Monday, June 08, 2009

everything must go!

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.
- Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto

We ended up at the mall today, for no really good reason, other than already finding ourselves in Modesto, and thinking of a trip to Trader Joe's. We went to a closing sale at a local department store, a chain with stores mainly in the Central Valley, called Gottschalks. They tried to sell out to somebody last fall, and no one took them up on it. So they're clearing out everything.

And I mean everything: all the stuff on the floor, in warehouses, all the store furnishings and equipment, all the manikins, racks, display tables, fixtures - even the dollies the stock staff (in jeans and t-shirts) were using had price tags on them.

All the desperation of trying to sell the place past, all attempts at dignity, polish and shine ended, the store was reduced to dishevelment, or, to coin an appropriate term, disshelvement.

What was revealed by this series of events are the basic tricks of retail: controlling perception. Because, you see, they'd given up on it. The normal look of a retail department store, which prevents you from seeing in depth, which fills as much of every direction with images, words of inducement, merchandise displays, was gone. All the racks were at the same level, and there were items stacked on floors or behind counters where they didn't belong.

The staff were disgruntled, and joined by this invading army of overly-casual employees (in dress and in work status, no doubt), hired by a group a cashier identified as "the liquidators" to move stock around. The muzak was on a weirdly upbeat channel doing lots of late 70s, heavy on the disco.

Aside from the sudden elimination of the usual fetishization of commodities - the pornography that takes place routinely in retail - what struck me was that, with the pretense gone, the impoverishment, callousness, and shabbiness of it was impossible to deny. For instance, in the pile of cast-off and for-sale display tables and racks, without being covered with brightly colored stuff as was their function, you could see how poorly made, how scuffed, how tatty all of it is. The conceits of fashion and elegance, which is the basic come-on of retail seduction, no longer hide this.

Especially thrilling to me was that you could buy literally anything in the store, including giant cardboard hearts covered in red and pink tissue paper roses used as Valentine's Day decorations, metal sign frames with signs still in them, hat dummies, segments of manikins, and those weird partial manikins - just a torso, or just legs, or - the one I wanted most - just a butt (I thought it would make a nice gift). My loveliest (known today by one of my random endearments for her - Pinky) was looking for and buying ladies' unmentionables, and the racks they were on were on sale too. For some reason, the whole thing struck us as hilarious.


laura c. said...

i love this. now i want to go there with a good wide-angle lens and some black-and-white film... do you know how long anyone expects this sale to go on?

Doc Nagel said...

It's hard to tell. The place was pretty crammed full of stuff.

But go! go! I wished I had a camera with me, even though I'm at best capable of snapshots.

Anonymous said...

The butt would make an awesome side table