As market norms dominate ever more aspects of our lives, corporations are always on the look-out for new ways to sell us stuff. It is very old news that shopping should be viewed as a form of entertainment. Personally, I find this pretty unconvincing – shopping is mostly tedious or necessary, but rarely does it offer much entertainment. I do my best to bring entertainment to the process, by walking into town through a sequence of parks (and so enjoying a little managed nature) or by engaging sales folk with merry banter (which they sometimes respond positively to), to give but two examples – but this is not terribly far removed from covering a hand grenade in sequins. I will admit that time spent in a bookshop can be quite diverting and I suppose clothes shopping could be, in a dressing-up box kind of way (though clothes stores would probably discourage such an approach – however, I am now rather tempted to give it a go! Would Dorothy Perkins let me try on a frock?).
Many of the ploys used by stores to attract our business strike me as having more in common with the shoe shop intensifier ray of the plant Brontitaur than they do with a real and viable strategy. It allows executives to feel they are having a major impact in the world (and to spend money which might otherwise go to lowering prices or providing their employees or suppliers with a more sustainable income), while in fact just allowing existing cultural trends to continue unabated. Nevertheless, Boxing Day does seem to have been successfully transitioned from a time to reward your servants and tradespeople to a time to slump in front of the television eating turkey left-overs to a time to hurl one’s self to an out-of-town shopping centre to stock up on a slightly less overpriced sofa or hammer drill (but mostly to sit in traffic on the way to or from said modern representation of Tartarus).
The latest day to be set-aside for the pious observances of our modern religion (or shopping) is the Friday following the fourth Thursday in November. It would seem that after giving thanks to the divine for having escaped religious persecution in the old country, the very next thing on the Pilgrim Fathers’ agenda was to get some serious shopping done. I presume that the autochthonous population of North America must have been more commercially astute than we are usually led to believe – and that Bloomingdale and Macy are old Iroquois words. Perhaps recognising the terrible price these earliest American shopkeepers and their people paid for welcoming new customers, this event is now commemorated in the US as Black Friday. The US version of The Sealed Knot mark the day by re-staging some of the early battles between the indigenous population and the new European settlers at stores across the land – though unlike their British brethren, these re-enactments seem to be in modern dress and with the rather mercenary and commercial objectives of the settlers laid bare.
It would seem that we too have imported this quaint custom from our former colony, despite the lack of the relevant local historical context. I must admit I had been blissfully unaware of it until a week-or-so ago, but apparently the event was celebrated last year. On Friday afternoon, I innocently wandered into the city to acquire a fresh inhaler to try and retain my ability to breathe without excessive wheezing – there seems to be something in the air at this time of year which affects me rather badly (I blame leaf blowers – on the basis of no evidence whatsoever – and will shortly be starting a campaign to bring back the rake!). To my surprise, neé horror, the city centre was heaving with people – it was worse than a December Saturday! I rather fear that they had been seduced by the dubious delights of Black Friday and were being led like fiscally-foolish sheep to the commercial slaughter. Being expected to do something, immediately brought out the rebel in me – frankly, I think this may just be an anathema to “joining in”, but I like to view myself as a dangerous maverick (despite all the evidence). I decided to buy as little as possible on Friday, and to minimise shopping over the whole weekend.
To this end, I went to Chichester yesterday and divided my time between the Pallant House Gallery, Whipped and Baked (for essential victuals – they never disappoint!) and the newly refurbished Chichester Festival Theatre. It was a glorious day of the Arts and other than a programme I have nothing but pleasant memories to show for it. The PHG really is amazing for a relatively small, provincial gallery – I can really recommend the highlights from the Ruth Bouchard Collection and the room devoted to post-war religious art (neither things I would expect to recommend, but both amazing). The newly referred CFT is surprisingly comfortable – partly aided by my excellent (if fortuitous) choice of chair on the back row, but with heaps of legroom – which was appreciated as The Ideal Husband is three hours long (with interval) – and very reasonable priced. Wilde’s work was less concise than is my preference, but it is so stuffed with wonderful quotes and was beautifully staged (even if Patricia Routledge and Edward Fox did act everyone else into a cocked hat) that the time raced by. By cunning use of Chichester back streets, I almost managed to avoid any exposure to the rough world of “trade”.
Now, on “Black Sunday”, I am taking it easy – planning my next act of commercial rebellion! This may involve avoiding something called “Cyber Monday” where we celebrate the work of Greek steersmen? I think we’ve had almost enough rain to get my trireme out of storage – to your oars, men!