Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Black Friday in a Bleak Economy

A Brief Analysis of American Consumption Habits in a Post-Recession Market

“Black Friday” is the most American thing anyone has ever dreamt up. The Super Bowl is the only thing I can think of that comes even close to matching it, and even then, that’s just a weaker version of the same concept. More so than any mainstream U.S. tradition, “Black Friday” vaunts our one true religion, consumerism, as the omnipresent, hyper-important aspect of our daily life that it actually is. There’s no charades or pretense here - it’s all about Americans, the marketplace, and people more than willing to do extreme things in the name of material accumulation. It’s so devoid of pretext that even the most hardcore socialist-anarchists have to appreciate it, if nothing else, for the absolute shamelessness of it all.

Despite being on Planet USA for a good quarter century, it wasn’t until this year that I decided to partake of the “Black Friday” worship service, and dear lord, was it ever the experience. I live in a pretty small hamlet outside Atlanta, so I was shocked. . .shocked, I say…to see so many of the townsfolk lined up outside the local big box mart at midnight. This, I assure you, was no measly queue, it went on for a good quarter of a mile, at least. And that’s before you got through the automatic sliding doors, and saw the indoor line, which snaked around the perimeter of the building, creating an almost perfect people chain around the entire store.

Needless to say, I really can’t tell if this demonstrates the ongoing economic downturn or refutes it wholeheartedly. When you see twenty people wheeling out flat screen TVs, one after the other, it sort of gives you the idea that maybe, just maybe, people aren’t as hard pressed for moolah as the media is leading you on to believe. Then again, when you see two raggedy looking people threatening to punch other senseless over a pair of discounted socks, it kind of leads you to believe that perhaps the plight of the everyman is just a tad WORSE than what the news is telling us.

Admittedly, I just don’t get it, but I’ve never really claimed to have my thumb on the pulse of middle America, either. Apparently, there are scores of people out there that believe that it’s well beyond reasonable to wait in line for three hours, in sub-freezing temperatures no less, to score a ten dollar gift card so they can save even more money on those House Season 3 DVDS and Monster High dolls, but I reckon I just ain’t one of them.

My initial “Black Friday” experience didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know, but it did emphasize a lot of the stuff I’ve suspected for most of my life regarding the unofficial holiday and American spending habits. First and foremost, it petty much proved that U.S. citizens have no idea what “wealth creation” really is, as a lot of people I observed appeared to be spending a ton of cash on stuff they never would’ve purchased otherwise with the false assumption that they are actually saving money on the investment. American economic thought is contradictory to everything we know about standard arithmetic, as most folks in the States somehow think that only spending half of the full price of something is wiser than not buying anything at all - as in, they honestly think spending $50 on what would’ve been a $100 purchase is financially smarter than not buying that $100 item at any point in time. The fact that they’ll never see that other $50 again in their lifetime, I suppose, is simply something that doesn’t enter their cortexes while jamming pair after pair of tube socks into their shopping cart. 

The secondary thing I noticed was that, for all intents and purposes, the thing is something of a reversion to our hunting-gathering roots. I think that most of the people that attend such events really aren’t there because they truly want something, they’re there simply because they enjoy the thrills and perils of the chase. For all the non-Americans reading this, let me assure you that shoppers in the U.S. take this shit very seriously - they plan out their shopping schemes weeks in advance, they often work in large teams to maximize their purchasing efficiency, and there’s an entire niche of subculture consumers that work out NASA-quality algorithms so that they can stretch their coupon purchasing power to positively absurd extremes. Americans may not be the best at saving money, but I assure you there isn’t another kind of peoples out there that’s better at finding ways to spend it.

Lastly - and this was the one I was the most disappointed with - was the violence factor. Granted, at many locales and venues on “Black Friday,” you’re pretty much one broken cash register away from a full scale riot taking place, but at least on my initial observation, things were surprisingly staid. Perhaps the lack of a Tickle Me Elmo­-like sensation this year kept patron-on-patron mayhem to a minimum, but there’s the additional likelihood that I just picked the wrong big box mart to observe - the rumor has it that at a certain union-hating store across town, some dudes ended up getting maced and truncheon-ed for simply cutting in line.

Ultimately, my “Black Friday” expedition validated that, at this point, there’s no way around it - America is an insanely materialistic culture. If you’re looking at factors as to why Americans seem so docile, complacent and unwilling to provoke intra-national change, that’s pretty much your answer, right there: consumerism has got us whipped something bad. It doesn’t matter how crappy the economy gets, how many wars we’re involved in, how great the wealth inequity gap is or how many of our civil rights are being pooped on, as long as we have the ability, option and freedom to spend money on largely worthless crap we don’t need, we’re more than willing to accept any of the other conditionals as a necessary trade-off. As long as there are Sonic the Hedgehog games, Mountain Dew variations and UFC action figures available to us, we’ll forego rattling the boat too much. At the end of the day, we’re not really fond of protesting and challenging big business or questioning our leaders or trying to promote intra-cultural change, based primarily on our want of goods and services. Forget justice and virtue and morality and all of that jazz - most of us avoid illegal activity because that means we won’t be able to go to Starbucks or pick up Blu-Ray special edition DVDS if we do them.

And in the name of material gain? Buddy, we’re willing to resort to some downright primitive behavior if it means saving a buck or two


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