19 December 2006

Men and Sheds

This is the name of a book I'm giving my brother-in-law for Christmas. I'm very proud of my brother-in-law, whose name is Nick. He not only won a coveted Ivor Novello award but was also so cool that, instead of attending the presentation, he stayed at home to put up his shed. Also grateful since he has sorted me out for a website and also persuaded me to start this blog having heard enough of my moaning about not selling enough of my books and having my ideas ignored.

So what is it with men and sheds? I can't claim to understand men, never having been one, or at least not in any lifetime I can remember. My guess is that it is something to do with the way women tend to dominate the domestic space. Presumably sheds give men a space where they can be themselves. Homes, these days, have become spaces for competitive domestic consumption, the realm of the domestic goddess. I can see that a shed is a place where you can be relaxed and messy, and perhaps just yourself.

The fetishisation of home furnishing has reached such a pitch that people no longer invite friends into their homes for the shame of what they might find there—last year’s style of sofa would be social death. Fashion was always capitalism’s favourite child, but it has now been allowed to run around all areas of our lives, throwing tantrums if we dare to express our individuality rather than buying the latest designer label. The brand has become an expression of who we are, and those who can only afford the cheaper brands are themselves branded as losers. To avoid this shame a friend insists on pronouncing Lidl as lidèle, imbuing the pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap supermarket with a contintental air that saves his blushes.

What about this example of sofa madness reproduced from the Guardian:

At one minute past midnight last night, Ikea's new flagship store opened in north London, and managers expected that around 2,000 bargain-hunters would quietly file in. The British, after all, have a reputation for being decorous queuers. But Ikea had not predicted that up to 6,000 people would descend on the new store, in Edmonton, with a stampede to get in resulting in a frightening crush. Thousands had been lured by bargains—some of which were only available until 3am even though a 24-hour opening was planned—such as 500 leather sofas for only £45. Cars were abandoned on the roadside as shoppers attempted to reach the store in time to secure the best offers.

Six people were taken to hospital, including a man in his 20s who was stabbed nearby at around 1.30am. He was said to be in a stable condition, and it was not clear whether the incident was related to the opening. According to a senior fire officer, ‘There were crush injuries and people suffering from shock from the pushing and shoving.’ Nine ambulances attended the scene.

This is all unnecessary sacrifice at the altar of the growth fetish, that sanctum sanctorum of neoclassical economics exposed so brilliantly by Richard Douthwaite in The Growth Illusion. It is also unsupportable within the confines of a limited planet that is already creaking at the seams. In spite of the money, energy and intelligence spent persuading you of the need for elaborate consumption patterns, this particular mindgame—elsewhere I have called it ‘Sen and the art of market-cycle maintenance’—is easily defeated. You can get together with your friends, green friends are particularly useful for this, and establish your own ethic of consumption based around minimizing carbon and maximizing self-expression.

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