The One-Dimensional Cashier
A lonely and sad man, sitting on a conveyor belt, scanning fizzy drinks and marshmallows. That's (almost) all you see in the 2013 music video «Jukka-Pekka» by Finnish underground punk band Olimpia Splendid (directed by Tuomo Tuovinen). Our author reads a critique of the capitalist labor system in it. Read below why you feel – nevertheless – liberated and full of possibilities after watching this superb clip. From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here).
Olimpia Splendid’s video «Jukka-Pekka» is dominated by a full frontal static shot of a supermarket conveyor belt, with fizzy drinks, chips, candies, cheese balls and marshmallows passing by, as if exiting decorously from an assembly line. The lonely and alienated mustachioed cashier diligently scans them, one by one. The repetition is ridiculous. The quantities absurd. The first two minutes and a half of this video are pure torture for the viewer, who cannot rationalize what is being bought, by whom and why. Is this for a diabetic’s suicide pact? Is it for an obese child’s birthday party? Will one of the bottles explode like in a coke and menthos YouTube video? Each product moves to the cashier individually, like another corpse in a slaughterhouse.
People working in supermarkets are called cashiers or checkout operators. They scan the tag of each product carried by a conveyor belt, while the register sums the individual prices into a total that the customer pays. There is nothing for the cashier to weight, wrap or count. There is only one gesture: scanning the products, one after the other, in a loop that is as long as the work shift; it is a gesture that the cashier performs alone and alienated, as a factory worker, as a one-dimensional person. The video parodies successfully this condition by hyperbole: it mimics the everlasting repetitive rhythm of industrial production under capitalism and is therefore able to destabilize its invisibility. Industrial production is in fact always hidden from you. It is secret. It takes place in huge industrial conurbations in remote regions of Asia that you will never visit, done by people you will never know. The cheap supermarket conveyor belt is the assembly line that you can see, and this makes you feel uncomfortable.
But now back to the video: abruptly the image changes and we are facing a back door. After a few seconds, the cashier steps out and starts puffing on a cigarette, looking like someone who has just finished tearing the conveyor belt to pieces. His shirt carries the band’s name on it. And a kitten. Throughout the video, Olimpia Splendid grind their guitars over a repetitive drum beat, each riff piling on the other, as if they were filling a plastic bag with anger and frustration, up to the point when the cashier steps out. At that moment the music ends, the audio goes live and we listen to the wind and to the guy smoking. We have never felt so liberated and so full of possibilities.
Published on November 09, 2015
Last updated on January 17, 2020
Giacomo Bottà is a travelling scholar with an aging PhD, who teaches at various European universities (including Helsinki, Karlsruhe Musikhochschule and Strasbourg) and researches about urban culture and popular music in Europe. Check him out at: giacomobotta.wordpress.com.