I’ve seen a couple of places applauding ‘Ikeaphobia and its discontents’ by Adam Greenfield in which he describes anti-Ikea and anti-Starbucks rants as “nonsensensical prejudices”. While I agree with a few of his points, and dislike the ranters’ attitudes that such companies are simply evil, I feel like standing up a little for the ranters, or at least providing an alternate slant on their rants.
I largely agree with Greenfield about the fact Ikea’s furniture is generally affordable and well-designed. I’ve never worked out why the ranters object to this, other than a snobbish reaction to popularity. Why is it a problem that many people think “cheap” and “well-designed” are desirable attributes in furniture? If you don’t like these particular cheap and well-designed objects, feel free to buy your own more exclusive and slightly less cheap ones, and leave others to furnish their homes as they wish.
However, I’ve never shopped at Ikea because I have a different problem with it. My problem is with large stores surrounded by car parks squatting beyond city centres. I prefer walkable shopping centres and don’t wish to encourage blank out-of-town boxes. No doubt their products’ cheapness requires these locations, in which case we should be asking ourselves whether the increased traffic, the ugly warehouses in suburban areas, the disruption to the lives of local residents and the decline of urban centres is a worthwhile surcharge on our Billy bookcases. Apparently plenty of people think it’s a worthwhile price to pay.
Answering the ranters’ accusation that Ikea is making the world a blander place, Greenfield says, “If your life is mediocre, I promise you, Ingvar Kamprad didn’t make it that way. You did.” While the ranters point their fingers purely at companies, Greenfield is just as simplistic in pointing his at consumers; I can almost hear “there is no such thing as society”. If there is blame to apportion, it’s naive to assign it to only one party while ignoring the rest of society and the economy. It’s easy to blame someone and exonerate another, but life’s rarely so simple.
As for Starbucks, Greenfield is “generally quite satisfied” with the coffee and surroundings, and I’m pleased for him. Again, this is partly a matter of taste; just as some people prefer to listen to Top 40 radio stations or eat at chain restaurants, many prefer the Starbucks’ predictable surroundings. Greenfield almost agrees with criticism that the company crowds out less powerful competitors but I’m disappointed by his defence that coffee in general is better since the advent of Starbucks: this may be so, but can’t we still wish for something more varied?
He ignores the frequent criticism that Starbucks short-changes the developing world when purchasing its coffee, and one could well argue that corporations daily perform far worse deeds than this. Indeed, Greenfield berates the ranters’ tendency to target Nike, Ikea and Starbucks, vaguely “progressive” companies, over giants like ADM, General Dynamics and Monsanto. Sure, this is far from strictly logical but is it surprising? No. The former set are consumer-oriented companies and go out of their way to attract attention.
Like publicity-seeking film stars it’s only to be expected not all of this attention will be favourable. Just as reclusive stars are able to get away with all manner of infelicities, companies that barely register in the minds of consumers will attract less criticism. Sure, campaigners may know some are more wicked than others, but they can hardly be blamed for piggy-backing on the awareness consumer-oriented companies have created for themselves. Not to mention that it’s rather easier to boycott vendors of coffee or furniture than purveyors of wholesale seed corn or… whatever it is ADM and General Dynamics produce.
So, this wasn’t meant to be a disagreement with Greenfield, as I share much of his frustration with the ranters’ simplistic attitudes, but more a further exploration of the topic. I feel he does himself a disservice, merely inverting the ranters’ black and white world, rather than revealing highlights in its shadows. And such “I’m right, you’re wrong” arguments get us nowhere.