Why Black Friday will be the downfall of American civilization

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.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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16 Comments on “Why Black Friday will be the downfall of American civilization”

  1. I’m in Peru right now, thank heaven I got to miss out on the sacrifices to the gods of consumerism.

    I have to say “thus feeding the insatiable consumerist feeding frenzy in an endless cycle of manufactured urgency.” was one of the best phrased sentences I’ve read in quite a while. Really sums up the problem with the whole shopping madness.

    Before I started traveling I went online and found travel gear, like my backpack, shoes, pants, socks, the Airism boxers you recommend and even my laptop for up to 60% off. I didn’t even once think “Oh maybe I should wait for a sale.” I would just google Whatever website I was on+Discount code, or coupon and I would find one half the time.

    I think it’s gonna be a little while before the collective delusion that is American consumerism comes crashing down, but I do think people will realize sometime in the next few decades that it’s unsustainable and shit will hit the fan.

    1. I like putting sentences together like a 10 year old soon-to-be engineer likes building with Legos. And yes, I just can’t imagine why these people don’t just look online…there are people out there who literally don’t know that you can find whatever you want from all sorts of digital stores. Oh well.

  2. I own a retail store and I refuse to follow the Black Friday Sales plot and promote consumerism. Its just greed and where there is a will it can be stopped!

  3. I don’t disagree with the premise of your argument. Consumerism has run amok.

    Black Friday is one of many ills of the US – political gridlock, inequalities exposed by Ferguson, etc.

    But America still kicks ass in many ways. And any American can opt out of Black Friday (and all of Xmas bs) by announcing they won’t be buying any (or fewer) presents and demand that they receive none (or fewer) in return.

    Just because many among us are nuts, doesn’t mean we have to be.

  4. FYI, soon-to-be-engineers start using Legos at age 5.
    I think the true issue is the lack of restraint among the public. We have far more material goods than our parents, and far, far, far more goods than our grandparents. Do people really need a specialized chopper or dicer? Do you “need” the latest iPhone when your current phone still works? Part of the problem is that TV sit-coms represent people with a 40k a year salary living at a 100k a year salary. Then everyone tries to keep up with the non-existent TV Joneses. People fail to “act their wage” and then incur debt. We may blame corporate bosses for limited wages for basic living costs, but please don’t blame them for Black Friday. No one “needs” a TV to live.
    There’s only one solution to the madness – don’t participate. You don’t have to buy gifts for everyone you know. You don’t need a $300 gift for each member of your family. Let’s face it – a less expensive gift selected with that person in mind shows that you are truly thinking of them. If you’ve already established a warm human connection there’s no need to bribe them with expensive gifts.

    1. Oddly enough I did actually write 5 year old at first, then switched it to 10 year old, because my Lego abilities at age 5 consisted of little more than using the little Lego people as action figures. I suppose mini-engineers would achieve more.

      And yes, it’s “our” fault as well. People don’t need new TVs, though I did want to mention the people who were just looking for sales on items they were already planning to buy anyway. Some of the shoppers are just trying to be frugal while buying practical things, inside the mob of crazy people devouring impulse buy items.

      You also bring up a good point with the income situation; people have all sorts of misconceptions about what “normal” income is, and my biggest pet peeve is people in the 1% who flagrantly deny they are part of the 1%, because they think it’s only billionaires up there.

      1. At age 5 I was taking apart clocks and putting them together. I still struggle to write a coherent sentence.
        I hear you with the 1% but also struggle with the cries of the 99%. After working in Africa I’ve realived that most of the 99% would be in the 1-3% world wide. I now have a sign in my kitchen that states “Other people are happy with less than what you have.” We live in excess but don’t realize the extent of it.

  5. US wont be alone. I got back from London today – Black Friday was all the rage there last week. And my mom told me that Moscow was the same. Consumerism has gone global to unprecedented levels. We’re screwed :)

    1. Yup, the BBC just mentioned the other day that the crazy fights have made it to the UK as well. I expect other countries might do it at different times of the year, depending on whether they do Christmas or not, but they’ll all borrow the same marketing techniques and apply it to their region.

  6. Minimalism rules here. Another minimalist grandma and I played Drunken Scrabble on Black Friday, which is as it should be. The last time I shopped on Black Friday I broke an ankle. So, my six granddaughters will all get some handmade dollhouse miniatures, and everybody else will get advice. Merry Christmas!

  7. I’m British and I’m amazed that Black Friday has reared it’s ugly head in England. I mean, most people don’t even know what it’sall about. It’s certainly not shopping!

    I now live in Germany although Black Friday is creeping over here too but it’s not really catching on because of the strong laws. Sunday shopping is not allowed and only on certain weekends. Thank goodness! I think its culuturally because Germans are more careful with the way they spend their money and the German Christmas Market is still good and strong. I mean, why would you go to the shops when you can have mulled wine and sausages!

    1. It’s weird that spending money on food and drink somehow seems like a good idea, whereas spending money on a TV sounds like consumerism, but somehow, it’s still true. Particularly if it’s done with friends. Which, of course, enhances TV as well, but…oh well. Buy experiences, not things.

      1. Absolutely! If we’re all encountering the experience together. With friends and family. Why not? It’s more sustainable too as local products can be bought from local people as the market is less a “consumption” thing and more a “community” thing.

  8. I worked in big-box retail for 25 years and am still surprised by the crazy people that storm the stores so early in the morning. The funny thing was, the sales on Black Friday were not actually any better than any other time of year, they were just marketed more.

    Also, I am continually amazed that no one has unionized retail workers. If any industry needs a union, it’s retail.

  9. On every Black Friday if I want to buy something cheap but valuable, I wait until the online version of the website is ready for orders.
    I never rush the stores, I think I can buy the same products online without wresting with others.

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