Wednesday. 11/11/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tom Edwards

Score draw

UK football is in the midst of an existential crisis. How does a sport powered by the passion and money of its fans survive an indefinite spell as an audience-free activity? Things look grim for the lower leagues, left to rely on handouts from higher up the football pyramid. And for the major players in the Premier League? There’s been an increased reliance on the game’s appeal – and profitability – as a purely televised spectacle.

The self-styled “best league in the world” already charged eye-watering sums to watch matches via subscriptions to its partner broadcasters. Then last month, much to the chagrin of supporters already bristling at money spent on season tickets to games they have no chance of attending, more games were made available for TV but only on a pay-per-view basis.

Demonstrating team spirit that befits the beautiful game, followers of the likes of Newcastle, Aston Villa, Burnley and Leeds fought back, foregoing the chance to watch their clubs on telly at a premium and instead donating the same sum to food banks serving their embattled local communities. The fans of my London club, Tottenham Hotspur, did the same and helped raise more than £100,000 (€112,000) and counting for the food bank that is being run out of Tottenham Town Hall.

Like a well-timed Harry Kane shot, the fan reaction has emphatically hit the target: after discussions this past week, the Premier League is expected to scrap its pay-per-view model when play resumes after next week’s international break. It’s that rarest of things: a great goal that everyone can cheer, whatever team they support.

Retail / China

Consumer culture

Singles Day is underway in China. The annual shopping extravaganza, comprising eye-watering promotions and deep discounts, is an excuse for singletons to splurge on themselves every 11 November (the day single numbers unite in calendar: 11/11). It’s a clever marketing ploy, which was popularised by e-commerce giant Alibaba. By the end, there is usually a headline-grabbing sales figure – Alibaba, alone, reported US$38bn (€32bn) in 2019. Getting close to, or even beating, last year’s record will offer clear evidence that the Chinese economy is back up and running again. It might also provide a fillip to the Communist Party leadership in Beijing, since president Xi Jinping wants China to become less reliant on foreign consumers and suppliers. His latest economic policy aims to boost domestic consumption alongside international exports. With this “dual-circulation” strategy set to play a large part in the party’s next five-year plan, it seems that China’s leaders, like its shoppers, are prepared to go it alone.

Diplomacy / Russia

Forced truce

It fell to Vladimir Putin to announce a peace deal yesterday between Armenia and Azerbaijan in their bloody conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Though long recognised internationally as Azerbaijani, the region had been run by Armenians until Azerbaijan began an invasion in late September. The Moscow-brokered deal now cedes much of the disputed territory back to Azerbaijan. Unsurprisingly the deal hasn’t gone down well in Armenia: its prime minister didn’t join Putin’s public announcement and protestors stormed government buildings in the capital Yerevan.

Still, the treaty reasserts Russian primacy over the region. Peacekeepers will be sent to ensure the deal is honoured and, despite feeling a “sense of betrayal” from its ally, Armenia has “few realistic alternative options” other than relying on Russia for its security, according to Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow. In short the developments over the past few days show that, in spite of Turkey’s growing role, Russia remains indispensable to the region and its stability.

Society / Philippines

Green-fingered discount

The past few weeks have seen the Philippines torn apart by Typhoon Goni, not to mention an ongoing war on drugs that has reportedly killed more than 8,000 people, while coronavirus cases rise sharply even as the country heads into its seventh month of lockdown. For many Filipinos, seeking refuge from everyday life has involved reconnecting with the natural world – gardening has reportedly taken the country by storm. But it hasn’t been an exclusively wholesome respite. Dubbed a “plantdemic” by some, the gardening craze has resulted in plant prices quadrupling and prompted a spate of thefts of flowers and shrubs from public parks. Meanwhile, an obsession with exotic and rare plants has led to an increase in poaching from Luzon’s rainforests. Such reports seem to defeat the purpose of the planting trend; in tough times we hope that Filipinos can find a way to focus on the solace that a bit of green-fingered TLC can bring to people’s lives.

Culture / USA

Drawing conclusions

From Viz in the UK to a rich tradition of transgressive, boundary-pushing “underground comix” in the US, comics have long probed and tested mainstream values in provocative, rude and – crucially – hilarious ways. So perhaps it’s appropriate that, in the aftermath of a divisive presidential election, US comic Peter Bagge’s (pictured) legendary Hate is being republished at the end of this month. Bagge tells Monocle that mainstream culture was “pretty conservative” when he started out in the 1980s. “People were embracing ‘family values’ and to be outside of that made you very marginalised,” he says. Comics such as Hate illuminated the hypocrisy underpinning those values and contributed to a more welcome social liberalism. Contrast that risk-taking with today: “Everybody is terrified of being demonised and having their life and reputation ruined at the drop of a hat, at the whim of somebody else,” says Bagge. When artistic expression is threatened, it’s more than just audiences who lose out.

M24 / On Culture

‘Shirley’

Anna Smith and Lucy Scholes join Robert Bound to review Shirley, Josephine Decker’s new film starring Elisabeth Moss, based on the life of the US horror writer Shirley Jackson.

Monocle Films / Global

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