Sunday, November 29, 2009


A horde descended on places of commerce recently, and though it wasn’t a plague of locusts or an invasion of zombies, it was no less destructive. Those who survived congratulated themselves on surviving, and also for finding seventy percent off deals that would be the envy of their friends (unless those friends got seventy-five percent off elsewhere).

In the wake of the event were store shelves torn from their moorings, disheveled stacks of slacks and sweaters, minor flesh wounds such as dislocated digits caused by tug-‘o-wars for electronic gizmos, and an abundance of lessons for the younger citizens on how not to behave. Watch the news tonight, kids, maybe you’ll see mama fighting for your Christmas gifts. I loooooove this time of year!

Welcome to the world of competitive shopping.

The term Black Friday has multiple origins, but nowadays it refers primarily to the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season. Stores used to mail print ads to bring shoppers out the day after Thanksgiving, and everything was going along normally, even in the midst of the capitalist machine.

Then, it went nuts. Stores started offering bigger discounts and nuttier hours. It wasn’t only a competition for those spending money they didn’t have, it became a rivalry between Toys R Dust and Best Byze. If one opened their doors at six a.m., another tried five. Four o’clock in the morning wasn’t unheard of, and was only surpassed by those willing to welcome customers at midnight before the turkey dinner was even digested.

Experts say this doesn’t increase sales, but it certainly makes for excitement. It shouldn’t be newsworthy, and yet there are the reporters and the cameras and, sadly, the coroners. On Black Friday ‘08, one unfortunate fellow was trampled in New York by a mob trying to enter a store where he was working, and two idiots shot themselves to death in California outside a store after fighting inside.

Okay, argue with me that the California lunacy wasn’t directly related to Black Friday, but hey, they were out in the crowded store, where stress was on sale right next to Disney Monopoly and cable knit sweaters. It could not have helped their mood. And you know, they might have been fighting over Transformer action figures. So there you go.

I deplore the mass hysteria and blame everyone involved, from the stores ill-equipped to deal with large crowds to the individuals who, together, become the large crowds, but I realize that the mass of people out shopping last Friday did so without calamity. Parking was difficult, lines were long, and frustration was likely simmering, but most shoppers probably expected it and dealt with it in an appropriate manner.

My son was out at midnight, with a friend who had money to spend. Kyle was low on funds, so he was just along for the ride. When he got home in the morning, he went to bed. Everything worked out. I stayed at home all day, didn’t spend a dime on anything, and everything worked out for me as well.

So next year, let the eager beavers rush out and spend their time and money as they see fit. Let the stores open early if they can find employees willing to work. And let us all keep our heads. Black Friday will always come to an end, and the TV economists will debate if it was a strong indicator for the retail sector, and I will still stay at home.

I have found a different event to celebrate for Turkey Day Friday, and that is called Buy Nothing Day. Proponents don’t advocate the end of the consumption-based economy, but they do say, “Hey, give yourself a break, don’t spend anything today and see how you feel!” To some degree it makes sense, because you do get to avoid a certain amount of the madness.

But my brother has a point when he says that folks on either side of the spectrum—to buy nothing or to buy everything in sight—are bombastic when they complain about their opposites. It is possible to be unpleasantly dogmatic about your position, and to skip over that whole “live and let live” philosophy. Which is odd in this supposed festive time of year.

To mock the housebound when standing in the checkout line, or to rant at the TV images of Black Friday shoppers from the comfort of your own home, is the same unpleasantness.

Either way, you destroy your soul in the process.

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