Life and Times – Nice twist, keep them happy – and screw them at the same time

As summer drew to a close, an open-air concert was held in the large park in South Wales close to where I live. The star of the show was the singer and social media personality, Sam Ryder, who last year represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest. Sam is popular and the tickets, some of them costing £70, went like hot cakes. The trouble was that the crowd didn’t get quite what they expected.

Squashed like sardines
First of all it poured down, so torrential rain and umbrellas made it difficult for fans to get a proper view of what was happening on stage. And then, even in the sheltered VIP area, people, so the local paper reported, were ‘squashed in like sardines’, with one fan quoted as saying: ‘This half-baked shelter resembled an emergency station rather than anything remotely resembling a VIP marquee’. It was an extra £50 if fans wanted a ‘sunbed’ there, from which, in the words of one of them, ‘you got insane views of the stage – you could barely see it’. And the price of refreshments shocked some – £10 for a can of flavoured vodka, £12 for a bag of chips and £40 for a bottle of wine (you couldn’t buy a glass). The only concession – don’t laugh now – was that entry was free for children under two.

A substitute for life?
So it was essentially a money-making enterprise, or, as one soaked-through, disgruntled fan put it, ‘profiteering plain and simple’. But why did people go? And why do people keep going to these events put on by the ‘entertainment industry’, which so often result in disappointment and dissatisfaction? One commentator has said that it’s an integral part of a system that sells ‘weekend thrills’ to people who have to spend most of their working hours engaged in activity (ie, employment) that they find neither fulfilling nor meaningful. On that reckoning, it’s an attempt to substitute for the lack of interest, meaning and satisfaction workers derive from the job they’re obliged to do to survive where they’re regarded as a resource in the money-making machine rather than appreciated as a social asset.

And, if this is the case for music gigs, the same could be said about the various sports events, again mainly organised at weekends, where baying crowds shout their lungs out and seem almost to lose their heads when the team they support plays well, scores a goal or a try or wins a match. An extreme example of this was the wild celebrations that took place in Naples at the end of the last football season after its team won the Italian league title, which led to over 200 people ending up in casualty units, more than 20 of them with critical injuries.

Is this all a foil for the normal docility, the unquestioning acceptance associated with the subservient lives most people lead, tied as they are to the absolute necessity of spending most of their waking hours in a job despite the fact that the income it gives them will very likely be peanuts compared to the pay received by those they worship on the stage or sports field?

A substitute for God?
Or another explanation may be one that a former work colleague of mine used to proffer, which was that going to the stadium on Saturdays to support your local football team is a substitute for something that had now gone out of fashion – going to church. The argument went that it offered people the same kind of oblivion past generations found in worshipping a god or a divinity, with the star footballer or the pop musician a replacement for this. This also stood in as a replacement for lack of opportunity to express their own talents freely in their daily lives and offered some kind of exhilaration that was not available in the existence they were tied to. My colleague usually added the less negative point that this weekend activity also served the purpose of bringing people together in a common pursuit and even giving them some kind of spiritual focus. Not of course that there seems to have been very much that was spiritual in the debacle of that concert in my local park or in the rivalry between opposing fans often played out both in and around football grounds.

Do we need celebrity?
Of course, there’s no reason why people shouldn’t take pleasure in and appreciate the artistry involved in producing music (of whatever kind) or the skills exhibited by talented sports people. And it is possible to do this – and many do – without the displays of worshipful admiration for their heroes shown by pop concert goers or the near fanatical passion of fans at sports events. Only a pity that, under the system we live in, many others are unable to see beyond attachment to heroes, to fanatical fandom, to worship of celebrity.

In a different kind of society, the kind that we advocate and campaign for, it goes without saying people will have the freedom of choice and the ability to use their talents to the full without being prey to the whims or the dictates of a boss, a production target to be reached, or the next twist and turn of the market. In that society there will no doubt be respect, even admiration, for the special talents and abilities of others. But celebrity there won’t be any need for, since people will be their own celebrities.


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