How to explain Black Friday to people outside the United States
THOUGH THE “BLACK” in Black Friday initially referred to the first time retail stores turned a profit in the fiscal year, it is now more similar to the “black” in your Black Metal: shrieking voices, frenzied mobs, and the summoning of demons from hell.
Black Friday is the day most people have off after Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving — this year falling on Thursday, November 22 — is an American holiday that dramatizes a meal between indigenous residents of North America and their colonizers, but that we reconcile by gorging ourselves on turkey and an impressive spread of delicious carbohydrates. After recovering from food comas (with more food) many Americans head to the shopping centers in search of deals.
In the past, Black Friday has occurred, as the name might suggest, on Friday — but in recent years stores have opened earlier. This year some Black Friday sales start as early as 8pm on Thanksgiving.
Big box stores offer extraordinary deals on consumer goods for Black Friday. This encourages the most frugal Americans to forego family dinners meant to show gratitude for the abundance of the harvest. Instead they camp out in front of hypermarkets to eat beef jerky and crackers in their tents, while eyeing their neighbors to make sure that nobody skirts in front of their position in line. They want to be the first people in the store so they can buy one of ten $78 plasma screen televisions in stock.
Black Friday merchandisers often advertise the lowest prices on items they only have in limited stock, to get people into their stores. So like early hunter gatherers competing for resources, these consumers are willing to fight over scarcity. In recent years melees have broken out across department stores.
New York Magazine reports:
…the violence seemed to escalate in the mid-2000s as retailers started offering more enticing deals. In 2005 several people were hospitalized in Michigan and New Jersey after being trampled in big-box stores. The next year Walmart employees were pinned against stacks of merchandise in Ohio, a Virginia man hit another customer in a Best Buy, and in California nine people were injured when a mall dropped gift certificates from the ceiling.
American society has adopted ‘commodity fetishism’ as a tenant of its ideology; purchases come to stand-in for human connection. Black Friday feeds into the notion that manufactured commodities are the best way to show people that you care about them. And if you can’t afford to buy the things you don’t really need, you can use the money you don’t really have. Just put it all on a credit card.
Granted, that’s a myopic view of Black Friday. Most people wait until after the ravaging consumers devastate a department store before coming to check out leftover sale items. And some North Americans resist the casual conformity in conspicuous consumption all together.
Anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters is working to turn Black Friday into Buy Nothing Day.
Labor is also responding to Black Friday with an ambitious action among Wal-Mart employees. Workers at over 1,000 Wal-Mart stores are staging a walk-out on Black Friday to protest inconsistent hours, fewer full-time positions, getting paid just above the poverty line, and being open at 8pm on Thanksgiving.
Enjoy the impending chaos from the comfort of your homes across the sea.