Superblocks of Consumption Past and Future: le Bon Marche & Idiocracy

I came across this historic rendering of the original Le Bon Marche recently. It got me thinking, and I grabbed a copy of one of my favorite movies Idiocracy (full disclosure: my wife produced it). Le Bon Marche reminded me of a view of Costco in the film, which is a dystopian look at America 500 years in the future.

Rendering of the Le Bon Marche, first department store in Paris (designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1868)

View of Costco, year 2505, from the movie “Idiocracy” by Mike Judge

It seems that this Costco of year 2505, sitting amongst the teeming slums of a decaying post-urban America, can be seen as a pale echo, a pathetic descendent, of the magnificent Le Bon Marche, the first department store in Paris, designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Both occupy expansive sites of multiple city blocks (36 acres in the case of Le Bon Marche, and almost infinite in Idiocracy) and both are intended to stand out as the latest incarnation of consumerism.  With the construction of Le Bon Marche, it was the first time the city (and its consumer) were brought into commensurate urban-scaled spaces dedicated to shopping, with the promise of the finest fashion and foods available in Europe. In the future Costco, the decayed urban infrastructure without flows into the biggest of big box retail.  Instead of the finest fashions, one finds in this temple remnants of devolved consumerism and desire-  red sofas, useless crates of stuff piled sky high, and a franchise of El Pollo Borracho “Adult Chicken with Full Release.”

El Pollo Borracho inside the Costco of Idiocracy: “Adult Chicken”

Le Bon Marche- interior street

Costco in Idiocracy, interior ‘street’

Interior, Le Bon Marche


Costco in ‘Idiocracy’

I guess the superblock has persistence.

“The superblock, and with it the concept of the ‘designed whole,’ is a fact of the modern capitalist state. It has evolved from the representational building and had gradually superseded the system according to which small plots were designed within a metonymic set. It is not simply a new type to be added to the repertoire of the city but a type of types, whose presence is rapidly destroying the traditional city.”

 Alan Colquhoun, “The Superblock”