"Blue Black Friday" - My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today
Just last month we witnessed the latest craze from the USA arrive here.
Without doubt, the Black Friday sales will now be an annual event and will certainly grow in intensity each year.
If anything accurately represents pure, raw capitalism it was the sight of crowds of people surging and barging though department store doors. Some had bulging eyes.
Some were smiling in anticipation or possibly relief at finally being inside the gates of the consumerist's palace. Other people were clearly using their arms and shoulders to shove slower shoppers out of their way.
In the UK police had to restrain mobs at some Tesco stores and arguments and fights broke out in branches of ASDA (owned by U.S. giant Wal-Mart.) Four arrests for violence were made in Greater Manchester alone.
One report quoted a 56-year-old hairdresser on an overnight trip to a Sainsbury supermarket saying that the scenes were "crazy" and "disgusting". "I got a Dyson [vacuum cleaner], but I don't even know if I want it. I just picked it up," she said.
This pandemonium is aside from the online sales that also form part of the Black Friday marketing push.
Amazon was the first to introduce the trend into Europe in 2010 and this year in Germany and France a number of major retailers (including FNAC) publicised the day and offered claims of reductions.
In Spain, El Corte Inglés went even further than its rivals and hosted a four-day fiesta of supposed discounts.
Naturally, it was in the US where the day went to it's animalistic extremes of riots and frenzied stampedes.
Last year there were separate incidences of a shooting and a stabbing and this year five injuries were recorded, along with three arrests.
The website BlackFridayDeathCount.com has kept records of relevant news stories and has documented at least seven deaths and ninety six injuries in the U.S. since 2006. (Somewhat ironically, the website also sells T-shirts with the words "I survived Black Friday" on them for $18.00.)
Of course, I'm all in favour of a real bargain and I love a bit of a haggling at a market stall.
I would think that many of the people who buy in store or online on Black Friday are genuinely wanting to save money on something that they may not have been able to afford without a drop in the sale price or they simply believe that they are getting a product that will in some way enhance their lives.
I just question whether a lot of the buying is in any real sense, needed.
Having grown up in an Australian city where the shopping mall was the focus of social life for the easily-influenced young, as well as plenty of retired people, I have a fundamental disagreement with spending money as a major free time pursuit.
Europe is full of parks, beaches, squares and even ramblas: all public spaces not specifically made for commercial activity.
Anyone is free to be in theses places without thinking of them self as a consumer first.
In a shopping mall there are usually almost no seats that are not part of some kind of cafe or food joint. To be there is to be a buyer.
Simply put, I just want to live in a part of the world that continues to value things that don't have a money value.
[A version of this article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, January 2015.]
Another season of Australian film in Barcelona
Following on from the successful ASBA-RMIT Australian Film Season, the Australian Embassy and Casa Asia are presenting an Australian Film Season at Cinemas Girona [C/Girona, 175, 08025, Barcelona] starting this Saturday, 10 January, and running each Saturday night until 14 February.
Entry price: 2,50 Euros.
See link here for more details.
"Peaceful, but menacing: German xenophobia"
"Calling themselves Pegida, or “patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident”, since October they have marched through Dresden every Monday. Their numbers are growing: on December 15th 15,000 protested. Their slogans of xenophobic paranoia (“No sharia in Europe!”) seem bizarre in Saxony, where only 2% of the population is foreign and fewer than 1% are Muslim.
The marchers make no attempt to explain their demands. Convinced of a conspiracy of political correctness, they do not speak to the press. Few bear any signs of neo-Nazism. They have eschewed violence. What they share is broad anxiety about asylum-seekers (200,000 in 2014) and immigrants."
Read more from source here.
Putting down Orwell
It's a genuinely encouraging development to see that with Hispabooks there is a new publisher for works from Spanish authors because the English-language world benefits from this.
I dislike the title of this article though. To put down Orwell is a mistake. Yes, his book "Homage to Catalonia" is now dated (in a few parts) but his other writing, especially his non-fiction essays are still insightful and highly relevant. I do agree that it's absurd to build up a picture of Spain only from people like Hemingway.
Chris Finnegan mentions a number of books I'd like to read. He could just as easily have also mentioned two fine authors originally from Barcelona - Eduardo Mendoza and Juan Goytisolo, whose autobiography I finished reading recently and highly recommend on a number of levels.
"The best of times?" - My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine
Has there ever been a better time to be alive in the history of our tortured, super-intelligent species?
At the press of a few buttons we have virtually all the accumulated knowledge of the last several hundred (or is it thousand?) years available. And it is available fast.
We have the answers to a billion conceivable questions and we can communicate almost instantly with the majority of people on the planet, language barriers excepted.
For many of us, our taste buds can be stimulated by the food from dozens of cultures who, just a few short years ago were out of reach, either geographically or economically.
In this increasingly mixed European society, young people have started to grow up sitting next to others from Asia, Africa and assorted parts of the wider continent and for them this is as natural as mother's milk.
On top of all this, there is a gentleness that in so many senses did not exist just a generation ago.
A man can be intimately involved in the care of his baby or child without automatically being a figure of gossip or ridicule. He can be the main cook for his family and not be thought of us somehow suspect.
Finally too, homosexuals are more accepted or at least tolerated in the majority of circles, rather than being chemically castrated as some were less than seventy years ago (in the UK for example.)
Today too, there are increasing numbers of people who are not only acknowledging their own depression or mental illness but are speaking openly about it in public forums and in the media.
Such a development was virtually unthinkable merely a decade ago.
Equally though, the average women in the developed world has a wider horizon than ever before. Her place in the workplace is now barely questioned at all, though she may still be paid less than a man or have trouble getting a full-time position or promoted according to her ability.
Yet despite this progress, despite the modern mind being freer from superstition and religious dogma than probably any time in history, what do we also have?
Underneath the shiny towers of vanity there is a great, putrid sewer stench of injustice.
There is the distinct sensation of a nausea without relief and that comes from having both your eyeballs open and your ears unblocked. Anyone who chooses to not be ignorant knows, as Leonard Cohen wrote, "the deal is rotten."
And all those signs of enlightenment that came to view in the the first half of the 20th century now have a faded quality and there is a hollow ring to the chants, songs and poems of social movements.
Throw into this mix the fact that the warming of the earth continues at pace.
It is only those who genuinely don't understand or politicians who have been bought out by the polluting industries that do not accept the truth of the overheating globe that we walk on.
Or think of the wealth that flows through financial systems. Shockingly, the 85 richest people on the planet now have as much money as the poorest 3.5 billion.
And what else?
There's the vacant look of history's books
Slave labour and murder thy neighbour
Greed as a virtue and carers that hurt you
This is the present we have
We see the limp hand of the state and rape-a-date
The power of one at the point of a gun
And the good times are back with daily Prozac
This is the future that right now we have
See that liar's smile when the truth's on trial?
This is the justice we have.
Living and laughing in ignorance bliss
We have fashioned a world exactly like this.
[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, December 2014.]