Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Monday, January 13, 2014

Reportage: At HMV, 150 Oxford Street

It is what the beginning of the end of civilization will look like, no doubt: bewildered tourists mutating into fluorescent locusts, as around them flap gaudy signs filled with idiotic type blaring that everything must go!

And it appeared that, at HMV, 150 Oxford Street, the cliché was desperately, desperately true. We – those of us who toil in the more nebulous bits of capitalism, the bits that make it look prettier than it is, basically – spend so much of our time extolling you to buy, to try, to satisfy, all for a better life, that we rarely give a thought to what happens when our exhortations, the entreaties, the pleas to step across the threshold to pick up the object, to click the button fail and all that is left to do is to empty out the ark as quickly as possible.

The prevailing attitude in the air on Sunday morning was: cash would be preferable, but if you have a skip outside that’ll do quite nicely too. Not that everything was priced to go, mind, not yet, not yet, there’s still some time left according to the shop assistant who was to be made redundant next week, “and then I’ll spend all my time haunting independent record stores.”

Also on view: the ennui that comes when you know the end is in sight. The two copies of Saint Etienne’s Sound of Water, one priced at £9.99, the other £7.99; the sticker on the empty rack of shelves saying it was on sale for £25, other fixtures and fittings available but no discounts would be applied; the banners that helped you calculate your additional 10% off today, just in case you were a culture vulture on a budget and couldn’t run wild yet.

Which isn’t to say that there wasn’t pride in place too. How could there not be when The Beach Boys’ Smile box set was still retailing for £129.99. But this pride was leaking away, the pride that people once had in selling these physical artefacts of an entertainment culture that they’d convinced themselves was in some way important to their lives, and those of their customers. A Rasta Ted doll might do that to you.

I felt that pride once. I never kept count of the thousands of pounds I spent in the shop since I was 13. I felt in a small way guilty that my frivolous consumption habits couldn’t prop the edifice up. All the time, all the flicking through the racks, clack clack clack as I searched for the next 12 songs that meant more than the last 12… didn’t that investment – that commitment – mean something to the great gods of capitalism?

Apparently not. It’s the saddest I’ve ever felt in a shop. I thought for a moment about making one final purchase – a token, a votive for a way of life that we thought was permanent but in the end turned out to be as ephemeral and disposable as wiser heads said it was. But I couldn’t. I’ve never been good at navigating crumbling retail stock systems. 

The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ was playing during this final browse. And then the CD started skipping. Metaphor found, I left, for the final time.



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