Sunday, September 17, 2006

If the Swedes ruled the world ...

I forget the title, and I'll probably mess up the plot, but there is a movie in Russia, a very famous movie I was told about more than once, that tells the story of a man who gets so drunk the night before his wedding that he winds up in another city without even realizing it. Did his friends put him on a plane? I can't remember. But he has a key to his apartment, and when he sees his complex -- for they all looked the same in the Soviet Union, the same set of plans used between Vladivostok and Minsk -- he enters and goes up to his door on the whatever floor it is. Then he puts the key in, and lo and behold, it works, and inside -- no difference too, the furniture and the layout is all the same.

I was reminded of this when I walked into IKEA's Burbank store yesterday, just a few miles from my apartment in North Hollywood. I saw people of every color browsing the display rooms, heard a handful of languages and even the accented English of young men from France and Italy. Everyone imagined their future with the same Mikael table and the same Stefan chairs, the same Aspelund bed frame and the same designer lamps.

There were cars wrapped around the street out front, the cars inching forward to move into parking-lot where they could pick up their boxed furniture and hurry home to an evening with an L-wrench.

Usually, I see American culture as the homogenizing force in the world, or enter certain parts of Los Angeles and I feel as I have entered a different country, one of the future, where Spanish is the lingua franca and tortillas are sold in bulk. But going to IKEA, I get to imagine how the world might look if the people of Scandinavia, my spiritual ancestors, ruled the world.

Would it be so bad? Sweden and Norway give you maternity leave, and the trains are clean and quick. The air smells good, the grass is greener than any greeen you've seen. Are there Norwegian football hooligans? Have the Swedes invaded another country in the last two- or three-hundred years? No, this would be a good world, with plenty of naked wood. Yes, IKEA's furniture is now so widespread, you can walk into another person's home and feel you've mistakenly entered your own. But this isn't so bad; it just makes me wonder how Communism in Russia might have fared if it had been led not by V.I. Lenin but by V.I. Leninsen. A Commissar of Design? Yes, that's what we would have had, and isn't that why the Berlin Wall fell? People wanted color, they wanted smooth lines, they said enough with these circles, give me square plates. And they didn't care if the expensive was cheap and not built to last. Just give us the impression of comfort and wealth; this is all we want. Revolution in a pedestrain shopping-and-dining setting.

sketch lifted from this website, where other humorous Ikea-themed drawings can be found


Kevin McMahan said...


The name of that movie "The Irony of Fate."

Wikipedia entry:

Another good movie: "Moscow does not believe in Tears."

Take Care,

WittyName32 said...

Thanks Kevin.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Just a snippet from the past.

I visited a friend or a friend's apartment in Gothenburg - Sweden and I mention how lovely the apartment looked,, just like something out of the Ikea catalogue. Well you should have seen the faces of my hosts. What I thought was a complement they took as an insult. My Swedish friend had to explain that it was in fact meant to be a compliment not an insult.

WittyName32 said...

Snowy, I can picture that so easily -- you stepping inot someone's beautiful home, smiling as you look around, and then insulting them with the first words out of your mouth -- "what? No! An insult? You've got to be kidding me! I meant it's beautiful!"

It is a nice comment on how culture travels though. Good to hear from you.