November 9, 2003

Ikea (a.k.a. the promisory psychology of consumerism)

Category: Anthropology — Biella @ 9:30 pm

The desperation of lack of chairs and lights finally drove us to the mega super storie of low cost wooden furniture, plastic knick-knacks, and Swedish meatballs, Ikea located in the far north suburbs of Chicago. It was a trek from Hyde Park and whenever I find myself in the land of blue and yellow, I feel like I in fact have traveled to a far away land, yet it is still that of America just one in which certain dynamics become more apparent than in the normal humdrum of life.

Young couples shacking up for the first time are ubiqutous at Ikea, picking out furniture with this “great anticipation” and glee in their eyes reflecting the innder psychology of the commodity–that this cool new couch and dresser will make their domestic lives that much easier and… better in the near near future.
Of course they find out, like most of us do, that in fact the shiny new x does nothing to save some loveless relationship from a path of spiriling loathing and destruction (I did not share this with them as I did not want to ruin the few moments of safe comfort they did have)…

But it is that dynamic of hoping that those little and big things (a knife, a new toaster, a chair, some great pots and plants, the perfect pen) will bring about some greater ease and comfort in your life. At least I think that is the very hope and justification built in the act of buying, especially since if that one thing does not work, there is, just around the corner, gobs of more stuff that can be bought to *hopefully* fulfill that function of greater ease, comfort, and happiness.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am caught up in this process as much as I really can’t stop thinking and theorizing about it. Today I bought what I hoped will be a desk chair that will provide extra comfort to me, which I am sure it will given that my last chair, in a word blew to the nth degree. But what is amazing is how that initial idea of “greater happiness” creeps out from a relatively conservative thought (like this is more comfortable) into encompassing other wishes and desires like perhaps that chair will make *the difference* between writing a shitty dissertation and writing a most excellent one. I mean, I may be deluded (that is no one except me might fall into this trap) but I think it is hard not to be seduced into the very pyschology of the commodity in which it promises to do something better for you. And though it might (there is nothing like a sharp knife for cutting veggies compared to a dull knife), it seems to extend off in areas that it should never go. And since there is just such a sick abundance of stuff in the west, especially America where it is simply easier to get a new toaster than to fix one, people are caught up into this psychology in a daily way.

But that is why I think going to Ikea can be so paradoxical. It makes apparent this dynamic, this psychology even as everyone is behaving under its powerful influence in this one huge blue and yellow building located in some thankless suburb. It is the fact that we can see everyone under the spell that its very dynamic becomes almost palatable. In other words, Ikea ain’ just a place to get some furniture and deformed Swedish meatballs but it is an exursion into the very heart and soul of the promisory phsychology of consumerism, a promisory that seems to have no limits in the eyes, minds, and bellies of American consumers

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