Black Friday Cometh

Or: Ready, Set, CONSUME.

Thanksgiving is upon us, which can only mean one thing – Black Friday is back, ready to blow your sanity to bits with door-buster deals. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bargain as much as anyone else, and have found myself wading through rabid crowds in the cold dawn more than I would care to admit. I don’t really take issue with Black Friday. The way in which it has usurped Thanksgiving and what that says about our culture is what I find problematic.

Look, a dead horse!

I’ve never been one for crowds, so perhaps that is the root of my general disdain for this holiday of consumerism. Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday since I was a child. I have all kinds of warm and fuzzy memories of giant family Thanksgiving meals long past. As an adult, more often than not, my wife and I host our families for Thanksgiving and enjoy the big meal and time spent as a family. The day drinking and early evening naps are nice too, but it’s mostly about family.

The post-meal tradition of dissecting sale ads is not unfamiliar in many households. People plot out their plan of attack, weigh the stress of braving the hoards against the potential savings, and determine what time they need to wake up in order to make it all happen. All of this is fine, and served as the pregame for our official ritual of transition from Thanksgiving into the frenzy of the Christmas season.

It was fine because it started on Friday morning. At some point in the recent past, stores began opening at three in the morning,  then two, then midnight. Fine, whatever, it’s still Friday and people are still (mostly) spending the day with family and/or loved ones.

Last year, some stores opened before many families had time to carve their turkey. Now people have to choose between spending their holiday with their family or standing in a line, waiting for the store to open and the riot shopping to begin.

It’s relatively well documented that many of the door-buster televisions and computers are made from sub-par or outdated materials specifically to be sold as a door buster deal. Yet people ignore this year after year, and choose a poorly made flatscreen instead of spending time with the family they were just giving thanks for.

The horrifying momentum that Black Friday has gained over the past decade can be credited to our obsession with possessions. We have developed a cultural need to feel special, and in the absence of any real evidence of how or why we are special, things will suffice.

Not only do we have a need to feel special, but we are now expected to show each other and our children how special they are. If we don’t have the newest and biggest and best, then we may not be special. We may not love ourselves or our families enough if we don’t or can’t provide all the ridiculous shit we think we need. This is unacceptable, so off we go to Best Buy or some other store to wait in line for several hours just to push, fight, and trample our way to the six door buster computers they have so we can feel better about ourselves.

The downturn in the economy means that nobody’s dollar goes nearly as far as it did a decade ago. Instead of accepting that the lifestyle we want is no longer within reach, we stretch our budgets and depend on crazy sales to provide the illusion of this lifestyle. If we don’t appear to be upper middle class, we might not be doing so well, which means we might not be special. We can’t afford the lifestyle we want, but we also can’t afford to acknowledge this fact.

We choose to validate ourselves through objects made of plastic and liquid crystals instead of looking for this in ourselves or our families. My family will be around tomorrow, and I can have dinner and be thankful for them then, but those $79 laptops are only here today.

So what if you can’t keep up with the Joneses?

Fuck the Jones Family, Mr. Jones probably has a gambling problem and they all hate each other. Stop quantifying your self-worth with material goods or by comparing yourself to others – it just doesn’t work. Establish realistic expectations for your own life based on your own abilities and be thankful for what you have.

That’s what Thanksgiving is all about, Charlie Brown.

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