Featured: Top of Home Page

The Ikea cult

Business Week recently ran a cover story on Ikea, arguing that in its global reach, its obsession with low prices and its idolizing of its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, the Swedish funriture chain was comparable to Wal-Mart. The article also stresses how Ikea attempts to sell a lifestyle as opposed to mere goods, linking Ikea shopping with a whol frugal, eco-conscious approach to life. My feeling has always been that shopping at Ikea gives a sacrifice-free inkling of what a social democracy/welfare state could be, both in its spartan sterility and its underlying sense of cooperation and sincere interest in the general welfare-- the methods by which they try to entice shoppers and encourage their loyalty seem akin to the ways ideally a society might gently manipulate the priorities of its citizens: stylize thrift so that the society can more fairly distribute its product. The store uses, according to a Harvard B-school study, "gentle coercion" to get customers to stay longer -- caring for their kids, feeding them, etc. These are what liberals like to imagine government could do, just as easily.

But the idea that everyone buys into the Ikea ethos is part of the fantasy visiting the store helps construct (making it easy to overlook its annoying traits -- that it makes you build all its cheap stuff yourself, and the incompatibility of many of its housewares with anything non-Ikea). All the faux rooms and the waferboard furniture with streamlined designs, its kitchy language of product names and its free pencils and measuring tapes and its Swedish meatballs, the orderly way you are guided through the maze of offerings, all these things tend to suggest the competence we hope for in government. But it is easy for Ikea to do this -- we aren't expecting justice from it, just cheap furniture. It's success is in suggesting that cheap furniture is all that matters in the world.

Ikea plays on the idea that style can redeem all things, and that a well-designed personal space is tantamount to a well-orgaznized life; that all the rest of one's life can fall naturally into place if you construct an effective enough room for it to happen in, perhaps with the jelp of Ikeas many model rooms you tour at the store. The superfluity of furniture, of cabinets and storage devices and chairs and so on really make it seem that you just need one more file cabinet and all your business will be taken care of --if you just have the right place for something, the chaotic forces that displaces it will be forever held at bay. No one model room creates this effect, instead it is the overwhelming multiplicity of rooms that builds the fantasy -- that for every situation we can imagine ourselves in, we could have a room that would provide the appropriatre stagecraft for us to act it out successfully. (The article notes that an actual play is being staged in an Ikea near Seattle. This is supposed to testify to the reality of the rooms, but shows instead that Ikea must ahve a healthy sense o fhumor about itself, since it is hard to imagine this play not using an Ikea setting to comment on the sterility of the lives of the play's characters.) The end result of an Ikea tour is the sense that style and design can rectify all of live's shortcomings and that design is a kind of functionality that strips the friction out of everyday life. This is potent fantasy, but dangerous -- stylized one's everyday life ultimately means subjecting one's intimate sense of self to the vagaries of fashion cycles; it means finding discontent in oneself for purely external and arbitrary reasons cooked up by designers, who's mandate who's reason for being. is to constantly work to convince people that the perfectly useful things they already have are completely inadequate. Perhaps the comfort we sense in the potentiality of design is the dream that we ourselves can escape the need to be useful, and that we can refine ourselves to a minimalist point free of wasteful thoughts and gestures. That we will become like our well-designed objects and will have a perfect place built in to our society for us that requires no effort of our own to fit into -- by surrounding ourselves with the appropriate design we'll automatically fit into a specific social niche. All shopping cults work this way; they convince consumers that the difficulties of maintain a position in society can be reduced to a series of shopping decisions that the store itself will make for you. You don't have to do anything, not even think -- it's wonderful!





Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.


Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.


Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.