With Thanksgiving behind us, there is a crispy clean feeling in the air. The kind of feeling that can only mean one thing: time to start capitalizing on other people’s feelings of lack of self worth, to rake in boatloads of cash. Rea$on for the $ea$on, right? Well rally the troops and calibrate your reindeer-seeking missiles, because I’ve made a stunning turnaround in my thoughts about Black Friday mayhem.
Black Fri – day – noun – the overhyped, much maligned Day After Thanksgiving. A NY Times report from 1975 cites Philadelphia Police officers, frustrated by the congestion caused by shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving, derisively coining “Black Friday”. Retailers tried to rebrand it Big Friday” – didn’t stick. Then someone’s dad made up something about it meaning “in the black” and now that’s what it is.
For those of us who’d rather eat glass than be inside a store any time in the weeks before Christmas, the Black Friday experience is hard to understand. But I have come to see it not as some great scourge on society, but as another wacky American ritual, like Super Bowl Sunday, or arbitrarily moving our clocks back and forth, that we cling to in an effort t0o feel alive and connected.
Some of the more…” intense” scenes from Black Friday are reminiscent of a bustling ancient marketplace, maybe in Bangladesh – instead of dates and figs, it’s waffle irons and off-market toasters.
One day a year, the isolated, listless populace experiences an adrenaline surge and comes together en masse to participate in a competitive ritual, a sacred pre-Christmas tradition of lining up outside big box stores to snap up merch. Ordinary American people collectively participate in a ritual of their own making, with its own symbols and beliefs, experiencing that certain frisson that comes from simply being part of the crowd. It is part of their Thanksgiving tradition, and they’re going to endure lines and risk potential injury/death.
Black Friday is also the annual tradition where self satisfied liberals mock those who indulge in Black Friday sales events and use it to draw vague, sweeping conclusions about the gluttonous and déclassé behavior of the underclasses. Fighting over items which are non essential to ones own survival…. I’ll never understand it. Materialistic with no sense of proportion sure seems like a lot of work…but so what? Some people enjoy inane competition, and the participants of Black Friday do seem to enjoy themselves, much to the chagrin of their lofty critics (me). Black Friday for us elitist cosmopolitan types is for firing up our advices and admonitions and, from the safety of our cosy living rooms, tweet out witty aphorisms about those people and order our gifts full price on Amazon.
Us arugula eating libtards judge those unwittingly participating in retail bedlam and consumer psychosis for the purpose of something that feeds corporate megacorps and the occasional canned food drive to feed their underpaid, overworked employees. Self-satisfied, we sit back with our steaming mugs of organic, aromatic mulled wine and deride the unwashed masses because something something something, America. We deride them as “Chik-fil-A-stuffed scooterslobs” and “corn-syrup-chugging Hot Pockets monsters,” while stuffing our own faces with ethical foie gras and bemoaning our 4 foot walk to our Priuses, unconsciously morphing into future wheezing lard burdens on society ourselves. And suddenly we are Biblical scholars, self-righteously spouting passages from the Old Testament, “rich man and the eye of needle” yadayadayada “rendering unto Caesar”, etc. etc.
Black Friday for us family-loathing, Solstice-worshiping, uptight snarkmeisters in dire need of toxic pumpkin pie enemas followed by barium and eggnog chasers means feeling superior about abstaining from public capitalism for one day while the other folks run wild and free on pre-Christmas sales,which makes us feel, I’ll admit it, kind of left out.
This pagan shopping ritual seems to be a family affair – which, again, for me, is batshit insane but I also don’t think those who do it only do so only because they’re being brainwashed by commercials. They obviously think it’s fun and, maybe just want to save money. The broader critique of the stores themselves is lost in a gigantic manure pile of (tongue cluck) “how can these idiots do this to themselves??!!!”
Walmart broke Black Friday tradition by opening its shitty stores on Thanksgiving evening, their aggressive, yet sequential relentless promotional cadence, forever changing the mood of the intrepid holiday consumer. They killed the thrill. Now, to the dismay of everybody, participants behave in a civilized manner – an anthropological example of a successful, mostly self-mediated cultural event (you can’t have such large communal rituals without a few accidents). Oh, people still beelined for the holiday home electronics merch, snapping up products by Panasonikx and Last Year’s abused floor model JVCong Toxic Abused Floor Model Betamax Player, they just didn’t kill each other in a stampede or even pepper spray each other in frantic hunts for waffle irons. People shopped – in dare I say it – a more genteel manner, they calmed the fuck down.
In the old days, we adhered to strict, family imposed “traditions”. For us, Christmas eve was at the German grandparents house, with traditional cornucopias and marzipan. On Christmas morning we were ONLY permitted to open our stocking before the parents got up. The thrilling pile of tree gifts happened later, and this was inscribed on stone tablets somewhere. What’s more, we were to open them one at a time, ve-ry, slow-ly, like the Queen laying wreaths at the Cenotaph. Our cousins, on the other hand, were in the enviable position of being allowed to spring out of bed and rip the whole lot open in a shrieking frenzy of acquisition. Some of my fondest memories involve engaging in annual holiday rituals, such as shlepping to Wanamaker’s to kickoff Christmas shopping season.
American department stores have always been engaged in the wholesome, Christian practice of over-commercializing “Black Friday”, it just used to be spread out over 3 weeks. It was the stores’ shrewd marketing ploy that started the ritual by holding their own sponsored “Santa Claus parades” on Thanksgiving day. When Santa pulled up in his sleigh, it signaled at the end of the parade and, more importantly, the beginning of the shopping season. It was one of our “traditions” to get up at the crack of dawn and pile on the snow pants and schlep to the Wanamaker’s parade route. Our Santa letters were collected by “mailmen” aka store employees.
In this remorselessly restless age, traditions have petered out, even for those of us raised on steadfast traditions that taught us how to learn from history and from our relatives, to care for our community, respect our elders and appreciate the simple enjoyments that require engagement, Modern parents have got to be the least sentimental people on the planet. They drive their kiddos to a fro various activities in some peripatetic manner, but seem blind and deaf to the idea of reliable family traditions. Then they wonder why their kids need Adderral.
So, listening to BF shoppers describe the event as a bonding experience, kids scrambling out of bed at 5AM – not to go watch a parade, but to go to Kmart, but whatever – to hang out, eat snacks and share stories while the wait in line, trying to eke out a good time, is, in its own weird way, what Thanksgiving was always all about – the big picture is what families “do” together, with one another and with friends and relatives in their communities. It’s the reliable family traditions that make this season special, period.
Abe Lincoln invented Thanksgiving to be a simple display of oldsey-timesy domestic ideals, i.e. eating, and the “blessings of American nationhood” – what better way to celebrate this than filling our Mega stores, those gluttony-inviting altars to America’s national prosperity and abundance? Indeed, modern Americans, like true world conquerors, celebrate their abundance by eating in abundance and shopping in abundance. Herculean men and women, traversing a large expanse, fighting and clawing for goods, in simulated combat. Excessive gluttony and mock gladiatorial violence! Now that, Charlie Brown, is what American freedom is all about.
So let us all give thanks that we DO live in a godless society of filthy consumers, and celebrate this orgy of Western consumerism and treat it as a unifying experience. It’s not about genealogy or family so much as the annual ritual of greed, envy and lust-driven consumerism in celebration of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 by the New England Pilgrims and their Wampanoag Indian neighbors. It’s about being happy that we’re still here in this wonderful country of ours where we are free to eat ourselves into a state of a postprandial somnolence, our eyeballs fused to a 400-inch plasma screen or our asses in line at Walmart at 5AM – or goddamn it even Thanksgiving afternoon if we feel like it.
Anyhoo, Black Friday will soon be something that we recall fondly, in wheezing voices, to our grandchildren,
“I don’t know if this happened because no one had money so sales were very important, or if no one realized that no one had money so buying things, no matter the cost, it was still very important…..”
…because these heady days of camping out all night to purchase $5 DVD players will soon be over, and not because solid state media is already completely obsolete, but because in 5 – 7 years, Amazon will be delivering our merch to our doorsteps with drones.