Tesco town

April 23rd, 2011

imagesSo a riot breaks out in Bristol as police battle with local residents over a new Tesco express store due to be opened up in Stokes Croft. Who started it and whether it was case of heavy policing or hardened troublemakers is not the key issues. What is the issue is why that community doesn't want a Tesco store on its high street. This is not MacDonalds or Starbucks or a bank. This is a supermarket offering convenience and ever little that helps. There have been petitions and post card objections and over 300 protestors on the streets.

So what is happening? The store is the 18th in City that has a reputation for a certain alternative and bohemian way of life that spawned Banksy and Massive Attack. But from every walk of life people don't want the bland and the corporate thrust up on them. Tesco talk about creating local jobs but don't talk about the ones they will destroy. Variety, local culture and identity just go. Yes the store is open longer and later but it's a miserable shopping experience under the bright lights and the same products in every store every week. As I've posted before -everywhere ends up looking and feeling the same. What is the point of living in Stokes Croft if it looks like everywhere else?

My friend Andrews Simms has written brilliantly about the effects of Tesco. It's a corporate giant that gets what it wants the globe over. Farmers, distributors even governments bend at the knee to their power. I should know I once worked for them. They are ruthlessly and clinically efficient. The planning committee in Bristol will have been bombarded with reports and surveys and promises of regeneration. They will pay more for a site they want than any one else. The politicians find it almost impossible to say no. But people don't like bullies and don't always want their community to be changed. Good on the people of Stokes Croft.

Orla Carley

April 13th, 2011

UnknownI’m away for a few days and will blog if I can and find something to write about. So in the meantime you get two blogs for the price of one today.

Here is an advert I enjoyed. It's for Citroen. Their DS3 to be precise by Orla Kiely. By Orla Kiely they don't mean the engine or the body but the styling. It's got ‘cute' touches by the handbag maker with the now renowned flowery pattern. It mixes different industries to give us an updated product. There will be a lot more of this cross over design. Oh and the tyres arestyled by Durex. No honest they are.

Happy alone?

April 13th, 2011

imagesAction for happiness was launched this week. It's a campaign to be kinder to each other. Its about loving, caring and hugging each other. And who could complain about that? Well miserable me of course.

The trouble with this stuff is summed up with the words crack, paper and over. Only its worse than not dealing with the insecurity, exhaustion and anxiety of living in a world of turbo-consumption with all the emptiness, loneliness and futility that comes with it. A hug might or might not help the symptoms of what's wrong with lives. But it won't change the causes of our misery. And worse it tells us we can by hugging.

We will only find individual and collective contentment (I don't want to use the word happiness) when we address the problems of markets that are too free and states that are sometimes too remote. Anything less just makes the already secure, rich and powerful even happier

The world as a giant billboard

April 12th, 2011

adzookieI write in the book about people holding up signs for shop sales, wearing brands and having brands tattooed on them. Now I'm delighted to say the market has taken it one step further. Now you can brand you house. Adzookie in the States is offering money to turn you home into a giant billboard. After all the house owners need the money to buy the stuff that is advertised on their house. Lawns will have to be next. One day we will look down on earth and it will say Google or Snickers. You think I'm joking?

The politics of pants

April 8th, 2011

imagesI needed some new pants. But what type? Get the awful mental images out of your head (and no surprisingly this is not a picture of me) and please read on. Did I just get routine M&S boxers or go for something more? You see the trouble with pants is that they are no longer hidden. They have moved beyond utility function to fashion function. Images of Calvin Klein models of both sexes set the new standard. Kids wear their jeans low so everyone can see what label pants they are wearing.

Look I'm in the happiest and most secure marriage I can imagine (you'd have to ask what my wife what she thinks) but what if I don't wear designer undergarments? What does that say about my commitment to my marriage? Am I getting lazy and complacent? Will someone else wow her with their Calvin's? Of course not -but the marketing images are there to make us think and worry about such things.

So I walked round the shops trying to judge what wasn't lazy and complacent but what wasn't stupid in terms of price either. I settled on some black plain boxers from Muji. God knows what that says about me or whether divorce is just round the corner? These are gambles you take in a consumer society.

Along the high street was an obviously homeless boy in an empty shop doorway with a dog and a sign. I had a £5 note in my pocket. The guilt of shopping and my bleeding heart liberal tendencies combined and I put it in his hand. He looked at me and said ‘are you sure?' His need was 100 times that of mine and I had 100 times more than him -and all he could do was check to see if was sure about giving him the price of a pair of pants. I could have cried -for him but for myself and our world.

We live in a mad world in which the brand on our pants matters and being homeless doesn't. We have got our knickers in a right twist.

Appiness and the Good Society

April 7th, 2011

imagesWho will create the Good Society? It's a question that begs an immediate response; Labour, the Conservatives, or, if you are feeling optimistic, perhaps the Liberal Democrats. Certainly the Greens have the closest policies but they are furthest from the kind of power that lets them turn their ideals into reality.

The answer is probably not to be found in Westminster or the political system at all. Instead the architects of the Good Society are much more likely to found on the high street, on a billboard, a TV screen or the pages of a glossy magazine. The Good Society, as things stand, won't be a democratic and social construction. Instead it is going to be a private and profitable concern -and therefore about as far from any meaningful definition of the words ‘good' and ‘society' as you could possibly get. So will the Good Society be consumerised or socialized?

A socialised good society…

The Good Society to me at least is a world that is more equal, sustainable and democratic. But what does that means in practice? The issue I return to again and again is time -time to be with the ones you love, doing the things you really enjoy. Not just working and consuming all hours.

The question we need to ask ourselves is; do we want to die wishing we owned more stuff or having had more time with the people that matter to us? To step away from such morbid thoughts, what about this as a simple and joyous option for the good life — the time to read a child a bed time story. The beauty of the concept is that it is relatively cheap (the book not the child) but to make it happen we need to slow down just a bit. Instead of being on the consumer treadmill 24/7 we have to make a trade off for other better pleasures. For the office worker it means a more secure job that won't be outsourced. It will mean that the pressure to obtain promotion for more pay to stay ahead in the game of status approval is not overwhelming. For the office cleaner it means society ensures through a living wage that you don't have to take on three jobs to make ends meet. For everyone it means we produce and consume less and the planet stands a chance of survival. For all it means we can spend time with our children. But we cannot do these things alone -it requires a changing set of social norms about what we value and the ability to redistribute time and money so those at the bottom in particular have more options. The good society is not something we can achieve individually by opting out and down shifting, it is fundamentally a collective endeavor. It requires political action, to shape and regulate the market. It needs to curb the pressure for capital to exploit labour by enforcing decent wages and working hours. But contemporary British party politics doesn't offer such a vision, not yet anyway. So the Good Society becomes an option secured through the market.

Or a consumerised one?

This week saw the launch of an iPad application (an App) which lets you read your child a bedtime story from the office, the airport or the business dinner. Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime is now on sale to ensure "parents never have miss bedtime again, no matter where you are on the planet". The parent can obviously talk and even sing to their child through the phone but the App lets both interact through the screen as characters are moved about. At last you can have it all -the job and all it buys, and the peace of mind that you are still being a good parent.

But of course life isn't that simple. The best you can do as a lone consumer and worker is to have a sterile relationship with your child through a piece of technology. Furthermore, you have to work for the technology to obtain the technology that fills the gap left in your life by having to earn and own at such a rate. Then a new piece of technology comes along, like the new iPad 2, and you must have it and you have to work harder and spend less time with your child to get that. It too will promise you can have it all. And so it goes on. We can't stop this self-destructive process alone. The pressure to conform and keep up is too great. I write this of course on an Apple computer -not because it works that much better than my old PC but because it looks and feels great. It tells the world I'm Apple. I don't want to be a loser do I? I don't want to be a failed consumer- someone who can't keep up.

Chris Stevens of Atomic Antelope which makes the StoryTime App has said "it's a conversation we knew would happen, and needed to happen. You can argue that it's a real shame having a child read a story through a slab of cold glass. But on the other hand, if the alternative is not having a story at all I think it's a good option".

Atomic Antelope like all companies work in a market. If they don't design killer Apps that clean up and make a profit someone else will. There is little or no morality in this. It's cut throat competition. Chris goes on "We've seen children as young as one able to use the iPad -it's amazing how kids take to it so naturally". The commercialisation of a baby's life may be a concern to Chris personally but the need for the corporation to make a profit (legally) trumps everything. If they don't produce an App for parents to develop an electronic relationship with their child, retailing at £2.39, someone else will.

If a remote relationship with your child, mediated by expensive and ever changing technology, is the only option then you take it. But what about the option to live a more balanced life? How do we get that if none of the political party's put it on the table? There are some signs that politicians are starting to address the insecurity and anxiety of life on the treadmill. David Cameron wants a happiness index, Nick Clegg talks about Alarm Clock Britain and Ed Miliband said in a recent speech that people need more time for those they love. But until they put in place policies that allow us to choose how much work and how much leisure time we have -it's just talk. The market has to be stopped. You can't argue with it -it's like trying to argue with a shark. Just as the shark only knows to kill and eat the market only knows how to make a profit.

If you search for the term ‘Good Society' what comes up second is a report Compass did in 2006 of that name. What comes up first is this:

The Good Society is a community of free thinking individuals who live for the greater good. We band together to inspire noble living, effect social change, and we prefer to do it in style. We are a fully sustainable, fully organic clothing company who cares about the world around us. We believe in simple living, contagious giving and freedom for all.

The Good Society is a profit making jeans company. Their site is full of the usual images of beautiful people that make you want the life they obviously have. There are lots of good and well-meaning Corporate Social Responsibility promises too. But more jeans that you don't need just means more work, more status competition, less time and more damage to the planet. The very opposite of the Good Society.

The marketised Good Society will never address the fundamental problems of lives out of our control, it will treat the symptom but it will not address the cause. The Good Society cannot be bought just as you cannot have a relationship with your child through an iPad. The Good Society can only be created by us when we take control of our lives, our community and our society by doing it together as citizens rather than alone as consumers. That is the Good Society.

The universalisation of the bland

April 4th, 2011

imagesWhy does the news of a UK company making a break through in America depress me? Because its another example of the universalisation of the bland. Pret a Manger claims to have a growing foot hold in the American fast food market. When I go to the States what strikes me is how free of chains they are compared to the UK. Their towns still have lots of independents stores and even the fast food out of town outlets are so numerous in terms of different brands its hard to be overwhelmed by just a few.

But if Pret take a firm hold it will make things worse in the USA. They, like us, will take a step nearer the type of Clone Towns that rip the identity out of everywhere. It's not just a matter of consumer choice but the identities we hold. If everywhere looks and feels the same then we are from everywhere and no where. There is nothing local or special -just a series of chains that may or may not make great coffee, sandwiches or hamburgers -but they make our lives and culture banal. Certainly they are nothing to be proud of. People may vote with their feet, but when there is no where else to go and the independents are priced out of the market by planners and multi-national competitors you cant say we have a choice.

Living in a less material world

March 30th, 2011

imagesWe are spending less for the first time in 30 years. Has downshifting taken hold? Are people putting people and the planet first? Is this a massive turning point in the growth of growth and the shift to a post-material world?

Sadly not. People are spending less because of increasing price rises and growing job insecurity. Fuel and some items like women's fashion have seen inflation rates go through the roof. Job losses and the threat of them in austerity Britain is hitting home too.

Funnily enough disposable income levels are back to where they were on a year on year basis (i.e. not in absolute terms) to where they were when two important things happened; first the link between happiness and material growth parted company. After that point we got richer but happiness levels failed to keep up. Second 1976 was the year the British said they were happiest – ever. We have never reached the peak of that long hot summer -despite the IPod or the IPad.

But can we use the forced down shift to imagine and different and better life? One in which we have more time for the people we love and not just for the things in the shops we think we love. What is your bet?

My life as a car

March 29th, 2011

1994.fiat.punto.selecta.arp.750pixWhen a car is called My Life -actually called ‘My Life' it either makes you want to cry or buy it. The Fiat Punto My Life is £9,999 and not a penny more. You can watch the advert here.

Is this your life or is there something more to it?

Four star Diesel

March 25th, 2011

photo[1]Don't tell anyone but my secret desire is to work in advertising. That or be a headline writer for the Sun. They are the same things really. Thinking up pun based slogans or headlines and being paid lots for it. Bliss.

I of course want to persuade the world of something. And advertisers are just so bloody good at it. Getting us to buy things we don't need with money we don't have. How clever is that?

Take this Diesel ad. Diesel if you cant read the strap line is "for successful living'. Of course it is. Wearing a pair of their jeans defines success. The images are of heroic beautiful people. They are starting what looks like a revolution -only it's for denim not democracy. How far the ad boys and girls have come from the now naff Denim after-shave adverts of the 1970s -for men who don't have to try too hard.

Today's ads are full of radical spirit. They co-opt the language and symbolism of left wing revolution but of course to sell out in a different kind of way. And they drip with irony. They know we know that's its not about a real revolution in which power structures are challenged -so they take the piss out of themselves and us. We like it because we are allowed in on the joke. The Diesel ad says "Diesel Island. The least messed up country in the world. (But give us time)". Diesel Island is apparently "the land of the stupid and home of the brave'. Do you see what they have done there? So very funny and clever.

The ad signs off with the line "We are creating a new movement and better nation. Join the movement and become a citizen at diesel.com (where you can watch a video all about Diesel island). The depth, scale and intensity of this none-pretence pretence is simply enormous. But after viewing it all I can't make up my mind if I still want a pair of Diesel jeans or not?