Friday 31 October 2008

Westfield and the Scourings

Yesterday, amid scenes of retail frenzy, a ghastly new shopping mall opened in Shepherd's Bush, of all places, as the splendidly named Harry Wallop reports. As a chap who deeply dislikes shopping and tries to buy everything online, I simply cannot understand what is going on here. When I was growing up, shopping consisted, reasonably enough, of going to the shops to buy something you needed or wanted, and that was that. When did shopping as a leisure activity, as an end in itself, come in? I think the answer is probably that it rode in on the first wave of Thatcherite prosperity in the 80s - and I fancy it was around that time that another incomprehensible phenomenon hit these shores: Halloween, hitherto unnoticed and uncelebrated by us Brits. Now it seems to get bigger and brasher with every year - why?
Shopping (in its modern sense) is often labelled a 'new religion', and there are certainly analogies to be drawn, especially when retail cathedrals like Westfield spring up and fill with worshippers. Perhaps what it comes to is this: that our glibly rationalist zeitgeist has hollowed out real religion to such an extent that all that remains are substitute observances (shopping, sport, celebrity worship, green faith) and the scourings - the ghosties and ghoulies of Halloween, the psychics and hauntings that are all over multichannel TV, and of course bloody Santa Claus. Don't get me started on that one...


  1. Good name for a band, that...

  2. Funny, I was just mentally composing a post about 'good names for a band'.

    Toynbee has go at Westfield in the Grauniad, sorry to say.

  3. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day...

  4. Perhaps these huge malls are a return to form. Worship, entertainment, socializing and shopping have probably mingled since cities first began. Think of the temple-forum complexes of antiquity (still to be experienced in the temples of Southern India) or "Paul's Churchyard" in Elizabethan times. What's so novel about Westfield? It's deeply traditional.

    And do the shops of the big international brands exist to sell things or to showcase them? These shops add a spurious exclusivity to products flogged around the world by the shipload. We handle them in the shop but buy them online thinking it's cheaper. Actually, we are paying the price that was always intended.

    But what do I know. Until about a month ago, I thought Westfield was a new BBC TV centre. But maybe Westfield and the BBC are two sides of the same coin. We are the peasants and they are the masters.

  5. You're right Mark - but what is being worshipped?

  6. Lol. Supplicated or invoked might be better words. Magic, I think; the great If Only. If only the auguries were good, if only I had X, if only Y happened ... then I might feel happier, I might know I was doing the right thing and belonged around here, life might not seem so hard and threatening.

    Legions of strange men with fancy ideas about religion come and go - theologians, intellectuals, charismatics, etc - but I suspect the basis is the same as it's always been. Not trying to be patronising. If it was all as easy to explain as rational types like to think, we wouldn't need it.

  7. Magic, yearning, a better life, yes, that must be it... I still hate shopping though.

  8. The Geordie nation, or more precisely John Hall, backed by the C of E commissioners dosh I might add, were the first of the UK tribes to have one of these ritual spending platz, the infamous Metro Centre, the good burghers of Tyneside would dress up in their Sunday best and go flagellate themselves without fear of being rained on, spending the next four months wages into the bargain. As you would expect, the idea came to us courtesy of a Yank, Arndale.
    There is another, far more disturbing phenomena, the visit to the garden centre, mini malls all of them, again dressed up in the best clobber, full makeup, car polished, kids in tow, glazed over eyes, Visa at the ready, round and round they go, Sunday lunch an added treat. Where did individualism go?
    PS, it's snowing and I'm minus a tooth, man and boy I've had it, along comes some smart arse South African dentist, out it comes, I mean, what's a chap to do?

  9. Green tea, Malty - it breaks plaque down. i haven't brushed my teeth in 10 years, i just drink gallons of green tea. True, my teeth are now green, but plaque-free and by God i can bite through human bone when the mood takes me.

    Been to the Metro Centre - it was truly like wandering into a vast Mayan temple full of weirdery and shellsuits, Geordie scum, really very disconcerting.

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