Deborah Orr: Ikea has become a dangerous cult, worshipped with religious fervour

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Of course no one should laugh, what with real human suffering being central to the tale, and all that. But the comic, gaiety-of-the-nation absurdity of the Ikea riots of 2005 has to be acknowledged. There's an element of recognition in our amusement, of course. Who, after all, has not felt like conducting a flamboyant nervous breakdown among the towering, dominating, yet strangely bereft-of-the- thing-we-want aisles? Or even - as could so easily have happened at the midnight opening of Ikea's Edmonton store - committing a murder?

But there's more to it as well. Much more. There's the irony inherent in how comprehensively the marketing idea that Ikea confers sophistication to us, the masses, has been contradicted by the desperate behaviour of the midnight bargain-hunters and gatherers among us. There's the mockery, too, of the recent advertisements, in which a beret-wearing pseud turns his nose up at Ikea's low prices, implying that the pretentious would rather pay more.

There's certainly no pretension in passing a child over the crowds because she's in danger of being crushed. Frankly, most of us would be willing to agree that it's worth a small premium not to be challenged with a wooden mallet, or trampled underfoot, while making our consumer choices.

Probably, since Ikea has so many of us so firmly in its thrall, our laughter is largely a schadenfreudian slip. The mighty Ikea has stumbled - though we wouldn't like it to actually fall just yet, and there's some enjoyment in witnessing that.

Or maybe, to a adopt a Millie Tant view of matters, laughter confirms that within this bizarre civil disturbance all the shallow, materialistic, atavistic and addictive absurdity of modern existence is writ small enough for us to see what tiny children consumerism makes us. Not so long ago there were riots against consumerism in the streets of London. Now there are riots in its favour.

It has already been pointed out that similar scenes greeted the opening of an Ikea store in Jeddah last September. More than one journalist has suggested that these scenes reflect the almost religious fervour with which we approach material acquisition now. Shopping malls have long been regarded as modern cathedrals. Now, it appears, Ikea was a dangerous cult all along.

David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, has a more realistic explanation for the mayhem than any of this though. "Ikea were opening a store which is one road away from my constituency, which is the second most deprived in London. It was heavily advertised and word had gone around that you could get huge discounts. It seems to me it was obvious that people would converge on the store."

Suddenly the joke's over. It turns out that the disturbance was the fault of Ikea for overestimating the dignity and ability to queue in an orderly fashion of the British public, not the fault of the people pushing, shoving and brandishing weapons, or of the politico-economic system that does so much to promote their poverty and their longing.

The trick, apparently, is to accept that Britain is now so ghettoised and so financially disparate that certain socio-economic groups cannot be treated like responsible adults. Marketeers must now, it is clear, take account of whether their efforts at temptation might rouse the underclass to violence. How silly of Ikea not to realise, when opening a store in one of the world's wealthiest cities, that such eventualities should be taken into account. Not very funny at all.