Thoughts on Black Friday

I was the odd man out at the Thanksgiving dinner with my opinion on Black Friday.  My opinion: Black Friday is a festering sore of American culture, theirs: there’s nothing wrong with shopping when the stuff is cheap.  I think they missed the point, but that’s fine, I’ll try and make it again (and better).

By now I’m sure that if you’re reading this you’re also aware that a Wal-Mart employee was trampled by a horde of frenzied shoppers, who broke down the entrance and stampeded into the store.  If not, here is the story.  What surprises me is that this is the first time someone’s died in such a fracas.  Does this story exemplify my case, or strengthen it?  I do know that I am repulsed by a society in which ideas of human decency are forgotten when something goes on sale.  This person died not at the hands of an angry mob (although anger had something to do with it, I am sure), but at the feet of a mob who was enraptured by the idea of buying something for less than it usually costs.  When looked at this way, it seems such a sad way to die.

We might compare the frenzied Black Friday shopper, who arrives for the “door buster” deals (a metaphor now blackened), to the religious zealot, and Black Friday itself as the holy day.  The Black Friday zealot arrives at the store in the early morning to get the first-hour super sale.  The zealot waits in the cold and the dark, a period of painful penance that one must pay prior to being awarded the rush, the ecstasy of seeing one number crossed out and a smaller number in its place.  This ecstasy surely outweighs the simple joy of having a better TV.

But I know my friends aren’t these people.  My friends are good people, who likely abide by (most) norms of human decency when out shopping on Black Friday.  So what’s wrong if they go out shopping on the day after Thanksgiving?  I could argue that the act of shopping on the day after Thanksgiving gives life to the phenomenon, and the more who shop on that particular day, the stronger the phenomenon gets.  This probably does not dissuade those who have no problem in a phenomenon that “saves them money” (which is a wonderful way to look at it, say the marketing and business leaders).  But what of the symbolism of the matter?  Of the reinforcement of the capitalist ideal, done by your shopping on capitalism’s holy day – the day when these businesses turn a profit for the year?

One who is interested in seeing the muting of the materialist consumer lifestyle and the hyper-capitalism it promotes (where every “sale” is simply a cost passed down onto someone else, such as the environment) ought not shop on Black Friday.  This day is the celebration of materialism, of buying the new and shiny, and every purchase goes towards reinforcing the ideals of both consumerism and capitalism.  Instead of increasing demand for new goods, why not buy used?  If concerned with the pocket-book, this makes sense.  If concerned about the environment, this makes sense.  I argue that we ought consume less every day of the year, but it makes a particularly strong statement if we do not shop on that day of the year when everything is “cheap” and our pantheon of deities, Best Buy et al, find their enticements ignored.


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