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Black Friday: A celebration of consumerism

Nearly a week after Black Friday the merchandise madness continues unabated. Originally, there was just Black Friday, but that has now extended into Black Thanksgiving as the deals encroach on America’s beloved holiday. For the Internet inclined and those who aren’t broke from the more traditional varieties of shopping frenzy, there is also Cyber Monday. This year Cyber Monday extended into what Amazon calls “Cyber Monday Deals Week.” At the current rate of expansion most Saint Louis University students can expect the bargains to reach the Fourth of July sometime in their lifetimes.

In all seriousness, Black Friday has grown to become something of a holiday in itself. It’s a common criticism that the entire affair is indicative of the rampant consumerism in American society, and few would argue against such an insight. But like it or not, it seems that Black Friday is here to stay, and the best that can be done is to consider the materialistic mania in as objective a light as possible.

The scary thing about Black Friday isn’t that Americans go out and buy things, or even that Americans go out and buy things they don’t need. That is a well-established and rather unremarkable phenomenon. Given the insatiability of our consumer culture, the shopping rush makes a lot of sense; it’s a great time to get deals on holiday desirables. Consumers save money; retailers make money. Mostly everyone seems to benefit. The economy certainly does, and the very name “Black Friday” comes from the tendency of retailers to begin turning profits for the year on that date—to go from “in the red” to “in the black.”

No, the scary thing about Black Friday is the utterly animalistic behavior displayed by so many of the otherwise-normal shoppers. On Black Friday, Walmart and Best Buy become the gladiator arenas of the United States. Shootings and tramplings are not unheard of, and slaps and violent verbal exchanges are a dime a dozen, to appropriate the language of the ubiquitous bargain signs. What in the world could drive people to act so indecently? Apparently, children’s toys and flat screen TV’s. The mass hysteria of the malls seems to feed on itself, creating a hurricane of hurrying housewives with no regard for anything in their paths.

Even for those who survive with their bodies intact, it’s not clear that Americans always benefit from Black Friday. Many people take off work in order to go shopping, which probably neutralizes a large portion of their savings. Moreover, saving money on unneeded goods isn’t really saving money at all.

The illogic of Black Friday indicates that maybe it isn’t about the deals after all; it is an event in itself, a retail adventure that millions of people enjoy for their own reasons. Many people have decried the commercialization of Christmas and wish that crazy consumerism would be separated from the sacred Christian holiday. Well, here it is, a holiday dedicated to commercialism and consumerism and all the material goods America loves, unencumbered by association with any previously established feast day. It’s not going away; so happy Black Friday, or at this point, happy Cyber Monday Deals Week.

 

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