Everyone has goals. It’s why Game of Life is such a popular board game. Monopoly is all very well and good but the likelihood of me actually buying a hotel in Mayfair is, sadly, zero. (And I am definitely not a tiny metal dog.) In Game of Life the goals are achievable off as well as on the board, making them so much more valuable than some pretend hotel in Mayfair – although if anybody wanted to give me a real one for Christmas that would obviously be excellent.
We work towards these pinnacle moments in our lives whether it is with enthusiasm pulling us forward or with fear-of-failure snapping its ugly teeth at our heels. Some people might aim for children, others for success, popularity, a big house, or a nice car. However, the most recent addition to my meticulous and highly neurotic to-do list is not something that the makers of Game of Life seemed to endorse. (Perhaps they were Swedish.) My dream is that one day I will frown upon the cultural phenomenon that is Ikea.
I will sit on my designer sofa, drink Champagne out of designer flutes, complain to my designer friends about the problems of mass-produced unoriginality, sleep in my designer bed and dream about diamonds growing on trees. And if I watch Fight Club on my designer television, when Edward Norton’s character’s Ikea-catalogue-apartment is burned down I will not make strange whimpering noises and hide behind a designer cushion, no. I will rejoice. I will know that I have ‘made it’.
For the moment though, until I win the lottery, rob a bank, or finally write that best-seller, there is little that I find more comforting than walking around Ikea. The cheerful pastiche of home offered by the colourful crockery, patterned linen and easy-to-assemble furniture has become a kind of twisted reality. As I trotted happily around the showroom bedrooms in the Milton Keynes branch the other day I spotted duvet covers, plates, storage boxes, cushions, photo frames, chairs, and wardrobes owned by various friends and family members. Little pieces of other people’s homes were mingled strangely with the fake homes in the store. It was kind of nice – until I went home with Boyfriend and realised, with a sort of vague sense of Hotel California horror that I was really still in Ikea. His bed, his drawers, his wardrobe, his desk, his light – everything in his room is from Sweden, with love. (And it is all falling apart. Maybe that is what made Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club so mental. Fingers crossed that Boyfriend is not going to suddenly start calling himself Tyler and become a psychopath.) Jean Baudrillard wrote of Disneyland, Florida that, “[it] is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation.” Maybe the same could be said for Ikea.
But whereas Disneyland trumpets a lack of reality with a giant pink castle and people in cartoon animal costumes, Ikea is a lot more subtle and a lot more contagious. Its pastiche is arguably much, much more powerful than Disneyland because we cannot even see it anymore. Instead of creating an obvious centre of the unreal around which to cement reality, Ikea spews out hyperreality through its automatic doors with every purchase. We do not accidentally make our homes a homage to Disneyland, but many of us end up living in a sort of mini Ikea. We used to be able to see it for what it was: a poor quality but shiny representation of the world around us, but we have bought pieces of flat-packed-postmodernism and turned it into our reality.
I wonder what Baudrillard thought of Ikea. Maybe, like me, he was too busy choosing between spotted or striped crockery to really care.