Monday, 6 December 2010

Buy Everything!

The last days of free Morocco, before the French occupied…

The whole emerging world of western mechanical invention was dangled before his eyes, and his palaces became vast playrooms, guarding secrets no graver than those of gramophones, toy railways, typewriters, musical stuffed birds and a great host of clockwork toys.  A gold camera was imported from England.  Outside, there were bicycle races with ladies of the harem in fancy dress, roller-skating, miniature rifle ranges, balloons and fire-works; even though there was no road in all Morocco, a hansom cab and a scarlet state coach reached Fez from London.  The transport of a billiard table, lurching on camel-back from Larache to the royal palace at Fez was but one of a thousand bizarre extravagances devised by the government in its efforts to divert the Sultan’s attention from the terrible state his country had fallen.  A crook American sold him for 40,000 dollars a British bulldog with false teeth.  A German firm sold him a motorboat; this occupied a room to itself in the palace and was tended by a German engineer; though there was never any suggestion of the vessel putting to sea….  (Gavin Maxwell, Lords of the Atlas)

What the author describes is the impact of Western Capitalism on a culture that had not previously experienced it.  Sultan Abd El Aziz has the riches, until they ran out, to buy whatever he desires; an advertiser’s dream.  This is part of an extraordinary chapter that shows the decadence of the Sultan’s court in its last days.  However, what strikes most, because of the freshness of the description, this is consumer capitalism at its most pure, is the likeness to the West today.  It is a perfect metaphor for today’s society.

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