Shops, Flags and the BBC: Regent Street in September, a set on Flickr.
Back in December, I promised to publish five photo sets from the 1,700 photos from September that I hadn’t had the time to make available at that time (out of the 7,300 photos of London that I have taken since last July, which are still unpublished — compared to the 1,500 I have already made available). I published three sets, Blue Skies and Golden Light: The River Thames in September, Top of the World: Nunhead Allotments, and the View from the Hill-Top Reservoir and Memories of Summer: Photos of the Thames Festival on London’s South Bank, and then it was Christmas and New Year, and I wanted to post some seasonal photos, and then, in swift succession, I travelled to the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 11th anniversary of its opening, and returned home to a rare snowy interlude, followed by a massive protest to save Lewisham Hospital from being butchered by the government and the management of the NHS, and a visit to Brighton for another Guantánamo event. I have also just begun to post photos from New York, taken as part of my US trip.
Consequently, the publication of the fourth of those five sets from September has been delayed — until now. Dating from September 10, this set records a journey I made down Regent Street from Broadcasting House, the BBC’s headquarters in Portland Place, after I was asked to be a guest of the BBC World Service, on the “Newshour” programme with Robin Lustig, to discuss the plans for the handover of Bagram prison in Afghanistan from US to Afghan control.
Bagram is Guantánamo’s lesser-known relative, a prison outside of the normal rules of detention in wartime, where, it seems, the Bush administration made a point of doing away with the Geneva Conventions, and President Obama has not seen fit to reinstate them. Although Bagram shares similarities with Guantánamo, where rendition and a similar disdain for the Geneva Conventions is apparent, the many thousands of prisoners in Bagram have not even managed to secure the limited legal rights that lawyers managed to secure for their counterparts in Guantánamo.
This photo set — the 76th in my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike — begins with a few impressions of the refurbishment of Broadcasting House, and then takes in a variety of shops, building sites, and crowded streets still bedecked with the flags of the world that were in place for London’s Olympic Summer. Technically, this ended the day before, with the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games, although I later found out that there was a victory parade for the British athletes, which I glimpsed as I approached the Strand.
In the next set I record my impressions of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, tourist magnets that I rarely visit. However, although I have a less generally dismissive attitude to Regent Street, completed in 1825, which is a fine example of town planning from 200 years ago, and find it slightly less tacky than Leicester Square — or, for that matter, much of Oxford Street — it is still a temple to over-consumption and the obsession with materialism that has done so much to hollow out human experience over the last few decades.
The obsessive materialism of modern life has also — both by accident and by design — played a major part in the depoliticisation of the general public, who, for the most part, seem blithely unaware that they are only regarded as worthwhile when they have money to spend, and are equally unaware that our capitalist world has begun squeezing them, discarding them and turning them against each other in the name of austerity.
Cycling down Regent Street on a busy shopping day, with the flags of the world still flying the day after London’s Olympic Summer officially came to an end, there was no imminent sign of capitalism’s decline, but I expect the facade to start seriously crumbling over the next few years, as more and more people, fleeced by the banks, the corporations, the government and the middlemen who plague Rip-Off Britain, taking a cut of everything while contributing nothing, find that they have no disposable income to spend on the trinkets that are supposed to keep us hypnotised, like babies, all day and all night, leading to the collapse of more and more retail outlets — joining recent casualties Comet, Blockbuster, Jessops and HMV.
While I wait for that day, I hope you enjoy these photos from the strange world of corporate dominance that is our turbo-charged consumer society, forever selling us empty dreams, and lying to us with branding and advertising, which, last summer, was briefly overlaid with the jingoistic Darwinism of the Olympic Games. Personally speaking, I’m glad that it’s all over. It had its moments, but not at such an astronomical cost.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
on Facebook, Beth Bailey-Kingdon wrote:
LOVE ‘em, Andy. Am particularly struck by the extreme commercialization of downtown London. So very different from the late ’60s when I was last there. Thanks, again.
Thanks, Beth. Yes, I regularly get shocked by the dominance of commercialism as well. And with the exception of the communications companies (mobile phone/cellphone companies everywhere, and the temples of Apple), most of them are flogging clothes and shoes – and mostly to women. It’s time for an anti-materialistic backlash!
Beth Bailey-Kingdon wrote:
Couldn’t agree more. Many of us who are activists on FB are greatly reducing our consumption of material goods, especially those produced by the ALEC corporations – most of which are owned by the Koch brothers. It’s that damned Citizens United. The only citizens involved in THAT decision were the rich, criminal ones.
Thanks, Beth. Here’s a pretty thorough Sourcewatch analysis of ALEC: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ALEC_Corporations
At least the KOCH Brothers’ activities and Citizens United have made corporate malevolence clear to many Americans. Here in the UK I don’t think we have a fully realised notion of our corporate enemies in the same way, although there’s plenty of good work from the likes of UN Uncut and various writers exposing wholesale tax evasion and avoidance. It still seems to me that the world as we knew it was killed in 2008 with the global economic crash, but then almost everyone agreed to carry on as though nothing had happened, perhaps because the scale of the theft and criminality was actually too big for most people to comprehend, and if it had been thoroughly addressed, western civilisation would have collapsed. It does feel, though, like we’re now living in a kind of shadow world, only most people don’t see it.
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