Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lost In The Supermarket

Oh the rain it raineth every day. It seems a hard winter has set in across the land and the grey pall of an unshiftable low front is upon us. The sun has gone to bed and I must deal with the reality of my phantom seasonal affective disorder. I have just had a couple of brainwaves regarding future rants but as of this week the best I could manage was a trip down to my local Hero supermarket in order to stock up on supplies of biscuits and prophylactics.

Mind you, even a lowly supermarket can rescue a desperate columnist from the jaws of weekly defeat. There's a whole world of cultural and socioeconomic signifiers to reflect on as one embarks on one's weekly shop and suffers all the existential angst of modern man under late capitalism.

Even buying a few packets of crisps is an agony of choice. The despotic control mechanisms of materialism cloak themselves, as always, in the hollow promise of consumer preference. Should it be Chitos or Taro that I nosh on while I watch some Hollywood rubbish at home? Why should I care? Why should I be eating this stuff at all? I'd be better off chewing the bags that it comes in.

Mind you, many of the local snacks look pretty noxious too. Every supermarket here has its section of transparent plastic packets full of such charming items as dried chicken guts and desiccated jellyfish. In all my time here I've only been brave enough to delve very tentatively into these shelves of fossils and biological curiosities, but they do have their fans in the snack world.

Then of course there's the instant noodle section. This usually occupies an entire side of the supermarket aisle. Instant noodles are much loved here, of course, and represent the ultimate victory for the food industry of convenience and advertising over nutritional content. I'm quite partial to the occasional bowl myself although boiling and eating half a dozen discarded cigarette packets would probably have an equally fortifying effect on my constitution.

A friend here once told me a story, no doubt apocryphal, of someone who supposedly ate nothing but Indomie and drank nothing but Coca-Cola for a year and then died of a massive brain tumor. This sounds plausible if you ask me but no doubt I'll be tucking into another bowl of noodles again soon. The interpassive simulations of reality that advertising presents to us as real reality have no doubt colonized my unconscious mind, as they have everyone else's, and I find myself powerless to resist the old Indomie.

So what other delights did I find at Hero to stoke the fires of my postmodern paranoia? Well, on some of the supermarket shelves there are now actually mini TV screens looping product advertisements over and over again. I found the whole thing quite scary. These new technologies seem to be winding the tourniquet of capital's banal and vapid consumerism tighter and tighter around our already half throttled brains. Adverts now poke their heads out at me every minute of the day; their illusion of reality rendered increasingly seamless by our new digital utopia. There should be some kind of help line available. "Has this advert insulted your intelligence? Are you feeling two dimensional today? Then call this number".

Any other revelations on my post Marxist shop? Well, around the soap and shampoo shelves I found the inevitable skin whitening products that are so popular here. One called Flawless White promised whiter looking skin in a mere seven days, a feat that stretches credulity somewhat unless, of course, Flawless White is merely a cheap way of repackaging all of the left over bleach and toilet cleaners produced by local factories. Here though, capital's reductive prize, fear, in this case fear of being considered black, dovetails with some extremely unpleasant racial overtones.

Wheeling my trolley round to the other side of the supermarket I found an interesting organic food section. The posters declared that, "Organic farming can restore, maintain and enhance an ecological harmony." The implication here that buying organic produce is a purely ethical decision completely ignores the fact that Hero's organic tomatoes cost seven times as much as their nonorganic equivalents. Few people here can afford this stuff but, as usual, socioeconomic class differences are downplayed in the marketplace. If you can't afford what is on sale you are not only a social pariah but now also an eco-terrorist too.

So here we are comrades, the end of it all. The supermarket terminus of history. All politics and ideologies have been replaced by shopping. The promise of a better life wrapped in plastic for a few Rupiah's discount.

I hope it stops raining soon.