Friday, November 26, 2010

Dark underside of the American Dream

Black Friday, the Dark Side of the American Dream

We want to save! We want more bright new shiny things, we want them cheap -- and we want them now -- or if not now, as early as 3:00 a.m. on Black Friday (your mileage may vary).

If the only way to bridge the huge gap between our insatiable desires and our limited means is to outsource the production to the absolutely cheapest producers elsewhere, well then, of course we'll outsource. The consumer is king, and the consumer wants to save, wants low prices at any cost. And so we've been hollowing out our economy to feather our nests, and now we wonder what happened.

The day after Thanksgiving is the biggest retail day of the year. It seems strangely symbolic that we call it Black Friday -- a term that has been used in connection with financial crises since the mid-19th century.-- almost as if there's a widespread awareness that there's something unsustainable here. The favorite way to deal with it seems to be to stop thinking and keep shopping.

Thanksgiving has marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season for a long time now, taking on its modern form in 1939, when FDR controversially moved Thanksgiving up a week to its current date in response to merchant dismay about that year's late Thanksgiving and short shopping season. The day after Thanksgiving has always had a lot of traffic, but it used to be about window shopping as much as actual shopping. Crowds occasionally got out of hand, and the term Black Friday started to be used in that connection (it wasn't until later that the explanation that this is when retailers begin to break into the black came into widespread use).

Still, in the years before 9/11, Black Friday was no higher than fifth in total sales volume on the retail calendar. In 2002 it moved up to second place, and only since 2005 has it actually been the number one day in retail sales volume.

George Bush told us to go shopping, and as a nation, we seem to have taken his words to heart. How long we can afford to keep doing so is another question.

Update while the night is young: Thanks to Chris Norris for the link to this Madison Police Department Incident Report.
On 11/26/10, several hundred shoppers were waiting in line for the Toys R Us store to open when a 21 year old woman attempted to move to the front of the line. She was confronted by numerous shoppers and in turn she made threats to retrieve a gun and shoot the shoppers. No gun was found and the suspect was arrested for disorderly conduct and taken to the Dane County Jail.
This happened about 10:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Couldn't people at least wait until Friday to start with the craziness?

1 comment:

Cybergabi said...

We need to get away from the dictum that cheap=desirable. It's the only way to save this planet.