1950s >> 1958 >> no-651-november-1958

Aladdin Safes for Everyone

The press had an unusual story of a locked safe which was bought for 30s. and when opened, out tumbled a jewelled tiara, a collection of antique silver and plate, gems mounted in gold and other jewellery, very much like the contents of Aladdin’s cave. Many newspapers throughout the world spread the news and some published photographs of this unique find. The news obviously caught the imagination of the public and the lucky purchaser was seen on two television programmes, and the whole process was featured in a Gaumont-British film, and even broadcast over the French radio.
 
One newspaper, using a clue found in the safe, was able to locate an old retainer of the family which had once owned these jewels. He remembered the splendour of their regency home, the big parties they held and the magnificent silver laid for dinner. Also that the mistress would drive along the front at Brighton with her coachman in livery.
 
They had a large house in fashionable Bryanston Square. London, and would spend two months of the year there. She was a fine regal woman and when she visited the Theatre Royal she would be magnificently dressed with diamonds at her throat and a gleaming tiara.
 
This was clearly a ruling-class family and it might be both interesting and useful at this point to discuss why it is that jewellery and plate are so closely connected with the lives of these people.
 
Of what use are gems?
That class who live by the exploitation of working people, have, from historical times, been proud of their privileged position in society which they advertised by displaying the insignia of their wealth, the ownership of which sets them apart from the mere plebians.
 
Employing workers to wear livery is one method of display, for livery indicates that the wearer is unable to take part in industrial money-making employment, and this, in turn, indicates the wealth and therefore the reputable degree of the employer on whom is conferred blameless social standing.
 
Jewellery has also played its part for centuries as a distinguishing badge of the upper-class. Gratification derived from the use and contemplation of costly and supposedly beautiful products, is, in great measure, a gratification of our sense of costliness masquerading under the name of beauty. The fact that some precious metals and gems do have a measure of intrinsic beauty is incidental. Great as their sensuous beauty may be, their rarity and price adds an expression of distinction which they would never have if they were cheap. The chief purpose of valuable jewellery is to add distinction to the person of the wearer by comparison with those who cannot afford such things and have to do without. The marks of expensiveness come to be accepted as beautiful features of expensive jewellery.
 
And, incidentally, this display sets an example to those in lower stations of life and acts like a carrot before a donkey’s nose, goading him on to ever greater effort. This, in turn, rebounds to the benefit of those who own the means of profit-making and thus is completed the happy circle for those who own the means whereby we live.
 
How mad can capitalism get ?
A little reflection will reveal the waste of human labour used in spreading the news of this find, which is of no real help or use to any of the readers. The national press employ large staffs of reporters, on duty day and night, to sift the items of news coming in, with the idea of blowing some of them up enough to hit the headlines, which have to be filled if the papers are to fulfil their main function of profit making. These individuals, though they are professional writers, fritter away most of their time, not on straightforward writing, but on the tricks of their trade, waiting all night outside the house of someone in the news, in order to get a little more information, usually of a senseless but highly personal nature, or, as in the Aladdin Safe story, taking infinite pains in trying to trace the family mentioned on the flyleaf of the bible found in the safe, just to get those people’s reactions to the news. Then there is the paper-pulp for the newspaper itself and its transport across the world and the vast army of photographers, engravers and printers, to say nothing of the fleets of motor-vans racing round the streets delivering the papers to those who have the job of selling them.
 
Following our particular item of news through, there is the waste of schooling and training of the lawyers engaged in sorting out the ownership of the find—whether it should be the old bedridden lady of 77 who should have the tiara and other jewels, or the man who found them, or the firm that sold the locked safe. The more we consider it, all the more glimpses we get of how mad and wasteful this Capitalist society is.
 
Why the story of Aladdin is so popular
The question also arises of why the story of Aladdin is so popular. Aladdin was a poor boy who found a cave of jewels and through these riches was able to care for his poor mother and who eventually married a beautiful princess. Any man who suffers from insecurity (and who doesn’t in a class-dominated society) can easily put himself in the position of Aladdin. Any woman can put herself into the position of Aladdin’s bride or mother. No wonder the story has become a hardy annual for the pantomime season. There does not seem to be any reason why the popularity of this story is likely to diminish, at any rate, not for the time being.
 
The tragedy behind the story
But behind the story of this modem Aladdin there should also be tragedy. While the great moguls of the press, cinema and television are prepared to devote plenty of publicity to an irrelevant story of a purely chance find, where no intelligence, forethought or imagination is involved, there is no space available, whether in the so-called Labour Press or elsewhere, for a sensible analysis of a society which enables an individual to come into possession of wealth produced by others in society. For such an analysis of the news would contain revolutionary implications.
 
But what should be the greatest news item in the world today gets no publicity, except in the columns of the Socialist Standard and companion papers. And that is that Socialism, a system of society where all wealth is owned and controlled in common, by eliminating war and insecurity, can confer on everyone even greater benefits than can be obtained from safes full of jewels.
Frank Offord

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