It’s hardly news: China runs tings. Last year saw David Cameron and a bunch of blue-blooded mafia mates head east, hoping to score fat trade deals on such British laurels as Peter Rabbit and…and well it’s hard to dig up anything else save guns and bombs. Surprising that ‘Great’ Britain still makes them, really.
The boot is truly on the other foot. A stroll down the high street this January would have ended up in one of the clothing chains or other, seduced by stratagems like ‘Up to 70% Off’ (NB “up to”). Likely more than 70% of the merch was made in China. And quite likely a growing percentage of the shoppers were too.
One such stroll found me on Carnaby Street, where I stopped for a moment–instantly buffeted by phone zombies and retail junkies–to take in the sight of a young Chinese lad and his family jerking their chins at the Doctor Marten’s shop.
At first I imagined they were charmed, thinking perhaps this was the original Doctor Martens, it being the famous Carnaby Street and all. Then I realized this was rubbish; they were more likely mildly surprised by the small size of the shop compared its gargantuan exported versions in shopping malls from Shanghai to Guangzhou. (Or should that be imported, as it’s more than likely that Doctor Martens is Chinese owned?)
It was not the shifting tides of international power microcosmed into a long-ago simulated London shopping street that really struck me, but the utter failure of that “great equalizer”––Globalisation–– to do anything for human culture. I mean, come on, it’s early days, Tony Blair would say.
But it isn’t. It’s very late days if anything. Shifting tides of the third dimension mean that middle class families from China can either send their offspring to learn––what? retail science? bomb making?––at British universities and spend their ample pocket money in the high street fashion stores and all with the exact same expat dynamic observed by Brits the world over. Alright, globalization has equalized something…
So now there’s a Doctor Martens, a Lush, a Zara and of course the obvious purveyors of chemically treated animal flesh in every city. Wander into one of those stores, comforted by its familiarity, its layout, product range and even prices identical to those back home. Frictions, such as language and cultural barriers, have been bulldozed flat. Possibly, there are cross cultural treasures to be found in, say, charming little differences in product range between Zara, London and Zara, Kuala Lumpur. Possibly those differences are more exciting than those between Zara Regent Street and Zara, Oxford Street.
But by and large urban culture is freefalling into that lowest common denominator of the shopping mall, scene of the original zombie movie, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and of J.G. Ballard’s last novel, Kingdom Come, whose flawed structure nevertheless prophecies the kind of action that unfolded at the post Christmas sales at Asda, Ikea and other religious festivals up and down the country. ‘The human race sleepwalked to oblivion, thinking only of the corporate logos on it’s shroud,’ wrote Ballard.
The rest is familiar posthuman history, which is hardly worth writing about. Of course you are waiting for the ironic, shamanic reversal behind it. And for that I turn once again to that most useful online corner, the internet anagram server, for this gem:
Machine and I
Which says it all.
© 2014 Nizami Thirteen