/ 28 June 2012

Going gaga to get my bit

A Computicket lag meant 4300 payments for Lady Gaga concert tickets timed out.
A Computicket lag meant 4300 payments for Lady Gaga concert tickets timed out.

"I ’m a free bitch." The astuteness of this observation by Lady Gaga – a refrain in her song Bad Romance – struck me again last week while I valiantly struggled to book for her Cape Town performance in December.

I just had to see the singer of such towering lyrics as these: “In the most ­biblical sense I am beyond repentance/ Fame hooker, prostitute wench vomits her mind/ But in the cultural sense I just speak in future tense/ Judas, kissed me if offenced/ or wear an ear condom next time.” Look, ­compulsive rhyming does sometimes mean mutilating nouns verbally. But the pushing of English’s limits will not make me pack away my disco stick and miss out on Gaga, who is a sociopolitical phenomenon.

With a keen sense of the political, she actualised the sentiments of Born This Way by taking the campaign against the United States army’s homophobic “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to both senators and the 2010 MTV awards ceremony, insisting that Americans cannot pick and choose who has access to which constitutional rights. Our generally politics-shy “celebrity” class should learn something and make themselves useful, faced as we are by not dissimilar bouts of bigotry.

Computicket sales for Gaga’s South African concert opened on its website at 9am on the relevant day. I postponed anything that could obstruct computer interface and joined the e-queue at 9.05am. At 13.37pm the somewhat perplexing message arrived: “Your turn is up to Lady Gaga.” Ta-dah! I went through the requisite online motions, including entering my credit card details.

All along, in the name of patriotism, I suppressed a faint sense of anxiety. Gaga is not called Mother Monster for nothing. The name not only reclaims the stigmatised feminine and (m)other, but confirms Gaga as literally huge, the biggest popular culture icon just about every­where on the globe. I thought: Will our systems cope?

Capping the time
The long bar showing a web page’s loading stalled. Computicket had the bright idea of capping the time for each booking at 10 minutes. This bright idea did not extend to freezing the timer should the web page freeze. With the edge of glory so near, yet so far, I watched the countdown to ticket­lessness poker-faced.

What is the only thing worse than not having a ticket? Paying for a ticket you don’t have. Computicket took the money but then the computer said no. Computicket’s telephone lines were kinda busy. The messages I sent using their website function went unanswered. I couldn’t even soothe my tattered nerves with an irresponsible second acquisition of tickets: the system recognised my credit card number and blocked multiple purchases.

Promoters Big Concerts reportedly admitted to “glitches” in the payment process. About 4300 payments timed out – that sounds like quite a “glitch”. At the 2009 Killers concert, a Big Concerts organiser assured me there were “no traffic problems” as I sat stuck in a traffic jam of fans on the N1 kilometres away from the venue. No problem, except that the supporting act had started. Some fans who had managed to get in could only leave the venue in the early hours of the next morning. This time round, at least, Computicket apologised for the “glitch”.

Worried that I would end up alone on the big Gaga night, dancing in the dark, a friend had mercy on me and bought me tickets. I contacted my bank, Absa, to block the earlier payment to Computicket. A call centre consultant told me Absa could not stop the transaction; this could only be done in cases of mistaken double payments and fraud.

Computer says no
I insisted on declaring a dispute. This was rebutted – again, the computer said no. I could only bare my teeth, snarling that it is heartening to know Absa is more concerned about its relations with a fellow multinational corporation (Shoprite owns Computicket) than with me, its client. I lodged a complaint and … heard nothing.

Another day, another phone call, another consultant, this time telling me computers in fact say yes to disputes over credit-card payments. Computicket, meanwhile, also promised to return my money.

Still awaiting reimbursement, nerves now shot, I remembered the wisdom of Gaga. “I’m a free bitch” captures how, despite our delusions, liberty has been reduced to consumption, with women routinely “othered” to be rendered mere objects. Some of us may be government hookers, but we are all ­consumer-citizens, having delivered ourselves into the clutches of all-mighty corporations.

Why, even Gaga, despite being something of a multinational corporation in her own right, has been unable to save her art from the clammy paw of consumerism. In the South African version of Bad Romance, probably to avoid a parental warning that would affect sales, “bitch” was censored to a clipped “bit”. So here we are, free bits. Just dance!

Christi van der Westhuizen is an author and commentator.