From the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
Shopping, it’s said, is the new religion, the new opiate of the people.
Once upon a time, as a youngster, Sundays – pre-television and transportless – used to stretch in front of one like the dry and arid sands of the Sahara Desert; never ending and devoid of activity. The oasis in the day, for me, was the evening time when the crackly sound of Radio Luxemburg playing the pop music hits of the day came over the transistor radio. My mom’s Sunday roast was always appreciated though even if I didn’t know then the hard work that went into it in a very non-labour-saving kitchen. For a very brief spell I was packed off to the local Sunday school but I’m happy to say that the boredom of that experience outweighed even that of the traditional ‘day of rest’ with restricted pub opening hours. Consequently I did not succumb to the mind-numbing brainwashing of religion.
Recently I watched a Nick Hornby film, Fever Pitch, and was struck by the piece where Ruth Gemmell berates Colin Firth for his obsession with measuring out his life according to the length of the football season. We all measure out our lives in ‘coffee spoons’ in one way or the other whether by the natural seasons, sporting ones, or in artificial capitalistic ‘financial years’ or ‘results quarters’. For the majority of us this measure is that of waiting for the next weekly wage packet or monthly salary cheque. The long-ago Sundays to which I refer were days to be endured rather than enjoyed. In those days a tramp around a muddy field was just that. Fresh air and exercise but without the added excitement of boxes of vinyl singles and long playing records to leaf through, and beef burger stalls filling the air with the smell of fried onions.
For some the season that provides most joy is ‘on hold’ pending dry weather and the certainty of not getting one’s car bogged down in the ‘parking area’. Wikipedia tells us, cautiously, that the world's first 'Boot Fair' or 'Boot Sale' was held in Kent in 1980. ‘The title or name 'Boot Fair' was coined by the originator and organiser, Barry Peverett, in order to create the curiosity that ultimately ensured that car boot sale events became a run-away popular success and a burgeoning nationwide weekend activity.’
Shopping, it’s said, is the new religion, the new opiate of the people. One of the arenas where this is demonstrated is the Car Boot. Bargains galore! A visit to a Car Boot evokes many sensations. I’m not sure if one of these is the adult equivalent of a child visiting a toy store or sweet shop. A cornucopia of commodities, a positive plethora of unused, unwanted possessions, a galaxy of gew-gaws awaits the early bird and the searcher of useless plastic objects! Car boots offer an opportunity to acquire some practical commodity, or simply something ‘because it was cheap’. Fifty pence? I’ll give you twenty five. Ok, thirty, sold. You can get unwanted children’s toys, outgrown clothes, VHS cassettes – superseded by a newer technology, DVD copies – cheaper than the original!, You can get electrical goods that scream at you caveat emptor!
Buyer beware! You can get books that should have been remaindered the day they were published. You can get knick-knacks, the garish, the gaudy, the tasteless and much more at the car boot.
Not everyone might be so flamboyant as the couple profiled in the Daily Mail who sold ‘a silver-plated tray, a pair of candlesticks and some designer shirts’ from the back of a Bentley and made £260 which they planned to use for ‘lunch at Le Gavroche,’ but the motivation is the same. (Link). Why would you rise at half five in the morning to load your vehicle with all the prerequisites necessary to stand in a field for seven hours and display your wares for the approbation of the passing crowd? Simple. To convert those items into cash.
Each of those items whether useful, worn out, kitschy, or merely decorative shares a common constituent. Each was made to be sold, most so that the ‘surplus value’, i.e. profit, in it could be realised. Each item wasn’t made to be aesthetically pleasing, long lasting, efficient, or made to contribute to the benefit of society or to the happiness of the individual. Apart from the trinkets produced for tourists the rest was originally made solely to produce profit for the benefit of a minority.
You will often find a stall displaying the sign, ‘free’. I once heard someone asking at such a stall, ‘how much are these then?’ The concept of giving away things that you no longer want to people who can make use of them is an admirable one. There are sites on the internet dedicated to acting as a ‘middleman’ to facilitate such actions. But not everybody is convinced of the argument for a society based upon free access: ‘At least one of your founding bloggers saw the bumper sticker below plastered on someone’s car today. ‘Healthcare for people – not for profit.’ Would anyone blame a doctor for taking a baseball bat to the car this was affixed to? We can’t help but wonder what other professions the morons who believe this slogan think should have all incentive removed. Homes for people not for profit; food for people not for profit; education for people not for profit. This list could go on forever” (Dead Link). Actually, yes it could.
Those Sundays of long ago might appear, to me, with the passing of time, to represent a more innocent, less exploitative time. If that were so then I would be talking nonsense. The social system then, as now, compelled those who owned nothing but their ability to work to seek out someone prepared to pay for those abilities in the knowledge that such as one-sided contract could be of benefit to one party only. One cannot turn the clock back. We can, though, turn the clock forward. Is a car boot all you really aspire to?