BLOG POST 1 — 26.01.21

As I sat down in a pub recently with my girlfriend, I was presented not with a menu, but with a piece of paper which had a QR code in the centre with the word ‘MENU’ set above it in Arial. In COVID times, it is pretty normal that this is the case. It seems that because of COVID there has been an influx of QR code integration mostly within retail and commerce industries, more so than ever since QR’s introduction in 1994. As the name suggests, Quick Response Codes, or QRC, are a system which quickly enables users to access embedded photographs, websites or text files with a quick scan from their mobile phone.

Due to the required act of engagement, the QR code therefore achieves an element of censorship to the information behind it, which can only be discovered by those interested enough to actually scan it with their phone.

I couldn’t help but want to take this idea a little further. ‘IT’S EASIER TO IMAGINE QR CODES THAN THE END OF CAPITALISM’ explores a dystopian future where all advertising must be censored by law, with the exception of a standardised brand word explaining it’s content, a bit like the recent cigarette re-marketing in the UK, or even a bit like that menu I was given. In this dystopian future, billboards, posters, TV and digital marketing only appear as an array of black and white codes. Viewers may therefore unconsciously become even more active in their participation with QR codes in order to access the information held behind them.

It is interesting to imagine if QR codes were also age restricted. For instance, when you turn 18, you will now be able to scan and view age restricted advertisements, such as those for gambling websites and alcohol which, until your 18th birthday, were previously locked. Design and advertising agencies would be forced to produce even smarter thinking in order to create relevant work which stands out amongst the crowd.

In Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative (Mark Fisher, 2009), Fisher claims that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism”. He goes on to say that “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it”. When re-reading Fishers description of capitalist realism, with its pervasive nature and unwelcome influence on cultural production, political-economic activity and independent creative thought, I couldn’t help but draw links to the nature of the virus which has been at the forefront of my mind, and has not just inspired this blog post, but like many, has defined my life for the past year. Is capitalist realism a virus? I wonder what Fisher would have made of this connection.

I ask you this, could it be that the ‘virus’ of neoliberalism would still find a way to infect us, with even censored advertisements feeding our intense desire to have the latest and best of everything. Yes this is a dystopian reality, but as Fisher says,  “The most powerful forms of desire are precisely cravings for the strange“ (Mark Fisher, 2009), and this year has certainly shown me that ‘the strange’ can become reality.