Tag Archives: capitalism

The next boat back to Tuvalu

FIFA has certainly had a rough patch of late. Dodgy deals behind closed doors, confederation presidents handling suspiciously overstuffed briefcases, botched bribery attempts from the chronically awkward Brits (bless them), more expensive Swiss watches than even Salvador Dalí would know what to do with and a couple of incredibly misguided venue choices for the next two footballing extravaganzas. Could it get any worse?

Amazingly, yes.

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The Russell Hobbs stampede

Well, we’ve made it. We deployed the stiff upper lip, the fearless spirit that has seen Britain endure three plague epidemics, two world wars and a Margaret Thatcher, and we’ve survived Black Friday for another year.

About three years ago, the biggest shopping day in the United States migrated to her little cousin across the pond. The lack of a Thanksgiving Thursday over here would no longer stop us elbowing our fellow Britons in the jaw in a bid to secure the best deals on massive TVs on Black Friday. Videos of snarling housewives showed the lengths we’d go to for a good deal, dependable consumers that we are.

This year was no different. There were 14 arrests after a mass brawl at Tesco Extra in Watford, and six staff were treated for smoke inhalation as furious shoppers reacted to the Solihull John Lewis selling out of Dell Inspirons by setting fire to the Customer Service counter. A man died in the Russell Hobbs stampede at Lakeside.

Only none of that actually happened.

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The router incident

The internet is in so many ways a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t seem quite so bloody marvellous, liberating, enlightening or whatever else it’s supposed to be when you can’t fucking use it.

How exactly am I supposed to survive the day when I can’t explore the latest top tips on how to pluck my eyebrows? Life just isn’t the same without being able to consult those useful guides to picking your nose whilst driving.

Hardly the world’s most original thought this, but BT are bunch of unscrupulous, money grabbing, deceitful and wholly unpleasant fuckers. It’s just a pity that I didn’t realise this until I signed up for their broadband service.

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Imploring clocks

A few weeks ago I was asked if I knew of a decent podcast app my friend could pipe idiots talking bollocks about nothing into her ears through. Pausing for a couple of deep breaths, I turned to the computer and pressed roughly 19 buttons to establish that the best such app out there was something called Pocket Casts. Tens of thousands of users, rave reviews, and not a bug in sight.

She thanked me for my skill at using the internet, all too rare in these days of increasing dependency on the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But there was a problem.

“It’s £1.49! Fuck that!”

Continue reading Imploring clocks

Playground training

Every year I vow I won’t put myself through it again, every single year. But without fail I still watch it. It’s event TV for the unimaginative, it’s infuriating and it makes me shout angrily at the screen as idiots in expensive suits make fools of themselves.

The Apprentice, Alan Sugar, and naked capitalism – a trilogy of things I hate, but still put up with annually. The producers are particularly savvy in their selection of candidates, as are the editors who tweak the narrative for maximum impact. It’s a parade of stupidity, and it makes me genuinely angry.

My girlfriend hates The Apprentice too, but she loves my apoplectic expressions, my consistent assumption that if I were on the show I could do better. The advertising slogans they coin, even the names they give their shitty and short-lived ‘teams’, lack even a simplistic sense of creativity.

Like a sycophant, I assume that if I made it onto the show I could win Alan Sugar’s favour, and his measly investment in whatever half-assed idea I sold him. The Apprentice sells the narrative that we all need a benevolent and wise mentor to guide us through life and it both appalls and entices me.

Watching this show makes me realise that my character isn’t as strong as I thought it was. I know that I should just ignore it, and let myself breathe more easily. The competitiveness, the backstabbing, and the anger that the candidates display is absurd, and frequently childish. The whole process makes these apparent professionals regress to their playground training, pulling hair and refusing to share the toys.

For me, there are some principles in life that we should defend rather than attack. There are some higher ideals that we should strive towards, instead of letting shitty human nature take over. We should aim to collaborate, and work together with others. And we should know that what we do collectively is always going to be better than what we do by ourselves.

But The Apprentice doesn’t aim for anything higher than naked profit. It champions those who squash, lash out, and venomously attack others. And it sucks us in with its logic.

Years and years ago, in the mystical dark ages of the 1960s, a sage called Richard Alpert discussed the legacy of LSD on the free market system. He claimed that if we all killed our egos, and if we all became mindful of the fact that we’re one consciousness experiencing reality subjectively, the world would become a healthier, happier, and more peaceful place.

It seems that if Alan Sugar, along with his business advisers and his yearly cohort of hopeful candidates, understood that life had more meaning than the arbitrary financial boundaries they believe in, The Apprentice could have a better legacy. It could be a TV show that highlights the positive aspects of humanity, rather than its ugliness.

Perhaps we should dose them all with LSD, we could watch consciousness expand, and we could realise together that there is no they or other, there’s just us, the collective. We could share in the candidates’ joy as they overcame the need to compete, and we could revel in the understanding that to be good to others is to be good to yourself.

There’s magic and beauty in the world, and sometimes we need a healthy dose of mindfulness, and we need to step outside of what we know and the ideas of self that define us to find it. But The Apprentice doesn’t allow for that kind of thinking. It’s an experience that makes everyone poorer. The candidates hurt each other, Alan Sugar watches on like the worst kind of prophet, and everyone celebrates wealth, opulence and greed.

If we don’t partake, if we don’t join in, and if we do it deliberately and vocally, then bad things stop. We don’t need to feed the beast; I could just turn the TV off. My girlfriend would lose out on some entertainment, but my mind would be better for it. The noise, the squabbling, squawking shrieks of anger and irritation, would be silenced. 

But what would I do instead on a Wednesday night? I could read a book, maybe explore my understanding of my own place in the universe. I could come to realise that by analysing the candidates on Alan Sugar’s shit show I become just like them. I could take a breath and realise that by judging others I’m judging myself; that our collective consciousness is harmed by the divisive them and us philosophy espoused by wealthy establishment figures like ‘Lord’ Sugar.

But I don’t have time for all that. The fuckers are naming a shampoo brand and they’re shit at it.

But it’s cheap

There’s pleasure to be had in the very act of argument, provided it’s about something meaningful and not “I can’t believe you didn’t reply to my text, it’s like you don’t even love me”. Sometimes you can lay out the most coherent arguments in a debate, trumping every opposing idea with the calm dexterity of Lincoln or Aristotle, knowing no sane person could resist your electrifying reasoning and that they will undoubtedly embrace your philosophy with immediate effect. You lean back contentedly, basking in triumph.

And your opponent slowly lifts their gaze from their smartphone and says: “Hmmmm? Oh, sorry. Just sorting myself out an Uber.”

Continue reading But it’s cheap

Mutualisation

I wander in out of the rain, shaking my barnet about like an outwitted sheepdog. The doors have handles but a sign tells me they’re automatic; motorisation added as afterthought, which will need to happen to me if the noises my legs make when I dare crouch are anything to go by.

I’m met immediately by a man who demands to know what I want. I can’t tell if he’s a doorman solidly and professionally making sure I’m sent in the right direction, a bouncer grimly explaining I almost certainly have the wrong shoes to get into the fightiest club in town, or one of those wretches whose souls died long ago directing you to the self-service supermarket checkout. As it turns out, he’s all three. I can be nowhere but the Post Office.

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We’re not interested in quality

I’m no media guru, but I think anyone with any semblance of sense would find it near-impossible not to agree that “We’re not interested in quality” is a fucking terrible line to start an advert with. Yet in another instance of someone okaying another farcical entry into the commercial world, like those “Ride me all day for £3” South Wales bus adverts held up by naked men and woman, we now know that Papa John’s couldn’t care less about the quality of their pizzas. Way to make a first impression, Papa.

It’s like if Pizza Hut started an advert saying: “Here at Pizza Hut, we don’t care about pizza.” Oh wait, they’re kind of already doing that by slowly changing their name to Pasta Hut. Conveying a healthy image is all fine and well, but nobody goes to Pizza Hut, or any pizza joint, to be healthy. You go because Nando’s was full a bunch of dickheads trying to have a ‘cheeky’ meal (whatever the hell that actually means), and you fancy something easy and greasy to eat, at a reasonable price. Maybe if they’re offering you free access to the salad bar you might pick up a slice of cucumber or two, or maybe not since you want to save room to gorge on the unlimited ice cream dispenser (hoping you can pull off not looking like a child catcher while in the queue for it). As consumers all we care about is the pizza. We want pizzas from pizza places. Some things are inherently simple, and this is one such thing.

And yet pizza advertising has something clearly wrong with it. The aforementioned Papa John’s line is a testament to how they’ve misjudged the majority of their audience. People need a fast hook, and if you start off by saying “We’re not interested in quality” – even if you follow it up with the ever-so-clever caveat of “we’re obsessed by it” – then people will move on quickly. Or, at the very least, that is the one line that will stick with people afterwards.

And while we all like food that actually tastes pretty good, who actually goes to a pizza chain expecting something supremely delicious? If you want proper pizza you go to a middle-class Italian restaurant (or maybe Pizza Express, which, though a tad pricey, is an exception to the rule of pizza restaurant quality). Otherwise you should be aware that you’re getting pre-prepared dough squeezed between the sticky hands of a university student trying to earn their way out of absolute debt. Competent as that student may be, you can only get a certain level of ‘delicious’ when you’re titting about with something a machine made earlier.

We eat it anyway though, because pizza is really tasty and easy to eat. Still, why they think they can sell a pizza for just short of of £20 remains a mystery. When you try to sell something people want a basic pleasure from, keep it simple, and keep it cheap – which is why a £5 pizza from a kebab shop never goes down poorly. It’s not pretending to be anything more than it is, and sometimes it can actually be pretty damn good.

Because kebab shop pizza makers aren’t too interested in quality or ‘delicious’, and instead are putting all their energy into getting you and your drunken stupor out of their face as quickly as possible. Sometimes all the advertising you need is a lit-up menu board with a crude and gratuitously glistening picture of unhealthy food, and the price. Media gurus, you might want to take note.

The last Granny Smith

Thrilled. That’s the word she used. I’m not a fan of workplace violence but if we in this building were trusted to open the windows she’d currently be worrying the front wheels of a number 17 to Cannon Street.

The woman who sits next to me in my mercifully temporary ‘job’ wastes most of the breaths she has left on words and phrases such as ‘personas’ and ‘overarching user needs’. It’s some kind of research the government allows her to do in preparation for online projects which can not and will not be influenced in any way by that research, due to civil servants whose lives depend on sticking fast to impenetrable policy guidelines. Anyway, the government is all about job creation as they’ve been saying for months, and she has one. And she’s thrilled about it.

Continue reading The last Granny Smith

The Start-Up of You

Quick tip for book lenders: unless someone has asked you to borrow the book, they don’t want it. They’ll probably accept it, because they don’t want to insult you or your reading habits. But they’ll resent you for it, because when they get home, it will sit in the corner, looking at them for weeks, and making them feel guilty for not having started it yet. If you begin asking them questions about it, like “Did you get a chance to read it yet?” they’ll start avoiding you like you have Ebola or something. This will be your fault.

Eventually, out of guilt and resentment, they will return the book and say they ‘couldn’t get on with it’. What they mean is, they haven’t looked at it, and never intended to. Let that be a lesson to you.

Anyway, the other day, a well-meaning friend lent me a book. Actually, it’s my own fault. Since I complain about my job all the time, sometimes well-meaning friends get the funny idea that it’s a cry for help of some sort, and not just my favourite pastime, and they offer suggestions or advice about shifting jobs or careers, unaware that for me, shifting careers has about the same appeal as selecting coffins does for someone on Death Row.

This book was called ‘The Start-Up of You’, a title which manages to combine all the things I hate about modern publishing, or actually life, in a pithy and disgusting four-word phrase. Well done. The subtitle was: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career.

Transform Your Career? Transform it into what? What are they talking about? Naturally, I was terrified, and threw it in the corner. Later on, sheer morbidity prompted me to pick it up and browse the contents page. The first chapter was called “All Humans Are Entrepreneurs”. What? Was this book written by an alien? Or are there other species on Earth who can read now? I continued. Later chapters developed the theme: “New World of Work”, “Strengthening Risks”, “Structure and Maintain Your Network”, and so on.

I’m sure you are getting the gist. The gist is, the world of work isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days when you left school and cosily snuggled up under the protective wing of a large and benevolent enterprise, who would pay you a steadily increasing salary, plus healthcare and pension, as you moved inexorably up the escalator. These days, wages are stagnant, add-ons cost extra and, where once you could confidently say, ‘the world will always need customer service subscriber managers’, now things are not quite so predictable. Quite frankly, an answering machine could probably do your job better than you, and next week it probably will.

The keyword now is ‘flexibility’. The Start-Up of You teaches you how to think and act like an entrepreneur, all the time.  The usual examples are trotted out: that wanker who started Facebook, and look how rich he is, and what about Fuckface who invented that app nobody likes but everybody uses? How did Fuckface get to start his Fortune 500 company? Why, by exploiting his network, you imbecile. There are many other similar examples. You have to be thinking creatively, pivoting constantly, and if you do nothing, then a career tsunami is going to come along and sweep you out into the street where you’ll be eating cat food out of bins for the rest of your life, and you’ll deserve it.

The whole prospect, of course, is designed to terrify. Nothing sells like total fear, and for those of us (like me), who spent the first thirty years of life just  getting over the trauma of being alive, and never bothered about career until it was too late, the prospect of having to suddenly build network intelligence and navigate career opportunities is pure gothic horror. Already, in my reasonably steady, horrible job, I spend a fair amount of time with my hands resting on the keyboard, staring out of the window thinking, “What the fuck am I doing? What the fuck am I doing?” over and over again. In the past we were allowed to be quietly but complacently miserable. Those days are gone.

Back in the old days, you sold your soul to a company, but at least when you’d put in your working hours they let you alone, to go home and watch TV or something. Now, unless you bounce out of bed with fifteen different ideas about how you can maximise your skill set and generate career opportunities, you are basically a slacker, an old-world caveman who deserves to be swept away in the tsunami.

The world of work, formerly contained in offices and factories, has come spilling out into the streets and cafes, where hipsters line up their identical Macbook Pros and develop their profiles. Work follows you home like some blob from a 1950s horror movie, and it sits in your house, making you feel guilty for watching TV instead of expanding your network. TV is no escape. Everyone is at it on every channel – thinking like an entrepreneur. Christ, round me, even the beggars have been reading The Start-Up of You. They used to just beg. Now they all have a sideline in selling stolen books or doing performance outsider art. Soon they will be asking me to endorse them on LinkedIn for smelling of piss and drinking K cider. What chance have I got?

The Start-Up of Me makes an executive decision. I decide to place The Start-Up of You in an out-of-the-way spot where it can languish for enough time so I can give it back to my friend. Later on, I will tell him it was interesting in parts but I couldn’t really get on with it. I enjoy a horror story as much as the next guy, but some things are just too awful to contemplate.