A Cynic Writes...
When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Shopping
Many years ago, there was a Not The Nine O'Clock News sketch which featured Rowan Atkinson and Griff Rhys Jones as a pair of supremely callous sales assistants in a hi-fi shop. Their victim, played by Mel Smith, was an innocent and slightly out-of-touch customer who had the audacity to ask for outmoded equipment in outmoded terms - namely, a gramophone. The punishment, of course, was swift. In no time at all, the poor punter is baited with trick questions and merciless taunting in an orgy of techno-arrogance.
Naturally, the satirical bite of this particular item would have been considerably sharper had the whole scene taken place in a musical instrument shop, or more precisely, a hi-tech musical equipment shop. The role of First Assistant could then have been played by Robbie Coltrane, Alexei Sayle, or some similarly corpulent figure affecting a ridiculous cockney accent, breezing grudgingly through the relative benefits of synth A over synth B as though the luckless customer - a cameo appearance by Vince Clarke - had interrupted the arrival in the back of the shop of a particularly absorbing new box from Japan. Enter Second Assistant, played by Rik Mayall, who engages the first assistant in a spirited debate about polyphony, SysEx dumps and the latest issue of Razzle. Any attempt at inclusion in the conversation by the customer is met with supercilious derision. The customer finally leaves the shop either (a) empty-handed, or (b) laden with two-and-a-half grand's worth of hardware and software, having only come in for a packet of floppy disks.
Familiar? There's clearly something about the esoteric nature of technology that acts as a breeding ground for behaviour of this kind, and when this is married to the vainglorious pretensions which already festoon the music industry, you have a heady cocktail. There may be some hope, if the future of retailing is in mail order. Then at least, in conversation with one of the growing legion of tele-sales automata, you can be patronised in the comfort of your own home.