Today is the day after Thanksgiving. We all know what that means, or at least what it’s supposed to mean. This blog will go up shortly before mid-day where I live, and the hype of Black Friday is already mostly over. The “doorbuster” sales that the media fawns over happened hours ago when I was still in bed. As I feared, there are news reports going around about violence, crowd tramplings and other appalling behavior that occurred in connection with sales.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think there is far less substance to Black Friday than the media seems to suppose. In the run-up to Thanksgiving we’re inundated with advertising for sales and specials, and then the media delivers the punchline by showing us pictures of rabid crowds at Wal-Mart or the mall, as if to say, “If all this shopping isn’t a big deal to you, well, you’re missing out!” The truth is more subtle. No one in my family went to a “doorbuster” sale this morning. I can’t think of a single personal acquaintance of mine who’s expressed any real interest in shopping, sales or deals today. Indeed, the vast majority of people I know who have expressed an opinion on Black Friday have expressed a negative one–it’s all hype, it’s ridiculous, and they regard the people who participate in the frenzy as soulless sycophants.
There are a lot of myths out there about Black Friday. The first and most pervasive is that it’s the biggest shopping day of the year. It isn’t. Retailers routinely promote the illusion that it is, but the days before Christmas, especially Saturday before Christmas, are usually bigger. Then there is the myth of mass participation–that everybody is out there camping out in front of Best Buy. The news media likes to show us pictures of this sort of thing, but showing film footage of the 98% of Americans who are in bed at 4:00 AM on the Friday after Thanksgiving isn’t nearly as photogenic.
This is a much better use of the day after Thanksgiving than stomping around a shopping mall looking for “deals,” don’t you think?
Think about it. Are ordinary people really that impressed with sales? I mean, do we really know a lot of people who are willing to get up at 3:00 AM to save an extra $25 on a plasma TV that will undoubtedly be on sale again for the same price at some point? Surely such people exist; the rabid crowds in the media’s pictures are real. But to suppose that, as a nation and a society, that sort of thing is the norm–that if we aren’t pounding down the doors of Wal-Mart at 4AM, we should be–seems a stretch. The people who crowd the doors of retail stores strike me as outliers. Maybe they’re motivated by sales, or maybe they want to participate in the hype, or maybe they are soulless sycophants. But I don’t think they’re really representative of the public at large.
I’m going to go out on another limb here: I think Black Friday, as largely a media-driven (or advertising-driven) institution, is fading in importance. Not that it’s going to die out, but I think people are already beginning to treat it as more of a media chimera than a reality. This year there was a surprising amount of push-back that I observed in social media against retail-promoting hype, most notably the decisions by major retailers to open on Thanksgiving Day to “get the jump” on Black Friday. The vast majority of people I saw who commented on this issue thought it was totally unnecessary. Black Friday is not only not very important, but it’s certainly not important enough to start ruining legitimate holidays for, and especially asking retail employees to come away from their families to work. The fetishization of Black Friday is rapidly becoming part of the narrative criticizing the commercialization of Christmas, and that narrative goes back to the Victorian era–not surprisingly, the first time Christmas really started to become commercialized.
I don’t care about Black Friday. I don’t know a lot of people who do. I suspect that you, if you’re reading this blog, probably don’t. I’d rather spend the day after Thanksgiving with family, drinking a glass of wine or reading a book. It’s a valiant hope, but maybe in the future when someone speaks the words “Black Friday,” we’ll think of a historical event, and not silly sales at retail stores.