Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bringing CHUTZPAH to the Christmas Spirit

'Tis the season for generic Christmas cards from the business sector. However appropriate to the season they may seem on the surface, the subtext is always the same:

We are happy to have you as our customer. We really need your business. We hope you will continue to give it.

I chose that particular phrasing because the very essence of the "corporate card" almost seems to be fishing for just another Christmas present. In the current economic times I shudder to think how many people receive these cards who barely have the resources to give gifts to their immediate families.

Under most circumstances, those who traffic in these marketing ploys disguised as Christmas cards would deserve one massive joint Chutzpah of the Week award. However, since I am always on the lookout for chutzpah with a positive connotation, I am pleased to discover a retaliatory effort more worthy of the Award. It turns out that the municipal government of Barcelona plays that same game with marketing-oriented Christmas cards, the only difference being in the punch line:

We hope you will continue to vote to keep us in office taking care of your beautiful city.

Unfortunately, Raval, the central district of Barcelona is not so beautiful these days; so the residents came up with a good way to throw this propaganda back in the faces of those purveying it. Here is the basic story as it appeared this morning on the BBC News Web site:

Raval has been getting ready for Christmas.

Festive lights twinkle above the narrow, cobbled streets. Strings of tinsel festoon the tapas bars. And the residents and traders of this central district of Barcelona have been preparing to send traditional "season's greetings" to the city authorities.

But there is no sign of Santa or fluffy snowmen on their Christmas cards this year.

"Here are some people using the street as a toilet," says Alexia, pulling one of the cards from a pile scattered over the counter at the family shoe shop.

"Here they are taking drugs," she continues, as her youngest daughter tugs at her skirt to go home.

"And here, people are having sex in the street."

The photo of a prostitute and her client, mid-act and mid-street, leaves very little to the imagination. It is the most graphic of a series of snapshots of daily life in Raval caught on camera by the residents. The message on the back reads "Happy Christmas!"

"We're sending them to the mayor so he can hang the pictures by his Christmas tree," Alexia's husband Luis explains.

Apparently, Raval residents have been trying to go through the usual channels for some time when it comes to cleaning up the neighborhood; and the municipal government has been unresponsive, which is basically what we have come to expect of any municipal government for a large city. So, as BBC reporter Sarah Rainsford put it, they are now resorting to "shock tactics." Such tactics require not only strong resolve but also the chutzpah to translate that resolve into action, and there is certainly no questioning the chutzpah of the action taken by the Raval residents. The musician in me would prefer to write about the celebration of Catalonian spirit in the Sardanes de Concert that Pablo Casals recorded back in 1955; but it seems more appropriate to present the Chutzpah of the Week award to a tightly-knit community of Catalans who just want to recover the dignity of their neighborhood.

No comments: