Is there a version of post-colonial melancholia that afflicts a culture, after its hubristic faith in the power of financial capital has been lost? I keep being struck by the sense of embarrassment and foolishness exuded by the cranes and semi-constructed skyscrapers that still punctuate London's skyline. They're like the losers in a game of musical chairs or sardines. If we've been engaged in a real estate pyramid scheme for the past 16 years, then someone has to be at the bottom of the pyramid, and they're left exposed and somewhat humiliated. The lights have come on at the end of the teen disco, and some of the spotty real estate developers have their hands up their lady-friends' tops.
But I keep feeling something similar in relation to retail and advertising. The efforts being taken to encourage spending are beginning to feel half-hearted and self-conscious. The VAT cut was issued in the way that a teacher threatens a class with punishment, long after they've lost control over them. Then there is the surreally banal advertising, that probably would have exuded confidence and brashness during the boom years. Take this glorious misunderstanding, spotted on the tube last week.
It transpires (according to the text in the ad) that "Ronaldinho brings dramatic improvement to football. Konica Minolta brings dramatic improvement to colour output".
There is something melancholic here. It's partly the fact that they've hired a footballer who used to be the best in the world, but would now be behind six or seven others. There is also something faintly tragic about photocopiers, which stems from the innately intermediary level of skill that is required to fix them (as Alan Partridge demonstrated when he got a Hollywood hardman to fix his photocopier live on air - it turned out it just needed resetting after a paper jam).
What the hell is Ronaldinho doing flogging photocopiers? Is it true that Ronaldinho's effect on 'football' is directly comparable to Konica Minolta's effect on colour output? What is Konica Minolta's equivalent of the famous look-one-way-pass-the-other trick? What is Ronaldinho's equivalent of a duplex A4 staple print job? I feel that this mystery is symptomatic of post-speculative melancholia.
Then I immediately came across this advert inside the tube carriage. It is selling the 'Istation rotate' on the basis of a supposedly "rather annoying problem", namely that outrageous inconvenience of having the image of a singer displayed on an ipod at a 90 degree angle some of the time. The Istation rotate promises to solve this, by, well, rotating the ipod by 90 degrees.
Once again, such a proposition might be rendered normal, invisible during the boom times. Now one either laughs at such wanton unnecessity - a bit like bling, only more half-hearted - or wants to shake the producers and ask them to read a frigging newspaper. For the forseeable future, we do not need our ipods to be rotated by 90 degrees, thankyou all the same. This too is post-speculative melancholia, in which a sweeping utilitarianism suddenly arises, in which technologies must do something or else get lost and the drugged up sense of nothing mattering is followed by a come-down in which the whole thing seems regrettable.