Location: Carnaby Street, London
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Soho has lost a lot of its neon fantasy lately - but some lives on in spectacular form. I started off thinking: I’m sure I’m meant to criticise this. But after some reflection: nah. I’ve got time for it, weaponised Instagram-bait as it is. Here’s why.
Amazon is hollowing out our high streets and replacing human-facing shop jobs with warehouse drudgery that leaves workers mere servants to a machine. It is hollowing out our material culture into price-arbitraged Alibaba drop-shipped disposable trash. And the media that might object to this turns instead to affiliate links and “service journalism” to stay afloat. An entire section of New York magazine is just an Amazon catalogue now. High street shops shutter and people stay away and the decline accelerates.
Meanwhile, Tinder and Deliveroo and Netflix (and high alcohol taxation and stagnating incomes and NIMBY-ist anti-nightlife zoning) mean our generation have… turned inwards. Culture shifts from the public to the domestic and digital, & away from the press of bodies in a crowded room to the tap of thumbs on a Twitch stream. This is bad for love, joy, solidarity and resistance. Bodily presence and shared experience are irreplaceable. People do better participating in the world. Hikikomori aren’t #goals.
This Christmas Visa did a full on feels-ad with local shopkeepers singing “All I want for Christmas is you.” And this neon spectacular is the same: it’s another big 'Fuck you Amazon', and the fact it’s retailers & a multi-millionaire rock band reminding us of this doesn’t mean they’re wrong. You will not remember the brown cardboard box of your 32nd Prime delivery next year, but you might remember this.
Sure, it’s designed to transmute into a spectacular digital image & circulate accordingly. But note how everyone takes their own photo, whatever the quality of their phone cam, rather than posting professional promo shots. This says: it matters that this was my experience. And in that, a germ of hope.
Work to be done yet on sustainable retail & imagining the city centre beyond consumption & bringing about the end of capitalism, sure. But the city I want looks more like this than it does an Amazon warehouse.