So I received Black Friday emails titled ‘check out our great Black Friday discounts’ in early November this year.
What’s more grating, the slow creep of Black Friday becoming a month long event, or the Christmas fanatics who start counting down the days from, well, any date before the first of December? Or that shops now start punting Christmas tat in early autumn to appease them?
Clearly they’re all signs of the times and how the face of consumerism has changed. With the advent of the internet shopping in person (for most things) was always on borrowed time. That it’s taken this long for the paradigm to shift to the virtual sphere, is a testament to our weddedness to tradition and routine. But they’re no match for the combination of this peculiar time we’re living through and modernity, especially when the latter is utilised in the pursuit of profits.
I’ll concede this cascade of Black Friday emails from every company I’d consummated a transaction with is partly my fault. Buy something once and you’re on their list. Forever. It’s the new form of junk mail that you used to get pre-internet – do you remember? How on earth did we cope with such hardships? Yes most of them offer you the option to opt out of promotional offers when you sign up, but that’s semantics in the small print, lies at worst. Take opting out of promotions as a euphemism for tailored offers for you, not circulars. And just how smart are these algorithms anyway? Clearly you know I purchased a television recently, but why are you trying to sell me another one? Wait, am I meant to glean from this that there are people who buy a television every year or every other year? Is that what the market analytics say? As a bonkers Italian man once said, “are we crazy?”
Being anti consumerist is extremely futile. Its associated pathos occupies the same sphere as Veganism, it understands it’s a busted flush, hence the angry posturing of its acolytes (converts are always the worst, I find). Veganism and anti-consumerism are now surrogates for socialism, the grand-daddy failure of idealism – if we’re not having it, you shouldn’t either. I can’t take the side of the argument that says repent, don’t be taken in by the marketing, save your money for something meaningful. The word mellowed doesn’t sit well with me, but I can’t think of a better way to describe my attitude towards this. It’s your money, spend it however you please. Who am I to judge? I buy things too, so do you, and, get this, this year I’ve made a purchase during black Friday. In fact, make that several.
So, to avoid being a hypocrite, I have to renounce (some of) my previous ridicule of Black Friday. Which leads me back to a column (linked below) I wrote six years ago. I marvelled at the sheer oddity and mania of customers and the tactics that businesses had to adopt, including potentially turning away custom, just to protect the rabid Black Friday consumer from violent interactions and possible crush injuries.
What is progress? And how do we measure it? Egalitarianism? Diversity? Inclusion? These are sensible and important goals but hard to measure with absolute certainty or consensus. In regards to Black Friday, while comparatively unimportant, the roadmap is clear and here. We can measure that it has progressed past the chaotic and bewildering scenes that characterised it’s hideous height mid last decade. It’s evolved into a predominantly online operation that’s slick, efficient, less anarchistic and removes some public displays of narcissism. The imposition of Covid has not only altered the nature of materialism and capitalism for most of us – it’s shown us that life is much better when stressful face to face interactions and hassle over trivialities are removed from your day to day existence. The vast majority will be doing their discount shopping online, not because it’s safer, but because it’s easier. Instead of sprained ankles, strained muscles lugging a heavy piece of equipment, a crushed rush through sliding glass doors when they first open at an ungodly hour, a sudden release which bears an uncanny resemblance to an obese cat finally fitting through the flap after an inelegant struggle, which includes two seconds of mortal thrashing panic that it might not make it, you’ll be on the couch, on the toilet, sitting at your computer, relaxed, warm, safe from infection, injury and infecting and injuring others. Soon this will become government advice too – Stay home when shopping. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.
So, how did I do in this brave new world? I bought a pop up plug replacement for my en-suite sink for £4 (can a sentence be more bourgeoisie?), a new electric pepper grinder (USB rechargeable with a motion sensor bitches! – ohhh snazzy) and some replacement lightbulbs for a tenner (okay, this one’s practical). None of these are grand purchases, but they’re things I could live without, well, apart from the lightbulbs.
While I’m not a Black Friday bargain hunting baller smugly buying that Sony OLED for £300 less than it cost a month before, and my small purchases are frivolous, I’m also not sniping at Black Friday with Trotskyist conviction. The tilt towards online shopping has normalised Black Friday for the indifferent and made me more normal in the process. Say it aint so?
A more palatable justification, wrapped in legalese, for ratifying the deal was offered – the purchasing company, Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia, is operated independently, and not on behalf, of the Saudi royal family, despite the king in waiting being its chairman and defacto ruler of the country. Nobody can blame the company that now owns Newcastle United for the human rights abuses of the country, but nobody with any semblance of integrity would parse them as separate entities.
Given the nature of mainstream football fandom in 2021, a better question might be why the Premier League even bothered to justify it at all.
The reaction to the takeover – a mixture of petty jealousy (partly masquerading a sense of helplessness) that another club was receiving this ill-gotten wealth, and ambivalence to the inadequate regulations that allowed yet another football club to be sold to the highest bidder with scant regard for the sporting, moral and political consequences, said much about the state of British society, culture and its engagement in politics, and none of it is good.
Whataboutery was rife, always the first reserve of the ideologically bankrupt simpleton. You know how it goes: the UK sells arms to Saudi Arabia. For Saudi Arabia’s decimation of Yemen read UK involvement in the upending of Iraq and Afghanistan and their subsequent desertion of ensuring democracy lasts in either. This disingenuous piety doesn’t stand up to scrutiny; women in Saudi Arabia aren’t treated as equal citizens, there is no freedom of the press, homosexuality is illegal, conversion therapy is common, journalists are murdered, people are beheaded, the state seizes the assets of certain wealthy individuals (yeah, you Tory fucks, they’d come for you too), torture is widespread, migrant workers are essentially slaves, and the barbaric sharia law is enforced. The difference between our freedoms and their oppressions is lost on so many because in the UK you’re free to ignore theirs if you choose.
Then there’s Gary Neville’s stupendously delusional argument that allowing Saudi Arabia, and other countries with questionable human rights records, to invest in the Premier League will lead to greater scrutiny on their mis-deeds and shame them into changing their laws and mores at home. It’s a wilful projection that forgets people tend to believe what suits them, political engagement and awareness is in decline or is consigned to social media echo-chambers, perception is reality, and people in power are often ruthless about maintaining it.
Saudi Arabia invested in Newcastle United because they knew whatever opinions the British masses hold of how they run their country become irrelevant in the thrall of football’s hyperspecific form of populist escapism. The Premier League confirmed that by ratifying the takeover. The Premier League were banking that the culture would be more concerned with how the new owners will run Newcastle United than how they choose to run their country. And they’re right. While some debated the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, most chose to speculate how much longer Steve Bruce would last (answer – not long), who would replace him and how soon Newcastle would be challenging the Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Chelsea for Champions League qualification and league titles (right now, no time soon). The Saudi royalty have the patience and money that the masses with shortening attention spans do not. All they need to do is wait, most of the remaining dissenting herd will eventually move on to graze elsewhere and their involvement in British football will become normalised. Go outside for a walk, you’ll see plastic bags ensnared in trees, or random litter in the street. Irksome, yes, but does it ruin your day? Will Newcastle United being owned by Saudi Arabia ruin your enjoyment of football? Has Abu Dhabi’s backing of Manchester City during the past decade?
Criticising Newcastle United fans for their servile and obsequious displays of delight at being taken over by a business subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s government is low hanging fruit. It’s easy to criticise (mostly young and male) idiots with zero self-esteem. But, introspect for a minute, imagine this was happening to your club, just how would you react? Particularly, if you were a club similar to Newcastle, success starved for years and owned by Mike Ashley, who clearly held the fanbase in complete contempt. Desperation for liberation makes uncomfortable compromises easier, though fittingly an effective argument against the sycophancy of the Newcastle fans wasn’t utilised. Juxtapose that with the oppression of gay folk or women in Saudi Arabia, who have no room or desire to compromise, and they have far more to lose by not doing so. All Newcastle’s acquiescence to one of the most grotesque regimes on earth reveals is how little they value themselves and what their club means to them.
Speaking of selling out, the Premier League has completely. What’s worse? That it can’t see the consequences of what it’s done or that it doesn’t care?
By making decisions in secret, and in this case one that could introduce an even greater level of financial disparity to the competition, without consulting the clubs, should prove to them and us that the Premier League doesn’t serve the interest of its clubs, much less the supporters of these clubs. Then there’s the looming threat of European Super League, which, with this decision, the Premier League seems to believe is an irrelevance to the continuation of its financial dominance. UEFA has to be worried watching this. The Premier League member clubs voted against it last time, but when the Premier league itself doesn’t have their own backs, why would the clubs vote against a modified European Super League proposal that removes the exclusivity that was so egregious last time? Then there’s the abject failure of Financial Fair Play to reign in Manchester City. The calls for stringent implementation at home and abroad will grow. You wonder how much longer the Premier League’s reticence to police Financial Fair Play will hold, especially as its premise contravenes their mantras of greed is good and the richer, the better.
Abu Dhabi backed Manchester City have won the league in three of the past four seasons. If you were being generous (and I’m not with this lot), then you might posit that part of the Premier League’s motivation for ratifying the Newcastle United takeover is a recognition that they needed to introduce another state backed club in a bid to keep the league competitive. Even Chelsea, owned by an extremely wealthy individual, and the organically grown wealth of Manchester United and Liverpool, wouldn’t dare, or simply cannot, match the spending power of Manchester City. But, remind me again, who created this ruse by allowing Abu Dhabi to buy the club in the first place, or before that allowing Roman Abramovich to ‘save’ Chelsea from the ignominy of having to operate within their means.
In 1992 nobody could’ve envisioned where things have travelled to. The Sky breakaway probably seemed like a good idea at the time. English football needed significant investment and modernisation as it was still reeling from the disasters at Bradford and Hillsborough, dilapidated stadiums, hooliganism and Thatcher’s perpetual attacks on it. But the process of homogenisation – specifically taking football away from being consumed solely on the terraces – altered the nature of fandom. Decades of hype, marketing and social media has completely bastardisied it. Now the most vocal and visible elements of a club’s support are characterised by infantile squabbling and impatience, where loyalty is conditional on wins, money spent and winning transfer windows and each defeat sees grown men resort to petulant wailing, a brand of self-pitying you’d normally associate with teenagers.
Heightened expectations from these consumers have led to greater financial demands on the clubs. These have been satiated by, and have become circularly dependent on, welcoming in any and all kinds of foreign wealth, no matter how tainted, either through philanthropic ownership or commercial agreements, just to keep up with the cost of spiralling wages of players and payments to agents to remain ‘the best league in the world’.
Just how depraved and inhumane does the regime that helped accumulate wealth need to be? A holocaust, genocide, a Stalinist purge? Hey, perhaps Kim Jong-un should buy Norwich City from Delia Smith? He isn’t feeding his people anyway (just himself, it seems) and Delia was better on telly than being the owner of a football club. By allowing the Saudis to buy Newcastle United, there’s simply no reasonable legal or moral standards left to disqualify anyone. The Premier League have basically advertised that cash is king, everything has a price, anything goes and your club could be sold to anyone.
Sound familiar? In 2008 we saw what happens when things aren’t regulated properly. But too often we’re happy to remain oblivious, or offer the benefit of the doubt, just as long as the illusion of competency remains. With the mortgage derivatives scandal we now know that bankers can’t be trusted to regulate themselves, and, with the sale Newcastle United to the Saudi government, neither can the Premier League.
All I can think of is a section from The Future. Lenny was a wise cat. He’d seen the unfettered spirit of modern mankind in a number of guises. Now that I’ve seen it a few times myself, his words have lost a bit of sparkle. Nonetheless, his commentary remains pertinent: