Our Black Friday, Ourselves

by robinhardwick

I think all (many?) of us can all agree that the concept of Black Friday is a gross representation of everything we hate about consumption, the human spirit and the Waltons. I’ll spare you the lit review, but there have been lots written about how you’re not even getting good deals, it forces retail employees to work on Thanksgiving, and well, you know, PEOPLE HAVE DIED. There’s also a lot of blame being thrown around, at both the stores for perpetuating this, and for the people who are camping out and rushing into the stores and ripping out someone’s pacemaker to get a $20 toaster.

I know, I’m preaching to the choir. But social phenomena such as this are so fascinating, as it is like a snake biting its own tail. Where does it start? Who can end it? I want to challenge some assumptions around people’s disdain for Black Friday shoppers/stores. I’m not even sure if I can get behind these assumptions, mind you, but bringing up these points can really put a zing in the rest of your visit with family.

1. Why do we assume that everyone wants to take off on Thanksgiving? Having holidays off is a very white collar idea, in which it assumes everyone works at a corporation with stable benefits and company policies. Someone may want to the opportunity to earn more money. I am sure they are not thrilled about working Black Friday, but it may be better than not working. And let’s not pretend that if they are not working, everyone in America will be sitting down to a gluttonous meal with extended family?

2. I can’t claim to know every reason of every single person who shops on Black Friday, but I can say that the class structure in America has something to do with it. For people that live below the poverty line, these deals may be too enticing to leave. The poor deserve happiness and the ability to own things as much as anyone else. It’s gross and ignorant to call everyone selfish and materialistic; for someone who could not afford a thirty inch tv, what sort of “self-control” should they exhibit anytime the opportunity to own something they want? Do the fortunate always exercise self-control over a gadget they want but don’t need?

3. Calling stores “greedy” is also a bit misinformed. Let’s face it, stores are a business. And business is interrelated with competition. We cannot exactly blame stores for wanting to make their business succeed. If the government suddenly decreed that no business is allowed to open before 9am on Friday, we’d all probably be ok and no one would be trampled, but that is not how private businesses work, and in fact, if the government did make that decree, people would be up in arms. So, say, for example, the local greeting card shop really wants to be closed on Christmas. But, the greeting card shop around the corner decides to be open that day, so the original greeting card shop then needs to be open in order to be a worthy competitor. Sure, the first place could be closed out of the goodness of their damn hearts, but that is not how business works.

4. There’s also the fear of missing out, as these stores make these early openings a fun event worthy of an experience, not just the merchandise. I’m going to conjure up some knowledge from my B.A. in psychology: get a whole bunch of people together, and a collective mentality forms; individual free will is vastly compromised. See the video below: the guards try to have people enter in an orderly fashion, but a few people decide to break down the gate. Suddenly, more follow suit and it’s almost as if the individuals have no choice. I’m not saying that these people are not personally responsible for actions, but I’d challenge anyone to be in that situation and stand their ground and yell “hey everyone! let’s all stay orderly and in line!”.

How do we stop these gross displays of Black Friday mayhem? I don’t really know. I think it is a reflection of the current state of advertising and influence, as well as the basic tenents of human behavior. What we can do is stop sitting so smugly behind our computers feeling superior because we are at our home and not running like a maniac through a Walmart. It’s just more complicated than that.