Why Black Friday will be the downfall of American civilization

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Much has been made of the bigger-is-better consumerism of American culture, with holiday cheer frequently overwhelmed by the associated commercialism of the moment: Christmas is merely a month-long shopping extravaganza, New Year’s is a huge intoxication fest, and Valentine’s Day is a celebration of all things chocolatey and floral. Basically.

Black Friday at Best Buy, Washington, DC
Black Friday at Best Buy, Washington, DC

But there’s one “holiday” that outshines them all. Even more than Christmas’ legendary departure from its allegedly religious roots, this one puts Giftmas to shame, existing only for the purchase of consumer goods, with no mushy sentimental nonsense going on in the background at all. It is Black Friday, and it has become Lord and Master of all rabidly ravenous retail revelry.

Christmas can only look on with envious self-pity, before retreating to its lair to wallow in defeated shame.

What’s a Black Friday?

For the international crowd that hasn’t yet been subjected to the trampling of human bones that is Black Friday (though it’ll come for you soon enough), it arrives in late November, on the day immediately after Thanksgiving, which is generally viewed as the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Retailers slash prices on certain items down to unprecedented levels, in an effort to bring shoppers in the door to spend as much of their cash as possible.

The holiday allegedly got its name from the fact that retailers do most of their business during the last few months of the year, during the holiday season; retailers were supposed losing money throughout the early part of the year (and were therefore “in the red”) but once Black Friday came around, they’d be “in the black,” and had nowhere to go but up, all the way through Christmas.

This story was probably made up, as the term existed long before, to describe the disaster it created for everyone involved. Alternative hypotheses claim it was just a matter of everyone calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving. Either way, the name has stuck.

Black Friday rush
Black Friday rush. Photo by Powhusku.

Nowadays, the pseudo-holiday is such a big deal that shoppers camp out in tents throughout the night, to reserve a place in line, and then rush into stores in massive herd-animal tidal waves to snag whichever consumer electronic device has piqued their interest this year.

And it has only grown bigger (and more violent) just about every year, with news networks regularly reporting on the brawls that break out between shoppers fighting over a new TV or whatever, while simultaneously mentioning how great of a deal it was, thus feeding the insatiable consumerist feeding frenzy in an endless cycle of manufactured urgency.

Some of the coverage is conversely sympathetic, or even instructive, detailing where to get the best deals, or offering tips on how to make it out alive. It’s potentially helpful, and the advice may very well be genuine in its aim of minimizing the awfulness; besides, some people just want to get a good deal on something they were already planning to buy anyway. But either way, they’re still building the hype, and Black Friday still wins.

But it’s also kind of a huge fraud. Plenty of other sales run throughout the year, and often the Black Friday discounting only applies to specific items, valid only for 24 hours; it’s merely a ploy to create the urgency that’ll get people into the door, where they’ll find themselves stuck in the middle of a crazed mob snatching away at everything in sight, prompting them to do the same. And, seemingly every year, someone ends up dead.

Black Friday at Target
“What’s the internet?”

None of these people seem to know what the internet is, and are repeatedly brainwashed into believing that online retailers wait to discount their merchandise until “Cyber Monday,” the Monday after Black Friday, which is just abject nonsense masquerading as shopping advice. Does anyone out there sincerely believe that the massive empires of online retail sit around and twiddle their thumbs and say to themselves, “Damn, if only there were some way to compete with stores slashing their prices to encourage consumer demand!” No, my friends and colleagues, they do not.

Each and every one of those shoppers could be sitting at home, drinking festively delicious and seasonally appropriate hot chocolatey beverages all day long, while the UPS delivery driver shows up at their door with their beloved Christmas presents, just like a real-life Santa Claus. Except this one gives you toys, even if you’ve been naughty.

So why would fully-grown adults devolve into a brawling morass of violent lunatics over a 30% discount on consumer electronics, you may ask? At first glance, you might think something is wrong with them. But the Black Friday ordeal is rooted in a single social problem, symptomatic of an entire society on the brink of collapsing in on itself.

Why Black Friday will be the downfall of American civilization

You know who camps out overnight in bone-chilling winter temperatures just to fight over $20 discounts on fancy new toys? Not rich people, that’s for sure.

Though Black Friday lunacy can partially be blamed on a consumer-driven society that encourages people to buy bigger, better, fancier things each year, none of these people would be out there in the cold or fighting over anything if they had twice as much disposable income. They’d probably be sitting at home, spending time with their families, waiting to go for a shopping trip whenever it was convenient. These are people with more time than money, which is why they spend several hours waiting in line for discounts.

This is also why boycotts are useless. It’s potentially true that shoppers don’t “need” any of those things, but they’re trying to live an enjoyable life, just like everyone else. They’re trying to make their lives more affordable, not less fun. No matter how widespread a boycott might be, discounts will still win; especially when people are in need of cost-saving measures, which has been the case for quite some time.

American income inequality since 1948
The 1% are even more of a 1% every year.

Thus Black Friday has gradually become a bigger, crazier event, seemingly every year, for the last decade or two; with American wages remaining stagnant for the last 20 or 30 years (while prices on just about everything have risen), it makes more and more sense for financially strapped shoppers to resort to this sort of semi-violent desperation, while the wealthier elite (including many of the people running the stores offering those discounts) sit at home, watching the craziness on TV, wondering what’s wrong with these people who fight over bargain bin sales, while simultaneously demanding their underling employees work overtime that day.

There’s perhaps no better microcosm of a morally bankrupt society; rich people slashing the wages of the middle class, decade after decade, amassing unprecedented wealth and political dominance, while the lower class of society (who often do most of the work that it takes to build those business empires) are literally killing each other to save just a bit of cash.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with the USA, but you don’t need to look much further to see just how wrong things are. And, with “voter ID” laws making headway all over the country, there’s nowhere for things to go but down. It might look bad now, but it’s probably going to get a whole lot worse.

Garment Workers Strike, Rochester, NY, 1913
This is a thing that used to happen…100 years ago.

If only there were some way to resolve this issue…some sort of tried-and-true solution, which could perhaps draw the right kind of attention to the issue…perhaps hard-working employees of major retail chains could form some sort of unified organization, some sort of “union,” if you will…which could then bargain with their employers for better working conditions, and compensation…perhaps opting not to work for several days or weeks, particularly during the busy holiday season, thus placing financial pressure on the owners, until those requests are respected…

If only, my friends and colleagues, if only. Though perhaps someday, we’ll see it happen, whenever the moment, ahem…strikes.

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