Buckingham Palace Gates

Commemoration or Consumerism?

Nicola Biggerstaff

Once again, large UK businesses have let loose on the next big thing. This weekend’s coronation has caused an influx of merchandise everywhere from large supermarket chains to small businesses, selling anything from throw cushions and hand soaps, to candles and musical biscuit tins. At the same time, these companies are using this time to test out their latest marketing stunts, from a 23 kilogramme chocolate bust of the King by Nestle-owned Celebrations to Uber offering rides in their very own carriage. At this point, should we be expecting anything different?

Just wandering through my local supermarket, I’m greeted by coronation themed clothing for all ages and genders, union jack tablecloths and napkins, costume masks of the soon to be King and Queen Consort, even crown-shaped novelty cheeses. All this without even intentionally seeking it out. If I were to pick up a brochure, there would be a several-page spread dedicated to ‘celebrating with us’, directing you to which of their products simply must belong on your large luncheon spread that’s ‘fit for a king’, or the big day just won’t be the same. Even despite the promise of a slimmed-down coronation from the royals themselves, the garishness of it all still leaves a sour taste in the mouth, the gall of these companies still feeling the need to take advantage of their customers. Come distract yourself with our products and all your ills will simply disappear.

To supporters of the monarchy, it almost makes sense. No one under the age of 75 remembers experiencing this before, it’s new and the unfamiliarity, the anticipation, would make this almost exciting. That is a journey through the emotions we have all been able to relate to at some point or another, the kind we want to remember and memorialise. But what was at some point a once or twice-in-a-lifetime, momentous event for the public has been dwarfed by the ills of modern living.

Now we are expected to splash out with every royal update, from weddings to births and jubilees, even in death companies couldn’t resist ‘paying their respects’ with a picture of the late Her Majesty in black-and-white, with a matching company logo placed discreetly in the corner. Never forget where the message comes from. Come and distract yourself with our services when the appropriate amount of time has passed, see how we remember her? We’re the good guys. Now remember to come back when we open again on Tuesday.

I’m sure we could have forgiven them all an official ceramic or two, as was once tradition, but once again companies can’t help but take advantage of current affairs to generate profit. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter. They have to fill in the gap between spring and Halloween every year somehow, and have certainly proven themselves to not be averse to using crises to generate positive publicity. Remember the sudden influx of supermarket ‘reward’ apps? Conveniently advertised at the crux of the cost of living crisis, encouraging us to stay with them and be rewarded for our loyalty. Don’t switch to the cheaper brands, even if your survival depends on it, come back to us, we know what’s best for you. It was sleazy capitalism at its best, and it worked. We kept shopping, spending more but buying less, as to be expected with skyrocketing inflation. But with this now in decline, but food prices going nowhere, we can now see their true intentions.

We had the chance to demand more, to vote with our feet, but the powers of capitalism would never let us fully realise this. It even got hold of me, the only reason I found myself in the earlier shop plastered with coronation merchandise, and not the cheaper alternative across the road, was because I’m still collecting points/pounds/tokens/whatever they’re called, in the faint hope that one week I could maybe pay for a whole shop with my loyalty. It’s shameful to admit, the power these large businesses have over their consumers, and that a lack of government regulation has allowed for this to be the case.

All this comes at a cost to the plethora of small businesses still trying to survive through these times. Yes, the thought of ordering a box of six coronation-themed cupcakes from a local bakery sounds a little garish to me personally, but who are they to attempt to stem the tide created by the large businesses around them trying to run them out of town? In the constant losing battle between ‘healthy competition’ and ‘money talks’, perhaps they can be forgiven for jumping on the bandwagon.

Royal affairs are becoming increasingly hard to ignore as they are now sold to us by profit-driven enterprises with superficial motives. I personally won’t be watching; I’ve already made plans. If, however, you’re looking for something else to do on the day, why not come down to Glasgow Green and say hi to the rest of the Common Weal Team at the All Under One Banner rally? Read more about it, including march details here.

1 thought on “Commemoration or Consumerism?”

  1. With polls suggesting a great deal of apathy or opposition regarding regal matters in Scotland, I wonder how much of the royal merch will end up in landfill. I am reminded of all the England football tops and other themed products that we have to walk past in supermarkets whenever our southern neighbours qualify for a tournament. And as for small businesses, surely too much red, white and blue bunting will run the risk of alienating half the customers. There are only so many union jack cupcakes one can stomach after all.

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