Why working in retail is like living inside a horror movie

February 03, 2017
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She’s tired. Her world is one unending struggle – it has been for months. Pushing aside the hopelessness that haunts her every waking moment, she looks into cold, dead eyes that stare right through her, and asks, “Would you like a bag?”

Just like our troubled heroine, many of us will end up working in retail while at uni. You might say it’s the lifeblood of the student economy. But like the vital fluids that give unholy life to Dracula, this blood demands something in return – your very soul.

Here’s why working in retail is like starring in your very own Netflix Original splatter-fest.

Every man for himself

Filmmakers seem to think that to examine humanity’s dark side, you need a psychotic puppet-master or world-ending cataclysm. But if you want to see ordinary people turn on each other, all you really need to do is attend a supermarket express lane at rush hour. Or better yet, Target on Christmas Eve.

I’ve seen the face of madness – it has a RAV4 and 2.5 kids.

Endless hordes

Like the shuffling masses of undead that plague various American starlets, customers just keep coming. There’s no stopping them, no defence against their questing claws and mindless moaning. Just replace “Braaains!” with “Does this have whole graaains?!”

All we have is each other

Just as horror films find unlikely heroes banding together, the rigours of retail forge unshakeable alliances.

You might be different ages, come from different places and different walks of life, but at the end of the day, you’re just people. You all struggle to get through the trials of repetitive tasks, pushy managers and customers who need their cancer-inducing death-sticks.

Bad lighting

Many a budding filmmaker, in the rush to share the staggering genius of their oh-so-unique horror concept, has neglected to consider the audience’s sight. As a result, the lighting in indie horror films is often bland, brutally functional and pretty hard on the eyes – just like in retail stores. The designers of these stores seem to revel in trapping workers in a bright fluorescent hell.

Being forced to smile even as your soul withers

I don’t often feel like Nicole Kidman. For one, I don’t have her legs. Two, I find myself pretty neutral on the subject of Tom Cruise.

A notable exception is when I’ve been forced to smile, Stepford Wives style, as an entitled customer shouts at me for no apparent reason.

Dammit, Nicole, it’s like you’re acting out my diary.

General creepiness

No slasher film would be complete without some dishevelled loner – preferably from the South – leering at the protagonists while fondling a hunting knife. For some reason, certain customers will assume this role all too eagerly the moment they come in contact with a young staff member.

I once saw a middle-aged gentleman tell my co-worker that he’d be thinking of her “all the way home.” Her mouth replied “Thanks!” while her eyes said “Please don’t.”

Stale dialogue

Just as horror movies feature the same variations of “There’s something out there!” with zero consideration for originality, customers, too, will trot out the same hackneyed bullshit over and over again. “Do you have any out back?” and “Better put that in the filing cabinet!” seem to be favourites. And then there’s the always popular “No price tag – it’s free, is it?”

That said, there are certain horror clichés I’ve definitely wanted to use in my time behind the counter. “Why are you doing this to me?” comes to mind, as does “See you in hell!”

Joel Svensson

Business major, journalism minor and freelance writer, Joel pretends to be clever at La Trobe University.

Image: Shaun of the Dead official Facebook page