if not the best of all possible worlds.
We're immediately set upon by a guy wearing a neon polo shirt with the store's logo and a badge identifying him as an "associate".  I guess that's so we'll think that he has a stake, really cares, isn't a salesman or anything even though he seems like nothing so much as, well, an animatronic used car salesman.
WHAT BRINGS YOU FOLKS TO [giant chain store] TODAY?!?

Within seconds of repelling this guy, another appears with the same robotic come-on that is designed to not seem like a come-on.


Everyone wearing a polo shirt with the store's logo and the title of associate has the exact same grimly "upbeat" demeanor, like they all went to the same capitalist re-education camp or are all taking some sort of Republican ecstasy: something that makes them impossibly energetic without making them feel good/relaxed/socially adept at all. And they won't stop coming, they're like zombies.


We finally make it to the cellar door, err, camera department, and are pleased that there are so many cameras out on the shelves for us to pick up and try out. Until we realize that they are all tethered to the shelves with a generous 18 inches of retracting cable which makes attempting to look through the viewfinder feel like we're trying to land a 40 pound tarpon. None of the cameras have batteries. Now that we need some help, there is not a polo shirt to be seen. I go roaming and return with a fellow who doesn't seem so enthusiastic. He absently puts a battery in the camera and leaves before we realize that the camera doesn't have a memory card, either, and so still won't operate.


Having learned just enough about the cameras to know that we will never buy one from giant company, we have to make a final stop to exchange my doodad for another. The cashier puts my new doodad in a clear bag with an adhesive strip at the top with which she seals the bag, a gesture by which I'm equally puzzled and annoyed. I express a small bit of dismay over the loss of any future utility for the bag and she looks at me like I've just asked to smell her panties. I mean, what kind of fucking freak cares about using a plastic bag for more than the schlep home in the SUV and the toss into the kitchen trashcan? As I leave the register and we head for the door, it hits me why they've sealed my bag: so I won't stuff more doodads in it on my way out. And the reason the bag is see-through is made manifest when I encounter a final polo shirt guarding the exit with a demand to inspect my receipt: he can see if I've managed to circumvent the seal on my bag and liberated any doodads that aren't accounted for.


I won't bore you, dear reader, with any more minutiae or with a tired tirade about the spiritual dead-end of consumerism. But the whole experience was depressing in a way that is persistent and soul-sucking. Why does our landscape look like this? Could it be other than it is? Is this really the best we can do? Whose prerogatives are served by such a design? We are told that it is all for us, it is so that we may be blessed with choices choices choices and that if you were to plot a graph of lower lower lower prices, the angle would be of the same degree and incline as the stairway to heaven.

Maybe the Talking Heads were right.


Blogger goliard said...

i'm positive that they were. and you may tell yourself 'this is not my beautiful house.'

ah, you do a wonderful retail rant m'deah. send shivers up my spine, knowing 'i'm not alone' in my rage against stepford-dom.

are you dragging children with you as well?

10:48 AM  

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