Somewhere in between the cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, we Americans heard the calls of the Macy’s parade commercial breaks. The relaxation of family, food fixing and stuffed tummies let out a long fart on the morning of Friday, November 23; America, with its belt loosened and toothpick resting at the corner of the lips, gazed ahead at the bright red Target sign of Windy Acres subdivision.
“I ate my weight in food today,” said Aunt Liz, as she hobbled off to her side of the Chevy Trailblazer. Uncle Bill added, “And then some” as he slid into the driver’s seat, breathing hot air into his fists. “She’s got a big day tomorrow.”
It’s still dark, but excitement is in the air. A familiar narrative, Thanksgiving was a day to look forward to Black Friday over starch and meat, and Black Friday is a day to look forward to Christmas over idling SUVs and bags full of dreams. With all of this looking ahead, we forgot where we were standing. Resembling Astro Turf just two months ago, the treeless lawn is now covered in ice and leaves, and will soon be occupied by an inflatable Santa. The local store over the hill doesn’t open until 9 AM, and those Christmas trees they’ll have soon get sap all over the place. Still though, they’re ok, but Target will have artificial trees marked 50% off this morning. They’re perfectly symmetrical, too. Why go from cumbersome to practical when we can skip right to convenient?
A “morning-after pill” for the day we give “thanks,” Black Friday appears as the antithesis of food sharing and relaxed conversation. A simple YouTube search reveals behavior akin to throwing raw meat to wolves. Fights erupt over clothing and gadgets, which brings to mind what would happen if rations were dropped during a food crisis. Even though videos show the extreme side to Black Friday, there’s an apparent lack of dignity to it all. The sights and sounds of humans herding together for deals reveal a sort of desperation for a “happy,” “ideal” holiday season.
Anti-consumerist factions have participated in Buy Nothing Day as an answer to the madness. Some have “zombie walks,” where zombies aimlessly walk around store grounds with shopping carts. There have been ad pushes by groups like Adbusters to get the anti-consumerist word out, largely to no avail. Shoppers simply don’t want to hear it from those they perceive as grouches who have nothing better to do than pontificate about mindless consumerism. Bah humbug! Big media largely denies any ad space.
The problem is that Buy Nothing Day is based in a negative position, and when taken in consideration, creates a vacuum that needs to be filled. Of course, movements for buying from local establishments are growing, but the mere purchase of goods in a new way isn’t going to fill the void left by non-Black Friday madness. Material goods aren’t inherently bad or good, but resting the holidays on them can only move us further and further toward the cliff of insanity. It’s going to be a matter of looking at why we consume at big box retailers in this herding fashion, what consumerism isn’t, and work from there. It will also take accounting for financial dilemmas and time availability, considering Americans largely work long hours for low pay and ever-decreasing benefits.
Many of us know what’s-her-face who rises at 3 AM for the craziness – she tends to load the car with her close friends and family to join the crowds. Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D. cites a study in her article for Psychology Today:
“Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, is a “collective consumption ritual”, according to Thomas and Peters (2011). Over two years, the researchers interviewed ‘experienced’ Black Friday shoppers. Through 38 qualitative interviews, the researchers found four themes:
- Familial bonding (multiple generations and close friends)
- Strategic planning
- The great race
- Mission accomplished
The authors wrote that ‘the themes coalesced around a military metaphor’, and is a bonding activity Shoppers prepare for the ritual by scanning Black Friday ads, and they map out their strategy.”
That same “military metaphor” can be used when addicts bond together to scour the city for meth like special ops looking for Osama bin Laden (although, the “strategic planning” phase may resemble more of a glassy-eyed freakout).
The point is, Black Friday is far more than just shopping – it’s becoming a national pastime of bonding over hyper-consumption. Visiting local Annie’s Handmade Knitwear isn’t likely to quell the fervor.
So what are the answers to this? It’s hard to tell, but there are a lot of creative, bright people out there who embrace DIY ethics. Those very people are the ones to pay attention to, support and work with.
Creativity > Consumption.