What the heck is this box doing at the corner of Carrall and Cordova, next to an old disabled couple camped out on the stoop of the empty Rainier? What is “House in a box”, a new form of housing for the poor? Is some charity collecting appliance boxes and giving them to homeless people? Is this so crazy that I should visit the website, or drop by the address on the box to check it out?
Well, it was only a block out of my way, so I walked by, and it was a bloody “concept” furniture store having a grand opening, and this box in the street was their cynical little marketing ploy to generate foot traffic on a block where there generally isn’t that many pedestrians owning new condos that need professional design and furnishings, if you know what I mean…
I found this marketing ploy to be totally disrespectful and sickening (and I fully realize that I’m playing right into their hands by posting pictures), but unless the owners were just simply too clueless about their new neighbourhood to see why this was not ethical advertising, they should be ashamed of themselves. Then again, if they knew the neighbourhood and the high rate of business failures in Gastown, especially since the recession, well, they probably wouldn’t have moved here in the first place….
As if that brush with guerrilla advertising wasn’t enough, I was walking along later that night and there appeared to be another opening at the old kicks store that just went belly up on Powell after 3 years. When I saw the sandwich board with “RootsxDouglasCoupland” in black and white beside a rainbow banner, I thought, hmmn, maybe he’s launching a new book.
Admittedly, I have a love/hate relationship to Douglas Coupland as a writer. On the one hand, I thought Generation X was boring as hell when it first came out, and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. This is supposed to be the defining novel of my generation? Compared to Trainspotting or Fight Club or American Psycho, Generation X was embarrassingly cute fluff. Pffft. I could write a better novel than that, no sweat, and I have a drawer full of unpublished fragments to prove it!
But on the other hand, Coupland is only a few years older than me and grew up just up the mountainside from where I did. His locally-set novels and non-fiction reflect an eerily similar geographic perspective on the city to the one I grew up with. Vancouver is one of those places where geographical location can play a big part in shaping your psyche, and Coupland has captured that sense of ironic distance to the city one gets from growing up across the water and high up on the side of the North Shore mountains. As Rudyard Kipling once mused, “Vancouver is a beautiful but fickle woman, best admired from afar….” Well, the North Shore mountains are an ideal place to admire her from.
Coupland’s writing grew on me over time, as did a shared fascination with historical minutae. And then, about ten years ago, I went to a VIWF event featuring Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh and local boy Douglas Coupland in an intimate conversation. I thought the foul-mouthed, hard-living Scot would make a meal of Coupland, but it turned out to be the other way around. Coupland disarmed Welsch immediately by taking off his sweater to reveal a Hearts jersey, and then proceeded to have everyone laughing and enthralled for two hours, including Irvine. Since then, I’ve gained a definite appreciation for Coupland’s work. Although I still don’t like everything he creates, there’s no denying there’s a certain genius at work behind it.
Well, the small group of smokers and texters milling around on the sidewalk outside the store looked just like the impeccable hipsters on the rainbow RootsxDouglasCoupland posters I had seen in a couple of places around town earlier in the week. In contrast to the fashion slaves, I was three days unshaven, flying the flannel, and sporting twelve-year-old Docs worn razor thin at the sole – clearly a local and not on the guest list.
One of the chics rolled her eyes at me as I walked up and poked my head in the door just to see if Coupland was actually there. He was talking to a small group, the last few left in the store, which I now noticed was full of Roots clothes that I would never wear, mainly because I couldn’t afford to these days, but also because if I were to buy some new clothes, it wouldn’t be these ones, yunno, cause they looked kinda touristy. Though I might have gone in and dropped $20 on a book…
But oh, Doug, you can’t be serious! You designed a clothing line for Roots? And you’re launching it here in Gastown because, what, it gives you some kinda cred? You make me wanna puke! And so does your technicolour yawn of a marketing campaign, complete with the obligatory photo collage (like Rennie’s Woodwards ads) and the flurry of canned tweets it links to. I dare anyone to view the RootsxDC splash, marketing video and click through to the collage and not feel immediately nauseous and the need for a hot shower.
I’m sorry, but I’m not sensing any irony here, just a pure, unadulterated shill.
Thankfully, it was a one-off event, and Roots isn’t opening a store permanently on Powell. I guess they have a little more business sense than MAD, no matter how questionable their latest clothing line may be.