On being ushered inside a mammoth hall I sat quietly at and table and watched my surrounds, feeling rather awkward on how I should behave myself. As a new game is about to be played the hall goes abruptly quiet and the announcer begins the game of bingo. The average age of persons around me range from 55-75, although younger folks could be spotted occasionally.
There is a contradiction between how bingo is advertised and how the people actually look and behave in the bingo hall. Brochures convey happy 50 something women (the kind that shop at Debenhams) on the cover all happy and smiling in a group appearing social. ‘Good times to be had at Bingo!’ with your pals is what is being communicated; when in fact the least thing you do is talk and if socializing takes place it looks like everyone is huddling at the McDonald’s style seating. Bingo particularly for the elderly can be in fact a lonely game.
There are plenty of elderly people who appear to be blue collar with lower middle class. The code of dress ranges from the modest to the outlandish or amusing. I found quite a few ‘Bingo Grannies’ with multiple gold chains hanging around their necks. Remember when gold chains and medallions were popular in the 1970s? AND you had to wear them outside your shirt?
It is obvious that great effort was made to create a warm and inviting experience with red, yellow and orange hues, yet the flyers themselves are bubble gum pink emoting exuberance which was the opposite sensation experienced once inside the hall. The design of the main hall is plush with geometric architectural features that feel kitsch. I have obviously just made a harsh judgment on taste.
There is a relaxed demeanor of both staff and bingo regulars and there is no running or loud talking… operational best practices to all in attendance… and an exemplary model of codes of behaviour.
A musical interjection lets everyone know when the next game begins. The music in this setting should be lighthearted and friendly but sounds like what one would hear in an elevator or a variety show. I did a bit of checking and variety show in the 60s and 70s in Britain, were hugely popular. To the elder generation, hearing that style of music may refer to youthful time in their life. This is where symbolic value becomes important, not just what in means in the moment, but what it signifies to those in past times. I simply did not connect with the Intercom music, finding it tacking and out-modish. Most current bingo players would have been in their 30s and 40s when variety show were popular.
And finally that amusing and resounding grumble that emanates the interior, when someone wins a game, whether its £10.00 or £100.00 before resuming the ‘huddle’ position. The atmosphere is relaxed until the numbers are called.
Once you have entered the cultural field of Bingo, ‘habitus’ infiltrates the newly initiated bingo player and they assimilate the practices of that field (i.e. bingo etiquette). Behaviour is controlled, by reflecting on acts of self, and those around me to make sure I have met the criteria of positive codes of conduct, which in turn demonstrates that I have acted in ‘good taste’. The self is assessed to make sure that I have met the approval of fellow bingo aficionados.