Black Friday’s True Blackness

The “business model” has triumphed again.  Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, a holiday first officially celebrated in the entire United States on the last Thursday of November as a result of a Presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln in 1863, and then moved to the fourth Thursday of the month by Franklin Roosevelt, in order to give the country an economic lift. Little did Roosevelt know what he started.

This year, from Wal-Mart on – or up – retailers across the United States invaded Thanksgiving with “Black Friday” specials on Thanksgiving Day itself.  Oh, there were Wal-Mart employees protesting at hundreds of stores, but the shoppers largely ignored them and surged into stores, greedily grabbing whatever specials they could find.  From my antediluvian viewpoint, the invasion of Thanksgiving by rampant commercialism signifies, in both a metaphorical and practical sense, that the majority of Americans have become totally unaware of how fortunate we are as a society.  Can we not set aside a single day out of the entire year in which to consider and reflect on those aspects of life for which we are grateful?

Last year, at this time, I cited a short story by Frederick Pohl called “Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus,” published in 1956 and set in a future where the “Christmas season” begins in September, and I wondered how long it would be before Halloween and Christmas squeezed out Thanksgiving.  Based on the blizzard of ads in my newspapers – more than fifty separate ad sections – on Thanksgiving day itself and the media hype of Black Friday beginning on Thanksgiving, it appears as though the original purpose of Thanksgiving has already been all but lost to the “ecstasy of unbridled avarice,” to steal a quote from another Christmas staple.

Then again, perhaps people who cannot maintain a Thanksgiving tradition deserve exactly what they are getting from the businesses who push Black Friday – lots of cheap goods produced all too often in third world sweatshops by people who have little to thank anyone for, fewer and fewer good American jobs…and more than a few business leaders who insist that paying lower tax rates than their underpaid employees is necessary for jobs creation.

13 thoughts on “Black Friday’s True Blackness”

  1. JakeB says:

    I was pleased that I managed to get through Friday without buying anything more than a couple bottles of wine at my local merchant. I was also deeply pleased to have a chance to sleep in.
    I find this Black Friday business to be extremely disturbing. It seems like a kind of spreading national psychosis. There’s nothing better to do with the day than spending it crowded into shops with thousands of other crazed folks?

  2. Steve says:

    Although I am sure there are people to whom gratitude comes easily, I believe that most need to learn to be grateful. It is more common or natural to be selfish.

    In the past people have learned gratitude from their parents or as a part of religious instruction. Today many parents lack either the time or the desire to teach gratitude. Participation in organized religion is plummeting and the public education curriculum does not make space for thankfulness.

    Do you think that there is a way for society to become more grateful and less envious without a religious revival? Are we irreparably damaged by our loss of faith? Are Oprah and an army of therapists to be society’s moral compass?

  3. Those are good questions. I don’t think gratitude and an appreciation of what we do have is inextricably tied to religion, but what religion does do is remind people that they’re not the center of the universe. A period of true hard times, like the Great Depression, where people actually suffered near-starvation, or the threat of it, also has a tendency to remind people of the important things in life. So do wars that affect a significant proportion of the population, unlike the present where less than 1 in 100 Americans have actually served. I’m certainly not wishing these on anyone, but gratitude tends to be forgotten when there’s always some sort of food on the table and when millions of lives aren’t in danger of starving or dying… especially when we live in a “now” culture with little understanding of the past or history in general.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      “what religion does do is remind people that they’re not the center of the universe”

      I agree, but there’s a fine irony that the religious hierarchy (as contrasted with private individual practice of beliefs!) once gave Galileo quite a bit of grief on that topic. Which is not to say that Galileo might not have been thoroughly obnoxious…

  4. Emily says:

    Those of us without religious beliefs (or an adherence to a particular religion) can and are still grateful for many things in our lives. My own past personal experiences of loss or deprivation of societal “luxuries” have ensured that I look at what I have differently now than I did years ago, when I was following a religion. I have a deeper appreciation for my rights here in the US, and for those things which I have truly sacrificed and worked hard to get. As for the Wal-Mart Black Friday shoppers, I am sure that many of them are in the percentage of Americans that say they have religious beliefs, I just think that their religion comes to them much as their BF sale products do… cheap, easy, mass produced and popular to fit the desire of the majority of the population.

    And for the record, I worked on BF. My office is open on the holidays, and unless we take the day as vacation, then you work. No BF shopping for me. Oddly enough though that the city offices were closed for holiday not just on Thanksgiving, but also on the day after… Black Friday is a holiday worthy of shutting down all city administration?

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Of course, it _is_ possible to believe in a “particular religion” without accepting “easy, mass produced” answers.

      But how many people actually want to _practice_ mercy (rather than just receive it) or behave as if accountable to a higher standard than their own gratification? How many people want to consider the cost of living their beliefs, rather than just associate themselves with a label and feel they’ve done their part?

      (all of which that does not involve e.g. refraining from violence or theft should not be enforced by government, but should be PRIVATE practice of virtue, or it isn’t virtue at all)

  5. Ryan Jackson says:

    While there is absolutely an issue of people losing sight of being thankful for what they have I do want to put one side thought out regarding this.

    Days, ideas, words, they mean what people say they mean. For my family Christmas hasn’t been December 25th for about a decade. Due to time constraints and other situations we tend to celbrate Christmas either early December or in January. The day still holds the same significance for all that it’s not on a specific calendar point. I’d argue the same for any holiday. Holidays are on their specific days because someone in the past put them there. Christmas and Easter were set as they are to cover up and hide older traditions with the advent of Christianity. Thanksgiving was set to help the economy. Their dates are completely irrelevent to what they mean.

    The fact is that Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday of the month, but I’d argue the truth is that Thanksgiving is any worthwhile day where you and your loved ones get together and reflect on what you have and where you stand in the world.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Yes, anything worth celebrating can be observed any time people agree to and have the will (and ability) to do so.

      Labels are worthless. Or not – as long as they’re just a starting point: a question, rather than an answer.

  6. Kyle R. says:

    From my viewpoint, “the invasion of Thanksgiving by rampant commercialism” signifies not that Americans have become totally unaware of how fortunate we are, but that American businesses expect a lot of money to change hands when people can purchase goods at bargain prices, and that those businesses have paid great sums for an even greater expected return on the sale of their advertised wares.

    And isn’t this market mechanism largely the means through which we have become as fortunate a society as we are? Citizens came out in large numbers (relatively speaking) to buy the model T because it was cheap. Video cassette recorders became ubiquitous items in American homes (or on the Consumer Price Index) after production costs lowered enough to allow them to be priced affordably. It is a fact that we enjoy as much material fortune as we do because businesses have figured out how to produce things we want (or will want) for a low enough price to sell them.

    Of course there are other reasons for America’s good fortune, and I think you’re right, in the main, to expect people to take time in their lives to reflect upon, for example, our heritage of peaceful transfer of power, our Constitution, the greater or lesser familial and social gifts we enjoy.

    We have some choice too, when it comes to advertising inundation. Whether or not you face the onslaught of commercial advertising through media depends largely on how often you consume commercially-subsidized media. You mention the newspaper, for instance. Clearly the subscription fee you pay does not cover all of the costs of producing that paper, so it’s publishers must seek revenue elsewhere, hence ads.

    Friends of mine, and family members as well did go shopping on Thanksgiving night or Black Friday…but they did not spend two days under a tent in front of Best Buy. They were celebrating the holiday with loved ones for the better part of the day, and ventured out afterwards, or the next day, for a few particular items. I would be surprised, and disappointed with you, to learn that reliable statistics show that those who really binged on shopping over that ~48 hour span were a numerical majority of the country.

    And even for those who did things I will not even contemplate, like sleeping in a parking lot for two days for a TV at 25% of MSRP, are we to assume that, for them, the time spent researching deals, laying out store maps, preparing for the wait, actually waiting in line, chatting with others, was not a meaningful way to celebrate the public holiday? Could just be different strokes, right? The only people I know who’ve ever spent an entire day in contemplation are quite religious, or theoreticians of some flavor.

    So I think most of us do spend time on Thanksgiving being thankful for how fortunate we are, as Americans, husbands, fathers, employees – whatever roles we fill. Just my perspective though.

    1. Ryan Jackson says:

      I’d have to give weight to that as well.

      Who’s to say those standing in line or camping out did so out of commerical greed in its base sense? How about the parent who waited for a deal on a great present they couldn’t otherwise afford to give their child? Sure the child would survive without it, but is that time poorly spent if it’s done specifically as a gesture for someone you love?

  7. Tim says:

    Maybe due to my being English and having experienced the complete erosion of values in public holidays, but I have absolutely no confidence in the existence of the public spiritedness mentioned and hoped for in the above posts. Over here, Christmas is now a means of covering one’s house with ghastly lights. Easter is forgotten except as a free day. Various public holidays are just that with little meaning. Halloween has been tried here and thankfully failed. We surprisingly even had a traditional May Day once which was hijacked by our so-called labor movement.

    It would appear that, for once, the US can look to us for what the future brings in terms in terms of understanding the meaning and traditions behind these festivals. Sadly.

    And yes, I am both disillusioned and a cynic. However there are still people around which keep my hopes alive – especially in the local communities.

  8. Wine Guy says:

    All I want is a piece of pumpkin pie and a day where I can be with my extended family and sit around and make fun of each other. That’s either Thanksgiving or Christimas in my house… mainly because I have to choose which day to give up to work.

    The only thing that MLK Day is around here was a Sears ad with irritating colors and nauseating models showing clothes that no one would really ever wear.

    My community still has a parade on Veteran’s Day and Memorial, mainly because we’re a rural community and about 15% of the HS grads enlist, plus we’ve had to lay to rest a couple of our youngsters.

    I’m not religious at all – doesn’t mean I’m not thankful for what I have.

    The commercialism of the various holidays is the ultimate triumph of the ridiculousness of a society.

  9. Sorwen says:

    I think your post is a few years late. Thanksgiving was edged out by Christmas commercialism a few years ago. The only notice of Thanksgiving is the supermarket buys more turkeys. The day after Halloween every store, here at least, was putting up something Christmas. Decorations, Christmas candy, imitations Christmas trees, etc. Thanksgiving is nothing more than a speed bump. Sadly even Christmas is nothing more than a commercialized holiday.

    At one point you didn’t even have to be Christian to enjoy Christmas. Now your being Christian and not politically correct to call anything Christmas related. I missed the part where I had to be burdened with some religious affiliation for liking a tree with lights, presents for kids, and the thought that this one time of year at least should be about the old line “Peace on earth and good will toward men.” For some the origin of Christmas isn’t as important as its meaning.

    Sorry for going off on a tangent rant.

    Side note: But to “Drag mister worm to his apple” to verify is slightly disturbing with the pictures they use.

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