Wednesday, August 19, 2009

All shopped out

I think that in future we’ll look back at the designer carrier bag as a symbol of the era just past. Think of every TV ad you ever see that reflects city lifestyle or tries to promote the joys of destination shopping. Every one features at least a few seconds of some babe sashaying along with bags swinging from each hand.
There’s an ad on New Zealand TV right now (for Tower Insurance) where two guys are standing talking outside a house while, in the background, a woman is unpacking a shiny SUV. She lifts up the rear door to reveal a sea of bags like the one I’ve drawn here.
Her man looks on glumly as she carries them into the house. They are rectangular, sharp edged and prettified with logos – because, of course, that’s the whole point of these bags. They’re not just for putting stuff in. As you carry them along, they also turn you into a walking, free advertisement for the store or designer to whom you’ve just handed cash or card.
Thus encumbered, you are proclaiming, ‘I shop. I consume with a capital C. I am playing my part by buying stuff that others make, therefore ensuring enduring employment for everyone involved in the manufacture, packaging and transport of these consumables. Not only that, but I’m smart and I’m loaded and can afford the latest gear and am therefore to be admired.’ There’s a whole lotta snobby yada-yada embodied in every paper carry bag.
There’s been a feeling abroad for a long time that not only must you tote shopping bags to keep the economy spinning, you should also see shopping as leisure because everyone knows (don’t they?) that shopping is fun, fun, fun. Tell that to someone who’d love to buy lovely things that nestle in bags like that, but can’t afford them. For them it’s yearn, yearn, yearn.
We forget about the newness of shopping culture for the masses. Time was when those with the money to enjoy top-ending shopping would never have consented to carrying their own purchases. Things were delivered. At the tradesmen’s entrance – if you had such a thing.
More recently, stores would let trusted customers take things home ‘on appro’ so you could try on clothes in the privacy of your own home, or check if those cushions really did match the drapes. There was no deposit, no taking of credit card details. The merchant would know the customer would return them in good order if they were not wanted. The customer would know that if they failed to do that, or failed to pay on time, their name would be mud. The system worked on trust.
But now we have little trust. Now it’s, ‘Show me the money’. Or at least, ‘Show me your gold card’. Only then can you walk out with that thousand-dollar suit wrapped in tissue in a loopy-handled, ego-booster bag. Which you’ll chuck away as soon as you get home.
As the world struggles to climb out of recession, economists everywhere are desperate for us to go back to the mall with the same old devil-may-care ease. But I think the mindless-shopping era is over. We may not be going back to brown paper parcels, wrapped up in string. But all of that just-put-it-on-the-card, got-to-have-it attitude? It’s feeling very 20th century.

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