Don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly gone senile. Nor have I decided to endorse traditional shoplifting.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like shopping. [Except at bookstores, particularly when they’re full of second-hand and musty books just waiting to be discovered.] For me the web was a dream come true, allowing me to get most of what I needed without going into a store. Otherwise, the minute I get into a store, I start looking like Birdman looking for new feathered friends. Strangely trapped.
In similar vein, I don’t like crowds. Except in sports stadia and concert halls and out on the street and in parks and in the countryside and at home. In fact, come to think of it, the only place I don’t like crowds is in shops. Which figures, given my position on shopping. And given I was born and brought up in Calcutta, which was a teensy bit crowded. Like cholesterol, I think crowds come in two kinds, good and bad. And the shopping kind is the only bad one.
So a part of me curls up and hibernates at this time of year. But that’s not the point of this post. I was reading the New York Times this morning, and I came across this story: Anarchists in the Aisles? Stores Provide a Stage.
Shopdropping, otherwise known as reverse shoplifting, involves surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather than illegally taking them out, and the motivations vary. Anti-consumerist artists lip replica products packaged with political messages onto shelves while religious proselytizers insert pamphlets between the pages of gay-and-lesbian readings at book stores.
I had come across limited variants of this, in the rebellious name of art, as in the case of Banksy doctoring Paris Hilton CDs. You know something? I’d never actually considered buying a Paris Hilton CD. But I’d be prepared to pay real money for a Banksy version: who could resist listening to tracks named Why Am I Famous?, What Have I Done? and What Am I For?. [Incidentally, you will notice I have explicitly avoided placing a photograph of Paris Hilton in any form or shape here as part of this story. That’s not the way I want to attract readers.]
Anyway, it looks like that one strand of Banksian art is going mainstream, and we don’t yet have the words to describe what happens next. What happens if I pick up something that was shopdropped? There’s no price on it, and it could be argued that I’m doing the store a favour. Does the shopdropped thing become the property of the shop once it has been dropped?
Which reminds me. Over twenty years ago, I laughed like a train when I read the story of the drunk and his fish-and-chips. Apparently there was this drunk. Gently rolling his way home, no threat to anyone. Hungry as hell. Spends his last few pounds buying product from his local “chippie” on his way home. Needs to tie his shoelaces, places his food on the nearest flat surface he can find. Which happens to be the “open” shelf of an ATM. While he ties his laces, the ATM’s protective screen comes down, trapping his treasured food. He goes berserk, tries to beat up on the ATM, but it’s made of sterner stuff and refuses to budge. Cops patrolling by see him, take him in. He sues bank for “stealing” his food. Doesn’t quite win, but he achieves one thing. The bank is instructed to reduce the time between the completion of a legitimate transaction and the closure of the transparent cover. Apocryphal? I have no idea. But I loved the story.
As shopdropping becomes mainstream, so will its virtual equivalent. Soon we will see mainstream “parasite” advertisements, leeched on to “legitimate” ads on “legitimate” sites. Clickthroughs that do not get paid for at the Googlebank.
We haven’t even sorted out First Life rules for electronic “intellectual property”, and now we can expect to have this. Electronic shopdropping. I’m waiting to see what happens next. With some relish.