Britain has become One Nation Under Brands, detained in our Center Parcs lodgings | Marina Hyde

For all the horror and tragedy of death, the aftermaths of many bereavements produce unexpected moments of light relief. As long as the deceased is an adult who has lived to a ripe old age, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be some sudden instant – usually when you’re shoulder-deep in making the arrangements – that reduces you and perhaps a sibling or two to truly helpless giggles. We all need a pressure valve, and few things can be taken entirely seriously for 10 whole days.

Of course, you can never predict quite what is going to set you off. It might be as random as the undertaker leaning towards you, steepling his fingers, and asking in hushed tones bordering on reverence: “And did she have a favourite wood?” Nope, sorry. I’ve gone. I’ve absolutely gone.

In the wake of the Queen’s death, these moments of hopelessly unintentional, tenuously sane hilarity have surely been produced by the behaviour of any number of our commercial brands. Them and Nicholas Witchell, anyway. It’s been like a competition to see which retailer can act the most preposterously, the most self-regardingly, and with the most complete commitment to the twee.

Could it be Morrisons, announcing that it had turned down the volume of its till beeps “out of respect”? Could it be pawnshop chain Cash Converters formally announcing its self-seclusion from social media? Or could it be – and this one’s the correct answer – Center Parcs decreeing that holidaymakers must be thrown out of its villages for the day of the Queen’s funeral “as a mark of respect”, before backtracking and permitting customers to remain on site, while ordering them to “remain in their lodges”?

Yup, I’ve gone. Completely gone. If you’ve felt slightly “managed” by aspects of the relentlessly choreographed elements of the past week, then this really was your Triumph of the Corporate Will. It was, all of a sudden, simply impossible not to picture oneself in one’s wood-effect, lodge-effect detention hut, cowering by the forest-mural feature wall as village guards toured the site with loudhailers while screaming “REMAIN IN YOUR LODGES!”

Thank heavens for a glimpse of the indomitable spirit of pisstake, as various online posters offered a masterclass in why brands really should avoid running their firms by the Pooterising diktats of social media. “Good luck removing guests from the parks,” ran one Twitter response to Center Parcs (heroically refusing to submit to the “parcs” affectation). “You’ve trained them in archery, shooting, swimming, canoeing and swinging through the trees like apes. You’ve basically got five village-loads of ninjas to clear out.”

Majestic. Yet still the brands came. No doubt the Queen’s death has taught us many things, but one of mine has been that I absolutely don’t need to be contacted about it in yet another non-Spandex-related email by a luxury UK yogawear brand. I didn’t need to hear from them after the death of George Floyd, and I sure as heck don’t need to hear from them again now. Honestly: get over yourself. You’re in retail! Just sell me your crap and be on your way.

The commercial landscape is awash with this nonsense. I know our society is measured by how it treats its most wantonly evil members, but my finger does hover over the “deploy whole-life-tariff” button when I read about Innocent Fruit Smoothies not tweeting for a few days “out of respect” for Her Majesty’s death. But of course – of course – Innocent would take this immensely self-righteous stand. Its products are just a few among an ever-growing mountain that plaster their terrible pious catechisms all over their packaging, and where the words “the good stuff” are supposed to signify something moral as well as nutritional. Sorry, but no. Stop managing me. Just sell me your crap and be on your way.

What have these companies been doing all week since the Queen died, other than getting it amusingly wrong and reminding us that, for all their tactical social positioning in the course of flogging more units of this or that, they actually have precisely zero idea how to behave in a situation that, amazingly, doesn’t require any input from them at all? The ludicrous attempts at managing their customers have sparked hugely funny and invigorating backlashes. Arguably much in need of a pressure valve, sections of the public have been given a fantastic opportunity to let out a cackle, and shout the simple, inescapable truth at whatever screen on which they’re viewing the brand announcement. Namely: “No one cares! Literally NO ONE CARES what you do or don’t do!”

I’m not suggesting everyone has woken up from some late-capitalist slumber with a howl of realisation that actually some bunch of plonkers at British Cycling are not in fact the boss of them. If they want to go for a bike ride on the day of the funeral, they don’t need permission. Alas, this is still a country where the annual release of the John Lewis advert is obediently greeted as though it’s one of the formal parts of Christmas. But what a great showing-of-the-arses the past week has been for so many firms and organisations, and a reminder that we really shouldn’t submit to our brand overlords, because they know very little and matter even less. The important things in life are nothing at all, ever, to do with retailers and brands. Any of them suggesting otherwise deserve total ridicule – or perhaps for some chaotically boring little American academic to accuse them of “centering themselves during a national tragedy”. Which is obviously a fate worse than total ridicule.

Quite how we’ve got to this ridiculous place where irrelevant retailers feel moved to act like the archbishop of Canterbury is unclear, but the past week has certainly underscored the necessity of getting out of it before we submit fully to becoming One Nation Under Brands. Every one of these botched attempts at gravitas now turns me full Braveheart – and I very much hope you are with me.

Are we going to be confined to our metaphorical lodges by the preposterous posturing of retailers? Are we going to allow death – any death – to be part of their ridiculous “brand positioning”? Are we going to be told how to act by a flipping pawnbroker? No. No, my friends, we are not. Instead, let us rise up in defiance of the tyranny of corporate twee. Let us take up our bows and our safety-arrows, our plastic putters and our laser-rifles. Let us defy the orders of our corporate oppressors and roam the village of human pisstake and possibility, and beyond. They can take our cash – but we can NEVER take them seriously.

  • Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

  • Marina Hyde will join Guardian Live for events in Manchester (4 October) and London (10 October) to discuss her new book, What Just Happened?! For details visit theguardian.com/guardianlive

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