The IKEA test of the revolutionary spirit
There is no chance now to have some Pauline road-to-Damascus experience. Every road has been lined by unpleasant things that negate the possibility of anything resembling an epiphany. Instead, the key experiences in our lives are ones in which we feel the full negativity of the current order of things. And where better to have that experience than at an IKEA warehouse.
IKEA have conveniently made it possible for the maximum number of people to have this experience by building their home furnishing hypermarkets outside every single major European city. It helps, though, before you visit a store to browse a catalogue and then visit a couple of homes: each at opposite ends of the continent, and see that they contain identical furniture.
Now, the digital revolution was meant to lead us away from all the horrible industrial standardisation of the past, but the current popularity of IKEA proves that the new psychologies cultivated by a life spent connected to all things digital are perfectly compatible with the worst forms of the bad old uniformity.
I went to IKEA. It was painful. I couldn’t eat any of the traditional Swedish meatballs they were serving (because the idea is that you don’t just go to IKEA to buy cheap flat-pack furniture – it is meant to be pretty much a day out for the family, hence the children’s play area and the traditional Swedish meatballs). Something had happened to my stomach.
What sprung to mind was the IKEA test of the revolutionary (and here we are assuming that a revolutionary must be one of those people who find themselves – in the pit of their being – at odds with the current way of the world – and someone who might resemble, ever so slightly, Nietzsche’s free spirit). To take the test you have to need furniture and really want to get it at the lowest possible price. You then go to IKEA, and begin the long, long walk that snakes its way around the store in such a way that everyone has to see everything to maximise the temptations to purchase something cheap enough and flimsy enough and so devoid of character that you won’t mind binning it in a year or two. And then, in the midst of that etiolated throng snaking its way around the shopping labyrinth on a busy Saturday you must see how you feel.
Those who pass the test are those who genuinely feel an achingly deep nausea as horrible images of that Munchean scream come to mind again – a screaming figure on a bridge (as I recall) – a bridge to…nowhere?