November 20, 2012

Black Friday


Can we talk about America?

No, don’t fret. I won’t go anywhere near the election, at least not intentionally.

No, I’d like to discuss something else entirely American. A day which is quickly becoming lumped into the broader “holiday season” wherein millions make sacrifices to the golden calf of retail consumerism, spilling both blood and gold at the altars of Big Box Temples nationwide.

Yes, this will be one of those posts.

As we head into the week of Thanksgiving, it’s not unusual to see posts such as these, people commenting on the temporary madness that overwhelms these overstuffed and overtired American citizens as they fight tooth and nail for a quick $50 savings on toys or electronics. Yet, as an ardent hater of the actions which have become synonymous with the day after Thanksgiving, I am still given to question aloud: “Why oh why aren’t we better people?”

The hypocrisy of this day, this “Black Friday,” (an apt title if ever I heard one) is not lost on me. Thanksgiving is an untouchable holiday. There aren’t any religious origins to misconstrue or get bent out of shape about, no arguments about what it’s supposed to be called, (It’s Thanksgiving in this house, not T-Day, dammit!) and overall celebrates a trait everyone could use a little more of. Now, while I do agree that the typical, modern-American way of celebrating this holiday is a little different from Thanksgivings past, I believe the root of the holiday is simple, straightforward, and overall good for humanity.

But to wake up only hours later, standing in the pitch black like zombies only capable of monosyllabic utterances (SAAAAALE!) completely negates any good promoted the day before.

My wacky sister first introduced me to the idea of this retail madness years ago whilst I was still living under my parents roof.

“It’s great people watching!” she said, telling the entire family about one retail chain who would open their doors at 5 AM (a late start these days) and began moving as much product as they could to a gluttonous and overzealous herd of mildly insane shoppers. “Plus, you can save a few extra bucks,” continued my sister as our family dined on a delicious home cooked meal. She invited us all to go, and if my memory serves, no one did.

Years later, I became a working member of the retail masses, for whom the words “Black Friday” illicit the same response as “MacBeth” does from actors or “Bill Buckner” from fans of the Boston Red Sox.

I worked as a barista for many years and had to endure more than one day after Thanksgiving day of work, and I will never do it again. I saw customers on both sides of this madness, going into and coming from what I not-so affectionately refer to as the “battle zone.” Going in, these customers looked resilient, ready for a fight; And if they weren’t, they knew to put on a brave face. Anything less than intimidating won’t get you one of those crockpots you think your aunt might want. Coming in from the cold, sobering realization of the utter darkness of a humanity left unchecked, these people looked battle worn and weary, like they had seen the Other side of something and were worse for the wear. I half expected them to grab me by the shoulders and say, “If you only knew what’s happening out there! Don’t you ever leave here, stay hunkered down until they all leave! They’re monsters!”

Now, just like the pox this day has become, it will even spread into our untouchable, sacred Thanksgiving holiday. Some of the biggest retailers, the Kmarts, the Targets, the Walmarts of the world, will begin their sales at 8 PM on Thanksgiving Day. One would certainly hope that this move would prevent some of these long lines, the dangerous situations, these murderous retail zealots from taking on a mob mentality, ensuring a safer experience for all. However, crazy is as crazy does, as my mother always said. (She never said that.)

There are those out there who are honestly enticed by the promise of paying less. These are the puritans of this consumerism religion. Then there are those who just want, who so desperately want someone to challenge them over the last e-reader, the last stuffed toy, the last $200 laptop that will inevitably be used to look at cheap, amateur porn.

These are the same people who will refuse to let a merging car onto the highway. They get off on confrontation. These are the zealots, the extremists.

People die on the day after Thanksgiving, and not just because it’s another day and we can say that about any other day on our calendar.

These people aren’t dying to protect their family or fight for a cause they believe in. They aren’t dying to make this world a better place, to maybe one day give their family and loved ones something to be thankful for. No, they’re dying because some store somewhere was selling $5 DVDs, because if they were one of the first 100 in line, they’d receive a special “door buster” prize or first dibs to a piece of electronics they’d probably never buy under any other circumstance.

When I worked for this particular coffee chain, I’d sometimes have to work on holidays, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. And without fail, I’d have more than one customer ask me the same question: “It seems a shame that you have to work today…why are you guys even open?”

And while I never allowed myself to be so impolite, my first internal answer was always:

“Well, you’re here, aren’t you?”

A church is filled with all types of believers, but no matter who packs the building, the minister will always have to be in attendance. No matter their intention, if people are willing to shop at 8 PM on Thanksgiving Day, employees will also have to be there, away from their families to earn, at best, time and a half pay.

People die on the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, I’d wager a guess that the number of deaths at retail establishments on the last Friday in November has been growing over the past 15 years. Many have questioned why we allow ourselves to get so worked up over saving so little cash, how we as a society can celebrate being thankful for what we have one day only to scratch and claw at others to fill our oversized SUVs the next. The idea, the notion, the very concept of this “holiday” is completely asinine.

Like many others, I am left wondering why so many of these stores even bother to participate in this madness.

The answer is clear: “You’re here, aren’t you?”

Image Credit: Photos.com

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