Wednesday. 24/11/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Alexis Self

Taking the maki

Although a capitalist society is supposed to endow its citizens with choice, over the past 10 years many British shopping streets have become horizontal inventories of the commercially banal. Lunch has seemingly become a binary selection between a refrigerated sandwich or sushi. The other day, while craving the latter, I visited a popular Asian-inspired food chain with a penchant for bright-pink branding that has several hundred branches in central London.

To be fair, as ubiquitous high street brands go, Itsu is not the worst: the food offers at least the illusion of being both good for you and having been prepared by a human hand. As such, unlike many of its rivals, I haven’t felt much resentment towards its massive presence. However, after wheeling around to pay for my food, I was greeted by a sight more chilling than the wall of fridges I’d just left in my wake. In lieu of human service, there was now a bay of flickering screens tended to by one stressed-out, but at least sentient, individual. The place had an air of frenzy as people jabbed, tutted and waited for assistance.

As I took my own place among their walleyed ranks, I wondered whether I should make a stand by not paying or putting the wrong items through. But I was depressingly au fait with the interface and before I knew it I had been spat out of the production line. I also considered complaining to the token human but they were already engaged in more aggressive screen-jabbing. As I trudged back to the office, robbed of a portion of the day’s screenless activity, I decided that next time I’d exercise some of my capitalistic choice – and get a sandwich instead.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / France

Road to riches

It’s safe to say that French polemicist Éric Zemmour’s (pictured) European tour hasn’t gone to plan. The probable presidential candidate (he hasn’t officially entered the ring yet) was in London over the weekend but his plans were thwarted by the Royal Institution, which cancelled his event booking, and the UK capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, who declared that Zemmour was not welcome in the city. A similar situation is now emerging in Geneva, where Zemmour is set to hold a public discussion today. The Swiss city’s mayor, Frédérique Perler, recently announced that Zemmour’s far-right values are not compatible with those of Geneva and demonstrations are expected. But while his attempts to whip up expat support might have backfired, there are signs that Zemmour had an ulterior motive. French banks are currently hesitant to lend to politicians and Zemmour reportedly hosted events with dozens of donors in London; additional such meetings appear likely in Switzerland. In other words, his public humiliations could yet prove lucrative.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / South Korea

Down in history

South Korea’s most recent military dictator, Chun Doo-hwan (pictured), died yesterday at the age of 90. Chun seized power in a 1979 coup and ruled for eight years, a period of political repression that included a deadly crackdown of a pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju in 1980. Eventually ousted from office by mass protests, Chun was sentenced to death in 1996 for his role in the Gwangju massacre but pardoned the following year as part of a national reconciliation effort.

He was a controversial figure until the end; current president Moon Jae-in expressed regret that Chun died without apologising for his crimes. Rather, at the time of his death, he was appealing a libel conviction for defaming a Gwangju massacre witness. Today South Korea is one of Asia’s few bona fide democracies – and one of an even smaller group that have peacefully transitioned from dictatorship. Its unwillingness to forget Chun’s atrocities can only bolster the country’s commitment to democracy today.

Image: Paul Sableman/Flickr

Media / USA

Paper chase

It’s no secret that regional newspapers in the US are in crisis but news of the proposed takeover of one of the last major independent newspaper chains has rattled many in the industry. The board of directors of Lee Enterprises – a publicly traded Iowa-based company that owns 75 newspapers, including the St Louis Post-Dispatch (pictured) and the Buffalo News – was offered a buyout by New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital this week. The takeover would see Alden, which has a reputation for slashing staff numbers and selling the property of its acquisitions, add to a growing list of titles under its control. Earlier this summer Alden acquired Tribune Publishing, which includes vaunted publications such as The Chicago Tribune. The latest proposed acquisition has raised eyebrows but many recognise that it’s symptomatic of a wider struggle for survival. US regional outlets urgently need support, either from non-profit groups or the government, to stave off the more ruthless profit-maximising approach taken by hedge funds.

Image: Posti

Business / Finland

Alpha mail

Finland’s postal service Posti has made a welcome return to Helsinki’s city centre this week by reopening its main post office at the Postitalo building (pictured) in the heart of the capital. The flagship space has a new focus on the customer experience: instead of queuing at a till, agents will now be roaming among customers on the shop floor. There are also design changes, such as the use of timber, that create a calm atmosphere, along with tables and chairs offering the chance for customers to sit down and write letters and postcards. Sending and receiving parcels has been made easier with hundreds of individual parcel lockers, free wrapping paper and recycling facilities for used cardboard boxes. Postal services from around the world should keep an eye on what’s happening in Finland. Posti is betting that shifting its targets from cost-cutting to attracting more business via quality customer service can really make a difference.

For a tour of the Postitalo building with our correspondent Petri Burtsoff, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

M24 / Monocle On Culture

‘Keyboard Fantasies’, libraries and a Balearic disco

We meet Posy Dixon, the director of new documentary Keyboard Fantasies, which tells the story of how musician Beverly Glenn-Copeland found an audience 30 years after the release of his album. Plus: we nip over to a new exhibition in Naples to talk about book collecting and the importance of libraries, and meet the Venezuelan DJ who has put together a compilation of Ibizan music from the 1980s that’s just the shot of vitamin D we need.

Monocle Films / Finland

The home of the Finnish art scene

We tour the breathtaking studios of artists’ residence Lallukka in Helsinki, which hasn’t changed its purpose since it was completed in 1933. The landmark functionalist building offers spaces at low rents so that its tenants can focus on one thing: making art.

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