Look. It’s a weird one today.
Just after the lockdown lifted back in May, my friends and I had a very serious and graphic three-hour argument about which shop in a standard Westfield would win in a (hypothetical) fight to the death. It’d been a tough few months in isolation.
With honestly not much else to do with my time, using the argument as a starting point, I conducted the following ultra-niche, extremely serious (but maybe not all that morally important or insightful) bit of speculative social science. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines a thought experiment as a “well-structured, well-defined hypothetical question” that conceptualises problems through imagined analogues in order to grapple with serious and relevant concerns in, for example, quantum physics or human morality.
This won’t be one of those.
Can’t stress that enough.
The Westfield Wars
The scenario is this: some kind of global calamity (honestly just take your pick at this point) has forced Hornsby Westfield to go into a total, permanent lockdown, with no possibility at any stage of any person getting in or out. Participants go to whatever store they most-recently patronised, which will become their “team”. Each “team” will take on the traits of the typical clientele of whatever store they’re in, i.e. QBD is full of nerds, David Jones is full of people who are only in there to use the bathroom. No respawns. All shops start fully stocked and will not be restocked at any stage. There is 15 minutes of prep time, then a starting cannon will sound. Everyone is well informed of these rules.
In an ideal moral paradise, everyone in the Westfield would coexist peacefully and work together towards a fair and wholesome (albeit quick) communal end. But we do not live in such a world. The ‘Westfield Wars’ thought experiment is an every-shop-for-themselves Hunger Games style thunderdome. But, like, in a fun way.
Why do this?
To make a very weak critique of late-finance capitalism; to plunder the darkest depths of human morality; to seek universal truth; to fill another fortnightly blog post spot (this is a big one); to publicly denounce that godawful shop Lush; and just to pass the time.
Part I: The Cannon
The Alpha pack in the Westfield Wars is made up of the supermarkets, Woolworths, Coles and Aldi, who are best equipped food-wise to last the distance. The Betas are biggish, pretty well-armed stores like JB-Hi-Fi, Kmart, Target, David Jones, Rebel and so on. Neither of these groups need to risk the initial fight for supplies and so board up their shops and lie low. It’s really the little guys, the small businesses, the screen repair shops and so on, that must charge out of the gates and gather as much territory, weaponry and resources as possible, as quickly as they can. Otherwise they’ll be waited-out and easily smote by the Alphas and Betas in days to come.
The cannon fires.
It’s essentially a free-for-all brawl among the minor players in the game. Stationary shops go apeshit with all their sharpest pencils. The board games store finds this whole thing much more visceral and real than Chess, Settlers of Catan and Risk had led them to believe. Australian Geographic defends itself with a moat of tricky puzzles, but ultimately fails to effectively weaponise their telescopes. The Apple store is too busy congratulating itself on the new iOS to leave the store. QBD locks its doors and everyone inside settles down with a nice paperback. EB Games is having a sale. The Athlete’s Foot staff run about with fantastically well-supported arches (and also, while we’re here, why the hell is that shop named after a fungal foot infection?).
Most service-based stores encounter major problems—like, what are optometrists going to do, administer an eye-exam and give you a weak prescription? Not a great plan. Plus travel agents are even less relevant than before, and banks now have zero functional value. Optus, Vodafone and Telstra stores are given a particularly hard time out there, in the brawl, with a lot of Can’t-Put-Me-On-Hold-This-Time justice being exacted. Restaurants in the food court are sacked, two dollar shops are raided for their sharpest Australian flag paraphernalia, and fresh fruit grocers lament, as they toss soft peaches at intruders, that it isn’t really peak pineapple season yet. Dan Murphy’s kind of takes care of itself, I guess? Look. It’s just bloody carnage out there, and there are very few winners.
At the end of this blood bath all that remains of substance are the Alphas, the Betas, the bookstores (who nobody bothered), Kathmandu (who’ve pitched their tents and are seeing this whole scenario as a fun endurance challenge), and a conglomerate supergroup known as the United Alliance of Hornsby Hairdressers, who are well-armed and have amassed a small treasure trove of perishable food-stuffs in a quiet corner of the shopping centre. The U.A.H.H. is particularly interesting because pretty much every new hairdresser in Hornsby Westfield for the last ten years started with a bitter breakaway from an old hairdresser.
Part II: Battle of the Betas
Maybe three days have passed. The small-time stores are all but eliminated and the Betas have thus far been able to sustain themselves with tactical resource strikes, since they’re well armed, but these little raids are a short-term strategy. As supplies dwindle, the Betas are forced to roam further from their home bases for food, igniting various territorial conflicts that eventually reach fever pitch at the central, neutral ground of the Hornsby Water Fountain. It’s time for the Battle of the Betas.
Key players include the jock-loaded Rebel, the grunge fans over at JB-Hi-Fi, and the bathroom using but otherwise apathetic patrons of David Jones. The United Alliance of Hornsby Hairdressers throw their scissors into the ring. Also Lush, that awful bath bomb shop—who had until now sustained themselves on their own massively inflated egos/prices—emerge from a haze of expensive perfumed smoke. Kmart and Target are in there too. And QBD are in the mix as well, sure, whatever.
The Battle of the Betas begins!
And it is a doozy.
David Jones is nearly immediately put out of business, if you know what I mean. All the bookworms, atrophied from days of reading, are quickly smited also. Lush’s arsenal of bath bombs are pretty potent—lethal, even (like just a real fucking assault on the senses, Jesus. Have you been into Lush recently? It’s awful. And extortionately priced. And smug)—so they hold their own for a little while. As do the hairdressers, who have some potent chemicals of their own, plus heaps of scissors. Kmart and Target get into their own fight off to the side and price/eye gouge each other into oblivion. But really, this is Rebel’s fight to lose. The jocks take charge with their skipping ropes and cricket bats and jerry-rigged water-guns. Rebel pummel the U.A.H.H (a respectable finish), eliminate Lush from long range (good riddance), and triumph over the comparatively geeky JB-Hi-Fi. Rebel go about and quickly collect all the supplies of its adversaries, and is in pretty good shape by the end of the day.
By this point everyone has forgotten that Kathmandu is still out there, huddled together in tents, savouring their dehydrated beef curries, raving to each other about goretex, masochistically loving every second of their suffering. Camping is weird.
Part III: The Final Showdown
About a week has gone by. Only Rebel, Kathmandu and the Alphas remain. In their week of relative leisure, the supermarkets have gathered all their coke and mentos together, and have also made rudimentary dirty bombs out of pet food, cleaning products and various aerosols. Plus the Coles has an annexed BWS for flaming molotov cocktails. Also not to be underestimated is Aldi’s weird specials aisle, which this week happens to be full of home office supplies (NB: Other iterations of this thought experiment could be set during the middle of an inexplicable Cheap Powertool Week at Aldi, to spice up the competition).
While it might make sense for the Alphas to buddy up and overrun Rebel together, finance capitalism doesn’t work like that. Each of the supermarkets instead offers bigger and bigger shares of their inventory to Rebel in exchange for protection, which is the Hunger Games equivalent of a low-low-price war except at least this time our Aussie dairy farmers aren’t caught in the crossfire. Kertwang.
The athletes say a blanket No Deal, since they sense their sporting advantage. The Alphas have idled for too long, have become overcommitted to their waiting game. Coles, the geographically closest store to Rebel, is the first to feel the Wrath of the Jocks. They get taken down, down, taken way down. Woolies are very far from the Fresh Food People (on all three counts) by the time their turn is up. And Aldi, though their slogan may well be ‘Good Different’, meets the Same Bad end as its competitors. Rebel triumphs. With the spoils of war, the jocks throw a two-day long celebratory feast — followed by a core workout, to stay trim.
But unfortunately, once the celebrations die down, the very same competitive drive that got Rebel to the end of the game becomes its fatal flaw. There’s no longer a common enemy, and Nike and Adidas wearers begin to butt heads. Rugby players tell cricketers where to stick their bats. And so on. It’s ugly stuff. Rebel tears itself apart into violent factions, and though the subsequent battle is very long and interesting, it’s safe to say that there are no winners in the end.
Except, perhaps, for Kathmandu, snickering in their unlit corner of the shopping centre, impervious to the elements, telling one another ghost stories around the campfire, slurping up their dehydrated pork roasts, feeling smug, feeling self-important and invincible, feeling in every way superior to those that do not go camping, munching a seemingly eternal supply of trail mix, happy to wait it out to the very end of time if they have to.
Never underestimate your hairdresser.
Going camping makes you empirically better than regular people and it’s unclear how David Jones survives even outside of hypothetical fights to the death and The Athlete’s Foot is a terrible name for a business.
It’s safe to say that there are no winners in the end.
I don’t like Lush.