Monday, January 30, 2017

Giddy god of luck (1964)

From the March 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

A hush settles over the crowded hall as the gathered folk await the expected signal from the man on the stage. “Eyes down, we shall now play Bingo,” he calls good-humouredly, and the contest is on. The Goddess of Luck is in command.

The game is old and has had many names. It has been clothed in many a dingy raiment and its habitat has been Flanders trenches, army camps, fun fairs and seaside Kursaals. That is all changed now; as often occurs under capitalism, industries that are expanding fall into the ownership and control of large powerful groups, and the small man sinks into the background.

A few years ago it was observed by those whose interest to. human behaviour is pecuniary rather than scientific, that Bingo sessions run by churches (Roman Catholic in particular) were attracting large crowds, many of the adherents having no religious feelings or, if they had, not those of the organising denomination. Alongside this development there was an industry that was on hard times, the cinema. The Telly had drained away its audiences and it was left with half-empty buildings that apparently could not be put to any use. But why not try, said the owners, to put these white elephants into the service of the new craze and so save some of the diminishing profits?

The owners of other halls, such as those used for dancing, also had a desire to extract as much money as possible out of the use of their floor space. Dances are not generally profitable to run every night, and afternoon sessions are limited to a few, if any at all, in working-class areas. So the Big Boys were in need of tapping new sources and here was a field under their very noses with a good chance of expanding enough to satisfy even their dreams. So large capital moved in with bigger advertising and larger prizes; no longer the few bob, but weighty sums rising to the £1,000 jackpots. Refreshments could be provided and, with a fully paid staff, opening times could be arranged to suit the needs and moods of the majority of the customers. As things stand, the small fairground man with his sad pile of tinselled gifts is feeling the draught.

Why has all this happened? Maybe it was a revolt against the television mania and a need to satisfy social contact that the enforced segregation of the “Box” had stunted. The teenagers had already moved away into the atmosphere of pop-numbers, dancing and coffee bars, but the middle-aged generation were at a loose end. Financially this group in the working class are often at their peak. The children are old enough to work or are married and the man has reached the height of his earning capacity. By the time the middle years have arrived they have become more settled in their ways, so what could be more attractive to them than Bingo? No difficult rules! No skill other than the ability to read numbers! No physical prowess, and no additional mental effort! To stop the whole thing from becoming too doughy there is the lure of the prizes, worthwhile wins that will help with a holiday abroad or new furniture in the home. Seeing the winners in person in the hall, night after night being handed the largesse, can only spur them on to come again and again, rather like the fellow with £1 worth of sixpences at a one-armed bandit machine.

The contests for money always arouse latent envies; capitalism with its vast range of income differentials has made a good job in this field. Bingo is just the thing for a display of nail biting and high blood pressure. Nothing can be more distressing than to see someone, who, you feel, does not need it, walk away with the cash. All kinds of rumours are circulated by the losers and if taken seriously, would mean that the promoters and their managers are in some vast and wonderfully involved fiddle.

The mumbo jumbo of magic still plays a strong role in gambling circles—it is as though the science of the twentieth century was but dross, At Bingo different coloured ballpens are used on different cards, this supposedly an influence on luck. The belief in the power of lucky numbers is as varied as the persons present. The lack of success never seems to diminish the belief in the charms and nostrums.

In spite of the thunderings from the anti-gambling bodies and the purveyors of hell fire and corruption, visits to Bingo do not pervert or mentally harm anyone. The addict who goes frequently and is the mainstay of the Bingo industry has already been produced somewhere else along the road of life. He has merely swopped his addiction to the cinema or T.V. for something else, and is merely trying another form of retreat from reality. The problems of capitalist society, such as war, unemployment, poverty and housing press continually in varying intensity against us. These problems must be faced and a remedy found; the head-in-the-sand trick has not worked in the past and will not in the future. No doubt at some time in their youth the middle-aged Bingo devotees felt a need to struggle for and achieve something. But their ideas were wrong or ill-formed, the grim realities of capitalism swept over them, and the rut has become their sole reason for living.
Jack Law


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