HAVE you noticed that we no longer rely on religious leaders and pompous politicians to define our special occasions? That’s why, less than a fortnight after Remembrance Day, North Americans celebrate “Black Friday.”
Never heard of it? It’s got nothing to do with Black History Month (February) or the release of anything new in the Twilight or Harry Potter series (weekly). It’s not even related to the imminent marriage of Prince William, which has crushed into ashes the smoldering dreams of young ladies everywhere. And no, Poindexter, Black Friday no longer popularly refers to the stock market crashes of 1869 or 1929. Get back to your PBS marathon.
Rather, Black Friday is the day that falls right after American Thanksgiving – or, as Americans call it, “Thanksgiving.” It’s supposed to be the moment when companies’ books move from deficits (red) to profits (black). The New York Times has described it as a “carnival of capitalism.”
The earthier Urban Dictionary, one of those democratic, online info sources where any old Grinch can weigh in, sums it up as that date when stores “open at the a--crack of dawn to start Christmas sales.” One commie wise-guy contributor calls Black Friday a “holy day of obligation to the Church of the Almighty Dollar.”
Although Black Friday is not an official day off in the U.S., many Americans extend the Thursday holiday into a long weekend. Thus, Thanksgiving turns overnight into Thanksgetting.
The concept of Black Friday appears to have a special potency now, when roping U.S. citizens into the aisles of commerce is a challenge. Mind you, as Times economic correspondent Peter S. Goodman wrote in 2008, “American business has long excelled at creating a sense of shortage amid abundance, an anxiety that one must act now or miss out.”
The event gets mixed reviews, especially from people who work in retail. One bitter Urban Dictionary source describes it as “the day when all you f---ing consumers make my life as a salesmen (sic) a living hell. middle aged mothers have been known to kill to get the last of an item.”
Indeed, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of “goodwill to all men” involved in Black Friday. The focus is on big-ticket items like flat-screen televisions and MP3 players.
Stores generally have a limited number of highly discounted stock on offer, so they can practice the ol’ bait’n’switch. But some shoppers can’t abide by such tactics. One Walmart temp in Valley Stream, N.Y. was trampled to death by ravenous bargain-hunters in 2008. There were many other fights reported at the company’s outlets nation-wide.
That same year, the Times reported that at one Ohio store, a 19-year-old woman leapt onto a man’s back and pounded his shoulders because he was trying to buy an $800 TV, on which she felt she had dibs. She got an elbow to the face for her pains, but still expressed triumph over her $200 discount. ‘“That’s right,” she cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”’
With that kind of excitement, it’s no wonder that on November 10 of 2009, the Times’ business section devoted an article to retailers’ plans for crowd control. Walmart’s solution to avoid chaos was to open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning and stay that way for 24 hours. Other stores apparently welcomed shoppers at midnight on Thanksgiving, some of them handing out treats to those who arrived early.
The sense that this is a momentous annual occasion is further encouraged by websites like www.theblackfriday.com, which excitedly post the Black Friday ads of major chains, sometimes as “leaks.” Online, there’s also Coupon Sherpa, which offers tips on how to fully exploit the Black Friday experience. One of last year’s recommendations: Hitch a ride.
“Parking on Black Friday is a nightmare and can waste precious time,” Coupon Sherpa counseled. “This is one instance, however, when biking or taking the bus doesn’t make sense as your arms will be weighed down with packages at the end of the day.”
This year, Coupon Sherpa is even more aggressive, characterizing its advice as “Black Friday boot camp” and itemizing its suggestions using army lingo. “Ten hup, Black Friday mall maggots,” the website orders. “It’s time to get those boots on the ground for some serious shopping. Now grab a cart and shove … and push … and reach … OWN that register!”
This November 26, plenty of Americans will fall in with their comrades and try to massacre their Christmas lists. On the other hand, they might simply surrender. After all, Black Friday also happens to be Buy Nothing Day.
B.N.D. is a “24-hour moratorium on consumer spending” founded by Vancouverite Ted Dave and advocated by Adbusters, the “journal of the mental environment.” Not only are we asked not to purchase anything, we’re supposed to park our cars, turn out our lights, and turn off our TVs and other “nonessential” appliances, including phones and computers.
There are “meetups” scheduled all over the Lower Mainland on Nov. 26, including in North Vancouver, as part of an activist-led “Carnivalesque Rebellion” that aims to “shut down consumer capitalism for a week.”
The Adbusters website advises that “On Nov 26 from sunrise to sunset we will abstain en masse -- not only from holiday shopping, but from all the temptations of our five-planet lifestyles.” (Wait a second – there are five planets?)
Naturally, an apparently nameless leftier than thou group has objected to this idea, on the basis that it was invented by the bourgeoisie and fails to acknowledge that buying things is not an option for poor people around the world. In 1999, this Montreal-based group of “anarcho-situationists” kicked off Steal Something Day, which it claimed was more participation oriented because it recommended stealing from our capitalist oppressors instead of simply not buying from them. Of course, the notion that some of the anarcho-situationists might get stolen from themselves didn’t come up.
“Stealing is the re-distribution of wealth from rich to poor,” said their news release, which parsed the difference between stealing, which is “just,” and theft, which is “exploitative.”
Maybe the logic works in French, but frankly, I stopped shoplifting caramels in grade five. I also won’t be heading stateside to trample any Walmart greeters en route to my dream iPod.
I suppose that on Nov. 26, I’ll just try to buy nothing, in moderation. In other words, I’ll celebrate my usual Beige Friday.