Wishing you a Pseudo Christmas
As Black Friday fades and we grow weary of Christmas before even December clinks into view, think of what is happening to your city.
As Tinsely Tesco puts workers on pre-paid ‘Tuxedo Cards’ which charge holders for cash withdrawals, the entire rip-off of commodified Christmas is becoming clearer. The bizarre state of affairs in Edinburgh is the worst, though no doubt other cities have tales to tell.
“Edinburgh’s Hogmanay” has grown into a corporate beast in which a traditional festival has been captured and tuned into an ‘event’ in which the streets are closed and you have to pay to actually walk about your own city. As the latest bout of Royalist frenzy reminds you that you are a Subject not a Citizen, events like ‘Edinburgh’s Hogmanay’ remind you that you are primarily a consumer, and civic space is a myth.
But Edinburgh Hogmanay now need to answer questions about why they’re looking for people to work a 12 hour shift in the freezing cold and NOT PAY THEM? The issue first raised by Edinburgh Spotlight then taken up by Buzzfeed goes to the heart of the new exploitation:
“On the volunteer section of its website, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay events – which are being organised by the Underbelly entertainment company – say the new year celebrations are “all about taking part and getting involved” and are requesting applications for hundreds of volunteers to work at different events.
Tickets for the street party event cost £26 with a capacity of 60,000 people. Edinburgh City Council has estimated that the Hogmanay events bring roughly £40 million into the city each year.
According to the volunteer postings on the website, in return for work at the annual street party event in Scotland’s capital, volunteers will only be reimbursed for travel expenses and meals and, after they complete their shifts, they will receive a “thank you message” and a certificate.”
Remember when working at Christmas or Hogmanay would mean double-time? Now it means ‘a certificate’.
This is a world away from Beltane, or a self-organised event, or a street party. This will – we’re told – ‘bring roughly £40 million’ to the city.
Bryan Simpson from Better Than Zero and the Unite trade union told BuzzFeed News:
“To ask 120 well-trained staff to work 12 hours in the freezing cold for free is morally unacceptable and possibly illegal given the profit made by the event. As one of the main sponsors of the event we will be asking questions of Edinburgh City Council, particularly given their unanimous support of our Fair Hospitality Charter which commits the council to the pay the living wage at its venues.”
You are now looking at a situation where sections of a city will be no-go areas unless you fork out £26 for an ‘authentic experience’ of your own feckin city.
Now, just as whole swathes of the city centre are recovered enough to be re-inhabited – the giant corporate behemoth that swings into action (St Andrew Square, one whole end of George Square, Princes St Gardens, Waverley Market for starters).
As you enter the ‘Street of Light’ you literally walk under a sign that just says “Money”.
I suppose given the despoiled state of city life and the hyper-consumerist cult of Christmas, that’s probably pretty apt. But you’d wonder at what point the residents of Edinburgh might stand up and say “Oi I want my city back?”.
Many of these places aren’t public spaces at all. They are what’s called ‘privately owned public spaces’ or “Pops”.
Theses are spaces that “that appear to be public but are actually owned and controlled by developers and their private backers – are on the rise in London and many other British cities, as local authorities argue they cannot afford to create or maintain such spaces themselves.
Although they are seemingly accessible to members of the public and have the look and feel of public land, these sites – also known as privately owned public spaces or “Pops” – are not subject to ordinary local authority bylaws but rather governed by restrictions drawn up the landowner and usually enforced by private security companies.”(Guardian)
According to one urban space researcher: “In one report 12 other cities, including Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow, rejected revealing the information about the pseudo-public spaces located in these cities. This poses a question of the level of expansion of these spaces. It also poses another, and even more critical question regarding the production and perception of public space: Is pseudo-public space becoming a mainstream way of public space provision in the UK?”
The consequences to this are a subtle attack on democracy, a clear exploitation racket of events companies with the connivance of ‘arts journalists’ with as much critical edge as a bauble, and the draining of any meaning of the event itself. Hogmanay will end up (has ended up) as a celebration with few people from Edinburgh at it.
Customs die, profits soar. “Wha’s like us” eh?