THIS YEAR was the first time I heard of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the USA which officially marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.
Some British online retailers like Past Times andhave begun to get in on the act, promoting huge discounts ahead of the December rush by last-minute shoppers.
Even the bookshop at the retreat centre I visited today seemed to be on the ball – this book on the Theology of Money was on sale at a massive 66% off!
The numbers are incredible: a record 247 million American shoppers visited stores or shopped online, up 9% from last year; 100 million drivers increased congestion by 32.5%; online shoppers spent more than $1 billion, up 26%; shoppers spent an average of $423, up from $398 last year. Total spending reached a record $59.1 billion, a 13% increase.
This year, for the first time, retailers like Wal-Mart and Toys R Us opened of the evening of Thanksgiving Day inviting customers to scoop up ‘doorbuster’ deals and ‘beat the rush’, despite criticism of those who seek to preserve Thansgiving as a traditional family holiday.
The day is so-called because it helps retailers stay ‘in the black’ – in profit. There seems to be little concern about how much debt consumers will fall into by taking advantage of ‘offers’ on this day.
The Twitterati have been buzzing with tales of shopping triumph and tragedy. Some commentators reported the irony of the timing of the day:
Black Friday was America saying “Yeah, I know yesterday I said I was grateful for what I have, but today I want a lot more and for less.” @rickygervais
Black Friday: because only in America people trample each other for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have. @TheTumblrMemes
Trampling is not too strong a word as some shoppers started the ‘holiday season’ with riots, stampedes and even gun violence just hours after Thanksgiving dinner.
- A spokesman for Wal-Mart said a cell phone deal ‘led to excitement among our customers’ at a Georgia store. Video footage of the ‘excitement’ shows dozens of customers trying desperately to get their hands on the smartphones as bedlam breaks out. Surprisingly, no injuries were reported.
- Five shoppers were injured at a store in California when the 12 metre tall glass doors shattered as they plowed through the entrance to ‘enjoy discounts of up to 50% off’, police said.
- Officers in Michigan used pepper spray to disperse a brawl among teenagers at a local mall.
- Police at a mall in Texas used a Taser on a suspected shoplifter to break up a particularly rowdy fight.
- A woman was arrested after trying to cut in the checkout queue at a Wal-Mart in Florida. Police said they warned her several times to wait her turn. When they attempted to usher her out of the store, she began screaming and throwing goods she had planned to buy. She was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
- A Massachusetts man took his girlfriend’s two-year-old son to K-Mart for a midnight sale but left the child in the store, heading home with only a 51-inch flat-screen TV. The child was safely returned to his mother but the boyfriend is expected to be charged with reckless endangerment of a child.
- Five grown men assaulted and robbed a 14-year-old boy outside a store in Maryland.
- A police officer was charged with petit larceny and criminal possession of stolen property after she allegedly shop-lifted clothes from a Manhattan store.
- In Washington, a 71-year-old man was arrested after allegedly running over two shoppers outside a Wal-Mart. Police said they were investigating whether the driver was intoxicated. One of the victims, a 45-year-old woman, was in serious condition.
- A shopper was robbed at gunpoint at a South Carolina mall.
A store in Colorado closed for the day after a man wearing a ski mask stormed into the pharmacy, fired a round into the ceiling and darted off suddenly.
- At a K-Mart in California, one man threatened to stab other shoppers as they pushed and shoved, trying to get their hands on a limited number of discounted flat-screen TVs. Undaunted by the threats, shoppers stayed in line.
- One man pulled a gun on another customer who tried to cut the line at a Sears store in Texas. The gunman was not arrested because he had a permit to carry a weapon.
- Two people were shot in a parking lot in an apparent dispute over a parking space.
A man died after a confrontation with Wal-Mart employees in Georgia. Two employees and a security guard followed him outside after he allegedly stole two DVD players. When police arrived , the three were on top of him. After placing the man in handcuffs, the officer realized that he was unresponsive and had blood covering his face and mouth.
Wal-Mart reported its best day-after-Thanksgiving sales ever. The mega-retailer said it had sold 1.3 million TVs. Meanwhile, thousands of its staff walked out and picketed in response to low pay and poor working conditions, with protests at 1000 stores.
The name of the day is explicit – it’s all about profits, not people. ‘Good Morning America’ called it ‘Black and Blue Friday: America’s annual orgy of capitalism’. But the name is confusing. One Twitter commentator noted the contrast with the start of the Great Depression in 1929:
But seriously, why do they refer to the day the stock market crashed as Black Monday & the day people stimulate the economy as Black Friday? @ChaseLori
Others made tasteless racial slurs about the day, while one suggested it was all about lining the pockets of rich white men.
Another made an even more stark contrast to the events commemorated by Thanksgiving:
Here was me thinking Black Friday was a respectful day of mourning for the atrocities of which we have incurred on the native American people. @hughsaan
So where does the gratitude and goodwill go overnight between Thursday and Friday? A massive loss of perspective seems to occur, as other Tweeters point out:
The money spent on this Black Friday weekend could feed all the hungry children in the world for two years. @Factstagram
Overspending on holiday shopping is NOT an act of love for yourself/those who love you. @AlfredEdmondJr
If you woke up early on Black Friday, for things of materialistic value, you should wake up early to go to church, for spiritual value. @KoriJWilliams
Black Friday – when we buy material possessions to give on the birthday of a guy who renounced material possessions. @JohnFugelsang
And my personal favourite:
Black Friday shows the true demeaning of Christmas. @TheTweetOfGod
But while most of the USA appears to be going to hell in a handcart, there is a counter cultural movement gaining momentum around the world. Black Friday in the US coincides with Buy Nothing Day (usually the day after elsewhere in the world). Buy Nothing Day challenges consumer culture by asking us to switch off from shopping for a day. Buy Nothing Day was started by Adbusters in the early 1990’s and has grown into an international event. In Toronto this year, there was even a meditation flash mob.
It’s not shopping in itself that’s so harmful, it’s what we buy. Only 20% of the world population in rich western countries are consuming more than 80% of the earth’s natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage and unfair distribution of wealth. As consumers, we should question the products we buy and the companies who produce them.
The idea is to make people stop and think about what and how much they buy affects the environment and developing countries. Increasingly large companies use labour in developing countries to produce goods because its cheap and there aren’t the systems to protect workers like there are in the west.
Back to the Theology of Money – I didn’t buy it but I was intrigued enough to read an online review:
‘Since money is a debt that must be repaid with interest in the form of money, then the creation of money imposes a social demand for an increase in profit and an increase in the creation of money in order to repay debt. This vicious circle drives the expansion of the global economy. In summary, Goodchild argues that money is a promise, a supreme value, a transcendent value and an obligation or a law. He argues that money has taken the place of God. It is the dominant global religion in practice, even if no one believes in it in principle.’