Enough With Black Friday Already
It’s the day after Thanksgiving again, and that means it’s time for this year’s spate of “Black Friday” horror stories as the retail sector and the media whip shoppers into a frothing frenzy and then profess to be shocked! shocked! as those shoppers proceed to fold, spindle and mutilate one another in a mad stampede to save fifteen cents.
The worst story so far this year comes out of Los Angeles, where a woman pepper-sprayed a crowd of people at a Walmart to get them out of the way so she could grab a discounted XBox. The police described her actions as “competitive shopping,” which is a strong candidate for Understatement of the Year. Twenty people, including children, are reported injured.
This would be bad enough if it were an isolated incident. But it isn’t. Every year we get a brace of stories about shopping riots on Black Friday. It’s a measure of how routine they have become that you can hear a story like the one above and be cheered that at least nobody died, unlike in 2008, when maintenance worker Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death by a mob of Black Friday shoppers.
When that happened, I actually thought it would be enough to convince the nation that it was time to rein the Black Friday nonsense in. But that turned out to be naïve of me; the occasional needless death, it seems, is just the cost of doing business. So Black Friday has continued to get even more out of control.
The latest development is the spilling-over of Black Friday sales into the Thanksgiving holiday itself. This year, several retail chains opened their doors Thursday night — at Walmart, for instance, they opened at 10 P.M. That’s depressing on two fronts — it brings crass commercialism roaring into what is supposed to be a moment of humility and grace, and it forces the people who work at those stores to forego time with their own families to stock shelves and staff checkout lines.
I don’t blame the shoppers for what Black Friday has become; as the New York Times notes, in an age of persistent underemployment and economic dislocation, the lure of deep discounts on popular items can be strong, even if the discounts are mostly illusory. The fault lies with the retailers, who launch massive advertising campaigns focused on “doorbusters” that encourage rowdy behavior, and with local media who breathlessly report on every detail of every sale, increasing the sense of Black Friday as an Event rather than just a dumb sales stunt.
Thanksgiving should be a time of reflection. So this year, before we put it behind us, let’s reflect on what it means that we, as a nation, are less concerned with each others’ safety, health and home lives than we are with doing whatever it takes to get an extra one percent off a flat screen TV. And maybe, while we’re at it, on what we can do next year to get our priorities back in order.