Apologies for the lateness of this article, the days have melted into weeks, into well…a bit over three weeks I think. I’ve been busy trying to survive in a city that could swallow me whole (and probably has). Meanwhile the collective internet’s memories of this awful video, much like my own dreams of a luxury penthouse, are drifting away into the London fog…

The internet can in some ways be seen as a democratic virtual space, the rich do not browse a sleek and glossy premiumized web and conversely the rest of us do not have to put up with an ugly and unsophisticated version. This means that content aimed at the super rich has no viable way of being invisible to the other 99%. Exclusivity is hard to guarantee, but if you find yourself thinking ‘I hope the wrong audience don’t see this’ you can probably guarantee that they will.

Property developers Redrow found this out the hard way when a promotional video for their ‘London Collection’ did the rounds on social media and was covered by a few mainstream news outlets in the UK. First Redrow removed the option to leave comments (but not before a few American Psycho references appeared there), then the video was gone, disappeared forever into the ether…

But once again Redrow have failed to understand how the internet works, and it can now be viewed on a different Vimeo account under the name of ‘Patrick Bateman’ (somebody out there is both my hero and saviour). The Twittosphere’s allusions to Bret Easton Ellis’ ‘American Psycho’ are hugely relevant, the whole advert feels straight from a Patrick Bateman inner monologue, with all hints of a satirical and critical undertone removed. Or Steve McQueen’s 2011 film ‘Shame’ without the issue of sexual addiction. It strongly reinforces the paradigm, as seen in the Sean Penn scenes in ‘Tree of Life’ and ’30 Rock’s ‘Jack Donaghy, that a rich and powerful man, when placed at a large enough vertical height, and near enough to a window, will be unable to stop the flow of nostalgic, reflective cod-philosophical mumbo-jumbo.

‘that’s actually MY thoughtful window staring spot.’ — 30 Rock

Other commentators have mentioned J.G Ballard, surely our protagonist (I will call him Redrow Man) is ‘the death of affect’ incarnate. Maybe it is just the psychopathological effects of living in a high-rise, but he sees life as a game that he has won, the woman he imagines kissing has to be possessed and kept, his aims must be fulfilled. That’s just the kind of guy he is. His only emotion seems to be a smugness, one that is tinged with a conflicting regret — ‘why was it so hard to get to where I am today?’ But the fact that it was difficult shows how great he must be. His face is a mask, betraying this perpetual internal cycle of self congratulatory backslapping.

His phallic castle points erect to the sky, our Redrow Man at its apex, he has made it quite literally to the top. Looking down at his vanquished enemies below, he knows that only god can challenge his vertical ascent in this modern Babel. Perhaps we give him too little credit, maybe our psychopath embraces Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair’s psychogeographic theories that London is at its heart a violent and brutal place, as signified by the City of London’s (where our man no doubt works) blood red insignia. The ancient maleficent spirit of Londinium pulses through his veins. Unfortunately the sweeping shot of our protagonists bookshelf, pours water all over this theory. He seems to have little interest in literature, history or culture. But wait, whats that? A copy of ‘New Graphic Design’!? What is it about my chosen profession that could possibly interest this affectless alpha male top dog?

Here are my theories:

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

The Redrow Man is at the top of his chosen career ladder. He is seen shaking hands with a bald man while another bald man watches, this is followed by a moment that appears to be an orgasmic climax teetering on a ledge high above the city. He then goes out to the world’s reddest room, where he sits don-like watching the party goers dance. Are we to assume that he has just been initiated as a made-man into some sort of business mafia? It is this that triggers the fulfilment of his deepest inner desire — to own a multi-million pound penthouse flat.

Graphic design is a business, but one which relies on a client. It is a service industry. Perhaps our man, being as he is — a besuited go-getter, has dabbled as client. The financial services sector needs graphic design, now surely more than ever. Even if he hasn’t had direct contact with designers he probably sees it as something he could do with no problem. He works for a company, as a major player at this company he feels he embodies their brand, as such he knows more than any graphic designer ever could. No matter how hard they pretend. He is above graphic design, it is just another service that might help in his pursuit of money and power. He looks down on graphic designers, quite literally out of his window with its distant views of Shoreditch and Farringdon, and he reads this book with his characteristic smug smile. He is bigger than graphic design, he is better than graphic design. ‘New Graphic Design’ on his bookshelf merely acts as a daily reminder of this fact.

‘New Graphic Design’ a steal at only £35 RRP.
Why is my life so empty!? If only I had a million pound flat…

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Wow incredible new flat Redrow man, beautiful shelves but where are all your books? I can count them on my fingers! Do you not long for stimulation outside of your job?

Although there seems to be other books on his shelf, they don’t look like books that are to be read. These are books as props, just like the ornamental tat that surround them. Illusions of interests (vintage binoculars?!). At least Gatsby had a real library for show, as an emblem of the intelligence and intellect that he wanted to project. For Redrow man the flat itself is proof that he is a complete and fully formed person, what could reading teach him? We can assume that he got this far without it.

Why then ‘New Graphic Design’? The only book we see that projects something beyond mere decoration. Perhaps he sees this graphic design book as some sort of shield against criticism, a talking point — ‘I’m more of a visual person, just look at all the objets d’art in my stunning flat’. Design is something his wealth can buy into, it can also be seen as shallow, he embraces this shallowness and judges aesthetically. The stark white walls of his old dwelling with its double curtains depressed him, this new flat with its floor to ceiling glass and plethora of things pleases him. Graphic design can be seen as a language, it provides the premium cues that appeal to our man, as such he likes graphic design, it tells him what he should like.

It is worth considering the newness of the graphic design in his book. Was it the ‘New’ that appealed to him? He has strived forward his whole life, climbing upwards, in the past lies sacrifice and hardship. But his present and future, like the surfaces in his pristine flat, are gleaming. In ‘New Graphic Design’ perhaps he hopes to find a forward thinking art form which he can appreciate in a shallow and purely aesthetic way. ‘I did this’ he says of his multi-million pound flat, so when it comes to art and design why not ‘I like this’ and nothing more.

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”

This is a well shot video, its production values are high and no matter how hateful the content may be, it is difficult not to admire its cinematic qualities. But are we meant to believe that this is not satire? The filmmakers presentation of Redrow man exposes his flaws in the guise of virtues. To Redrow, and the lucky few who can afford multi-million pound flats, perhaps the idea that a huge new flat can validate your entire existence makes perfect sense. To the rest of us it seems shallow? There is always going to be a bigger and better flat that our man can’t afford, if he measures himself by this standard then he will never be satisfied. His smug smile may hold for a short time, but this is just the business card scene from ‘American Psycho’ on a grandiose scale, it will only take a colleagues habitational one-upmanship to wipe that smile off his face.

It is highly likely that the makers of this short film have passed through the hallowed doors of one of Britain’s art colleges. Our nations bastions of creativity, surely this would mean that they are on our side and oppose the views of Redrow man. Valuing originality and expression over the pursuit of cold hard cash? Perhaps they loaded the advert with hidden messages, the shot of Richard Roger’s Lloyd’s building a subliminal message for challenging conventions.

The Nokia 5160 may be intended to place Redrow man in the past, but it could also be a celebration of product design. Despite the contemporary sophistication of the iPhone was there something more about those quirky plastic Nokias? They definitely hold a position in the hearts of many, perhaps sleek and glossy premiumness is not always better? The Redrow mans new dwelling is the iPhone of properties, but how long until the screen is shattered?

‘New Graphic Design’ may be the most blatant hidden message in this advert. It is conspicuously out of place. Does the camera lingers on its spine for just a second longer than necessary? Is this even his book? Or is it a hidden emblem, a reminder of the importance of creativity, something that the Redrow man can not buy…

Manchester-based Graphic Designer & Writer. Author of Mid-Century Modern Graphic Design (Batsford, 2019).

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