Image: Yilin Wong
Yesterday I was thinking about how we’re f*cked off with slogans now, they mean nothing, dripping dingy like reminders of an era whose tarnish has encrusted over it in a vice grip. Think electronics stores emblazoned with ‘Blackberry repairs here!’ and gleaming hookah pipes in windows, members of this slowly shrinking class, putrefied limbs peeling at the stump. I keep recalling the smell of the 2000s when the plastic now gathering dust in windows was slick and factory fresh. That smell that was sharp and flat at the same time, and underneath it all, dizzyingly sweet, hedonistic in its newness.
Post-Covid, we are going to return to a shrinking world– a haphazard, mixed bag of competing signs and symbols, all outdated. To walk past a pub window and see their Christmas ornaments and December deals in mid-March produces a terrific effect. Stalled time. Stalled corporate time. At last, a breathing space for personal time, a striking role-reversal we have not seen since the Second World War ended. That was when we plunged headfirst into the comforts of commercialisation, to numb ourselves out of thinking too much, in a world where we no longer had to act with the interest of the state constantly in the rear-view mirror. We didn’t know what to make with that pool of personal time, once the fight was over, so we stuffed it to the brim with TV aerobics classes, and razors, and meal plans.
In a way, reality is kind of hilarious, the visual burdened by ruthless contradictions, nowhere more than on the local high street. Amongst a flock of storefronts that sit half-empty, ‘To Let’ signs waving like white flags, a new order now slips in to fill the barren street. Today I saw a woman who must have been about seventy, swathed in an enormous crinkled pink rain poncho, battling the wind as she pushed a shopping trolley filled with Sainsbury’s bags. Her red lipstick matched her orthopaedic trainers and struggling up the road she struck the image of Sisyphus, engaged in the relentless battle of living. Simultaneously, she was a kind of Madonna. Further down the road, a butcher stood cross-armed looking out his window, bracketed on either side by metallic pink bags of rice stacked taller than him. The green light of the shop glinted off the bags, and he became a bloodstained angel in the cramped, neon space. At the crosswalk, a woman donned a SUPREME x Louis Vuitton bonnet with big fluffy boots, walking her two Pomeranians. At the side of her bobbly black leggings, a carton of orange juice was tucked at the hip.
Everything's a kind of mishmash, and the roadside fruit and vegetable vendor commands more authority than the big glass Debenhams in front of him. Its half-dressed mannequins still don festive gear, preening for an indifferent crowd in their barren box. The commercial advertisements, with self-improvement platitudes like “Never Get Ghosted Again with our Automated CV Writer”, no longer scream, but whisper. We’ve all been ghosted by a world that was promised to be our oyster, the everyman’s capitalist dream. Nothing is up to date, the prescribed commercialisations meant to spur us through our days have failed to catch up.
Now is a strange lull, all of us knowingly on the cusp of tipping back into hyper-speed, life as before, repopulating the streets which still lie dormant. It’s a magnificent poise to crouch in and observe from. For the first time in the life of many, time is as it should be: irregular, staggering, multifarious. There’s rife disillusionment with how it seems to be progressing, a kind of uncomfortable marvelling about how the days flow when unfettered by the agonising push of a fully activated twenty-first-century economic system. Systems are down, the machine is at a stall, and the absence of its constant roar has left us all with slight tinnitus.
N.B: Reading this piece a week after writing it, it already seems dated. The mannequins wearing Christmas jumpers have just been taken half down today. They’re slowly assembling for Easter, like the chocolate eggs in the big Tesco’s flaunting their ‘plastic-free’ packaging. Marketing’s cheap, slurring drone is catching up to the times. Deliveroo vegan ramen is ‘guilt-free’. We cannot click back in to this cheap, complacent, nudge towards an illusion of control, as businesses shuck off their jackets and gloves to bask in the light once more.
Edited by Ishita Uppadhayay, Essays Editor