The Changing Face of Consumerism VIII: State of Independence, or, All’s Well at The Inkwell

The seven ‘Changing Face of Consumerism’ articles I ran on MySpace in 2008 and 2008 all shared a common theme, namely lamenting the sad decline of the real – both in media and commodity, with ‘reality’ television being a pisspoor ersatz approximation of any reality I’ve ever known, and ‘real’ shopping experiences being slowly subsumed by the virtual marketplace.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for progress, and have long been a big fan of on-line shopping, being one who doesn’t cope well with crowds or endless hours of pavement-pounding in search of goods, but by the same token, I’m a strong advocate of consumer choice. Despite what the global marketplace on-line tells us, we as consumers do not have infinite choice, not least of all because while some niche outlets fare well on-line, many have gone to the wall because the same kind of corporate giants that slowly erased all of the small independent stores from the high streets of each and every town have steamrollered the little on-line traders out.

As city centres everywhere become identikit clones of anywheresville, so our sense of location becomes diminished: the only thing to differentiate, say, Leeds from Lincoln, isn’t the choice of shops, but the size of each branch, and after a mooch round M&S, Boots, Game and HMV, stopping for a uniform coffee in a Starbucks or Costa before going on to… well, it doesn’t matter. I mean it really doesn’t matter where you are, the experience is pretty much the same. Fine, so you know what you’re going to get, but the experience of discovering a little specialist shop tucked away somewhere is radically different and appeals to a whole range of senses. However hard Amazon try to replicate the browsing experience of specialist independent book and record stores with features like ‘look inside’ and the song snippets you can listen to, in addition to the list of recommendations based on what you’re looking at and what other shoppers have also purchased or viewed that functions as a mimesis of the friendly and enthusiastic guy behind the counter who just loves his books or music and knows everything there is to know, like a living, walking encyclopedia, it just isn’t the same. There’s no substitute for browsing.

And so it was that I was practically skipping when The Inkwell opened in York a few weeks ago. A little shop stocking secondhand books, records (with a few selected new titles), CDs and cards, it’s the kind of shop you used to drop into, rummage around and find something wonderful you didn’t even know you wanted. The owner, Paul Lowman, is clearly an unashamed enthusiast first and a businessman second, and while such a venture is the kind that will never make him rich, and would make many lenders and entrepreneurs alike squirm in discomfort, it’s a shopper’s delight. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Inkwell is aimed at a niche market (by which I mean discerning shoppers: Paul’s philosophy is according to the website, “COOL STUFF FOR ALL!” Popular Culture is about democracy – inclusivity, not exclusivity) specialising as it does in books on music, film and pop culture, with sections on the Beat Generation, Art, Philosophy and a noteworthy – not to mention impressive – selection of pulp paperbacks, all in remarkably good condition (yet reasonably priced, with titles marked up at between six and ten quid).

The vinyl, too, is all in great nick, and the range, though limited, is all about quality and catering to a particular kind of discerning alt/hipster customer. There’s no mainstream pap to be found on the racks: instead, there are sections devoted to Garage, Psych, 90s Indie, Spoken Word / Comedy, and even Burlesque. Yes, if you want the kitsch sleaze of yesteryear, then the range of sexploitation titles in both audio and written media is exceptional.

It’s a tiny little place, made all the more cramped by there being a pair of school desks in the middle of the room, upon which a choice of books are casually laid. It’s all about the browsing experience (they serve coffee too), and an eclectic mix of music is spun – at high volume, and all on vinyl, naturally – on the turntable in the corner by the counter. Of course, it’s simply one’s man’s vision, one man’s obsession made manifest… but what’s wrong with that? But equally, why should a shop such as this succeed in a climate where major chains are going to the wall? The answer, I believe, is simple. In attempting to appeal to everyone, the major chains ultimately cater for no-one. In aiming to cover a vast market based on some kind of assumed generic average consumer and broad populism, the chains become Xerox copies of one another: reliable, perhaps, but ultimately forgettable and wholly impersonal. A shop like The Inkwell isn’t about conquering the world or trying to cater to all tastes: it knows its market and knows it well – because by being the shop its owner wants it to be, it’s catering for like-minded individuals (there’s that word again!). It’s unique in every way, and every item in stock is essentially a one-off. It has the personal touch and is memorable. And that’s why it has a better than average chance of success.

So, on the opening day I left with a brand new hardback copy of Brion Gysin: Dream Machine (a bargain at a tenner given that it retails at £25), a read but respectable copy of The Dark Stuff by Nick Kent (£3) and a vinyl LP – a copy of Fade Out by Loop, again in top condition (EX as Record Collector would have it), for a fiver.

I returned this week and was pleased to see some of the stock had gone and new stuff had taken its place, meaning I was able to add a copy of the original 1971 Olympia Press edition of S.C.U.M. Manifesto by Valerie Solanas to my library. The tenner asking price was more than fair, especially given the condition.

Does The Inkwell represent the vanguard of the counter-revolution in the world of retail? Perhaps not, but I’d like to think that other independent stores will begin to pop up, not just in York, but in every city, and soon. It’s unlikely that this is how the economic situation will be recovered, but being able to rifle some good books and records in a pleasant environment certainly makes these dark times a lot more bearable.

The Inkwell Online is cool – www.ink-well.co.uk – but not nearly as cool as being there.

 

Inkwell

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

1923 Turkish Bath: Cyberterrorism and Virtual Warfare

The world is full of crazy, crazed and angry people. This much is apparent just from turning on the news, reading a newspaper, sitting in a pub or walking down the street. Some of them have a definite point to make, and are driven to take desperate measures to get their voices heard. However, it perhaps goes without saying that some degrees of extremity are a step too far, and the means never justifies the end. Others, however, simply like stirring things up, getting their kicks by making life difficult and unpleasant for others, and have the sole objective of fucking shit up. There are instances where this can be witty or clever and artistic, and these type of activities I don’t only approve of, but actively enjoy. I’ve even engaged in a spot of mild pranksterism in various forms and guises in my own career of (counter)cultural activity, and it’s this type of thing that the avant-garde thrives upon.   But in many instances, it’s just pointless vandalism and mindless destruction. This very much goes against my life motto of ‘don’t be a twat.’

Hacking websites and screwing with them is one of those things that strikes me as being fundamentally twattish, particularly when the victims are completely random and genuinely innocent. Whisperinandhollerin, the music site I review for, was hacked yesterday. On going to upload some reviews, I was deeply perplexed to see the homepage had been replaced by a large graphic (a detourned Israeli flag with a pair of defecating dogs in silhouette), beneath which appeared the legend ‘1923Turk’ and ‘Fuck Israel.’ The tab contained the information ‘hacked by Gamoscu.’

Being the curious sort, I did a spot of research into 1923TURK. Details are scant, but from what I can ascertain, 1923turk grup are the second largest hacking organisation currently active, having risen from position number four in the hacking ranks just under a year ago. Their attacks aren’t so much widely documented, as much as their presence is widely announced, and each member tags their hacks (in the case of W&H is was Gamoscu, but other members seem to be much more prolific, if the edidence a brief Google search yields is to be taken at face value). YouTube videos, a Facebook page with several hundred fans (which features links to the sites they’ve hacked and defaced), and they even report their own hacks on sites such as zone-h (http://www.zone-h.org/). Zone-h doesn’t only record reported hack attacks and rank the notifiers, but gives further details, breaking down the hacks by category of Single def.  (defacement) / Mass def. / Total def. / Homepage def. / Subdir def. (1923turk have thus far claimed a total of 70,074  defacements across all categories. Yes, well done).

In some respects, this latter ‘claiming’ or attacks is not entirely dissimilar to the way terrorist organisations claim responsibility for attacks. The concept of on-line terrorism is one that does, to an extent, perplex me, not least of all where ‘organisations’ like 1923 Turk are concerned, because precisely what they hope to achieve is so unclear. I mean, are they opposed to the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians? If so, fair comment, but there are other, more appropriate, places to advertise the fact. One of the things I like about music reviewing is that it’s apolitical, and is purely about the art, the music. I, for one, always make a point of reviewing as objectively as possible, and entirely honestly. This means that some acts who may hope for or even expect a positive review might not get what they’re after, but that’s the way it is. And sure, I’m opinionated, but I’d be a lousy critic if I wasn’t. But I do make it policy to review without prejudice, and not to make any comments that could be perceived as overtly political, defamatory or inflammatory. Of course, it’s not all about me, but I definitely speak for all of the site’s contributors here, who write for the love of music, nothing more and nothing less.

According to a thread on the hackthissite forum from 2009, ‘1923Turk Group has hacked the websites which contains child porns, terror propagandas, and all various attacks for the Turkish Nation and Unitary Turkish Republic.’

This particular post continues, ‘There are a lot of special teams in 1923Turk Group. Some of them hack terror supporter sites, some of them hack porn sites, the others hack enemy state sites and enemy company sites etc… They are at a cyber war via enemy of Turks!’ there’s more: ‘It is used for a lot of harmful sites. In addition, they don’t forget their brothers. Especially, East Turkistan (Uyghuristan) and Azerbaijan are important for them. Also, they rejects so-called Armenian Genocide claims. They don’t want to open the border gates with Armenia, because of Nagorno-Karabakh! They know Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan, but now any Azeris don’t live in Nagorno-Karabakh because of the migration! Armenians killed 613 civilians, of them 106 women and 83 children. It is called The Khojaly Massacre. The Khojaly Massacre was the killing of hundreds of ethnic Azerbaijani civilians from the town of Khojaly on 25 February 1992 during the Nagorno-Karabakh War…. Also, 1923Turk Group hacks a lot of states’ sites, universities’ sites, security company sites, organisation sites, big companies’ sites etc. Now, Enemies of Turkia (Turkey) are afraid of 1923Turk Group! Because, 1923Turk Group is cyber army of Turkia(Turkey) and all Turks(Oghuzs, Uzbeks, Azeris, Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs etc.) They are the Turks are the ghost soldiers of the cyber world. They sweared as 1923 Turk Group staffs to protect Turkish flag in this cyber world…They will be nightmare for who recognizes so-called Armenian Genocide claims or who supports the terrorist organizations(especially, pkk) or who publish child porn.’

Fine: so as is so often the case, we have a small extremist collective misrepresenting the majority (and while I for one consider myself apart from any majority going, I’m no extremist) and taking their ‘message’ to the rest of the world who have absolutely nothing to do with the situation. I mean, really, how many people surfing for, say, music reviews, are going to grasp the significance of a statement like ‘Martyrs are immortal our land is indivisible’? 

Critics of the tactics employed by the group challenge precisely what their tactics achieve, while supporters claim that they have ‘won fame’ and that ‘Hacked sites’ masters pay attention and see their social messages! 1923Turk Group just warns! It’s a reaction.’ But this again assumes that those who run or visit hacked sites can make out the ‘message’ or give a toss beyond restoring the site to the way it was. Raising awareness to issues is one thing, but there are more useful platforms and channels to do this, and moreover, for any such campaign to be effective, messages must be at least deciperable, if not immediately clear.

So Turkey have condemned Israel over the deaths of nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists killed last week… but then, so has the rest of the world. How this has any kind of connection to child porn, or why child porn particularly offends the Turks (more than it offends / disturbs / distresses any other nation) is unclear. But I digress. The UN haven’t exactly praised the Israeli action either, but I don’t see them hacking the NME’s website. The same is true of Whisperinandhollerin, which is neither pro-Israel or involved in pornography of any sort. Again, linking terrorism and pornography into a coherent political framework isn’t easy, and again raises the question, ‘precisely what are they people trying to communicate?’

Ultimately, I would suggest that it doesn’t matter all that much. The bottom line is that war solves nothing, and in any acts of war, it’s always the innocent who suffer. In the scheme of things, a few defaced websites and the like isn’t much, but it’s simply a part of the bigger picture of people needlessly inflicting harm and damage… and for what? It never solves anything. Man is indeed a bad animal. And I, for one, am tired of it.