‘… could consumerism turn into fascism? The underlying psychologies aren’t all that far removed from one another. If you go into a huge shopping mall and you’re looking down the parade, it’s the same theatrical aspect: these disciplined ranks of merchandise, all glittering like fascist uniforms. When you enter a mall, you are taking part in a ceremony of affirmation, which you endorse just by your presence.’J G Ballard The Guardian, 14 June 2008.
Though this picture of shop workers limbering up in perfect unison along the aisles of a store in the Beijing Shopping Centre is something that does not happen at the moment, this appalling sight in today's free "newspaper" Metro had me thinking that something like this could come to Britain in the near future.
The novelist J G Ballard mused increasingly on the theme of whether consumerism could lead to a sterile world of perfection not least in his last novel Kingdom Come. This a theme I've become obsessed with not least because Ballard's writing was unknown to me when I first started to ponder this when Blair came to power in 1997.
Since 1997 and Blair's carefully choreographed entry into Downing Street, which was slightly hysterical and had something totalitarian about it and the re-presentation of the British PM Blair as a saviour who could act as a megaphone for "the people's aspirations" through soundbites, real political choice and debate has been continually constricted.
With the lies that lead to the Iraq War, the curtailment of civil liberties in anti-terrorism legislation, the acceleration of social trends that are eroding civil society and reducing politics largely to the aesthetics and images that buttress the power of a new moneyed oligarchy with little time for Britain as anything other than a "market", questions need to be asked.
Consumerism, a society of the mass spectacle, the depth psychology of the advertising industry in tapping inner most insecurities and needs and the elevation of image and brand symbolism over the substance of words could lead to a combination of greater consumer freedom and greater authoritarianism.
There is no reason why China, instead of being a nation that somehow will learn to adapt towards Western liberalism in politics will not instead combine "liberalism" in economics with an ever more effective security state that will crush freedom even better precisely because people prefer consumer security and a fantasy world of perfection than freedom.
In that sense, China could be a new model to decaying Western states such as Britain. Blair had authoritarian tendencies and lauded Singapore in 1997 as a great beacon of modernity. One commentator called this trend "happy face fascism", something that has surreal possibilities that few thinkers have looked at-apart from Ballard.