It’s the night before Thanksgiving and I’m sitting in the family room of my house. My grandmother is working her way through the daily crossword, my grandfather is watching the news, and my parents are cooking and working around the house.
A commercial for a Black Friday sale pops up and my grandpa remarks, “4 pm, that’s late!”
Certain he had misheard, I corrected him. “You mean 4 am?”
The ad repeated itself and that’s when I realized he was right. It was 4 pm. But it was 4 pm on Thanksgiving. This store was open on Thanksgiving.
It was then that I decided to write this week’s post about the upcoming days (Thanksgiving and Black Friday). I originally wrote this piece for a marketing course I took during the Fall of my junior year at college. Though the focus of the assignment was Black Friday, I hope you are also able to take some time to reflect on Thanksgiving as you read through this blog.
On behalf of The Smile Project, I’d like to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday and thank you, as always, for reading.
When I was a little girl, I heard about a phenomenon entitled, “Buy Nothing Day.” Traditionally celebrated the day after Thanksgiving, Buy Nothing Day is an international day of protest against consumerism. When I was a young, this seemed like a simple enough idea—I wasn’t a big ticket spender at age 10 (nor at age 20) anyway. However after explaining the idea to a family member, they patiently told me that that would never be the case. The day after Thanksgiving had another name: Black Friday.
The idea behind Black Friday is simple. A majority of consumers have time off from work and once Grandma’s sweet potatoes have been put away and the football games been watched—err, slept through, the holiday seems to end, signaling the official start of the Christmas season. And what better way to get into the holiday spirit then excessive materialism.
Of course, I speak in jest. In my opinion, Black Friday represents everything that is wrong with the world. We spend an entire day, Thanksgiving, counting our blessings. For one perfect holiday, we don’t give gifts because simply being in the presence of family is present enough. Then, the next day, consumers wake up at insane hours, drive through heavy traffic, wait in outrageous lines, and race against their fellow humans to what…save $10 on a video game?
Haven’t we noticed the insanity of it all? We watched a video in class that dove into the organizational structure of “Black Friday Eve” AKA Thanksgiving. Families come together to decide what role each person will fill. First is the ringleader. This team captain of sorts has the master list and the master plan. They coordinate things with the strategist who is busy mapping out the quickest way to get from store to store. The runners do exactly as their name suggests. These are lunatics who push past an elderly gentleman to reach the door busters first. The runners’ job is to bring the goods back to the wallet, the stand-still person who acts as a human ATM, waiting in line. Lastly, there are followers. These people aren’t necessarily involved in the action. They’re more like the spectators of a Gladiator fight wondering how people have chosen not to advance since, oh you know, 80 AD.
The example of death isn’t outside the realm of possibility. In 2008, a New York Walmart worker was stampeded to death. Nobody stopped to help him. Twenty-four hours prior, those same families had gathered around a table, shared laughs, and enjoyed good spirits. Fast forward to Black Friday and a man lies dead because of the rampart extremism that is the American consumeristic spirit.
Marketers and retailers are now trying to do the impossible—turn something so inhumane and outrageous into a holiday. They want to pull on the ritualistic traditions of staying in a hotel closer to the mall and getting up before the sun. I’m not sure I want to live somewhere where materialism is glorified and a “holiday” is built around consumerism.
The video we watched in class opened with a woman talking about the positive experience of Black Friday shopping when you have a lot of kids to buy for. To quote, “I usually save around $100.”
One hundred dollars. Although it is ludicrous to put a price on human life, I tend to think that the Walmart employee who was trampled to death by consumers is worth more than 100 dollars.
One of the Black Friday shoppers stated that organization is key to a good store. I beg to differ. I tend to think that a store that isn’t open on Thanksgiving is leaps and bounds above a well-organized store.
Because, you see that’s exactly the issue with Black Friday. When I was growing up, I would read the ads of stores that opened at 10 am, 9 am, or 8 am. As I grew older, the times grew earlier. Now stores even open at 6 o’clock pm on Thanksgiving Day. This causes retail workers to take away time from their families and loved ones who in many cases have traveled miles and miles to be with them, to open a store to tired, cranky, obnoxious consumers intent on saving a few bucks.
I understand the push for frugality. I don’t like to spend money and I love a good deal, but not at the expense of a sacred holiday built around family and gratitude. If you just step back and reflect on the situation, it becomes apparent how absolutely bizarre the entire thing is. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate family and be thankful for everything we have. The next day is a time to lose our humanity over a pile of cheap toys.
The crowds at these events are as uncivilized as the wildebeests that aided in Mufasa’s death in the Lion King. (If you re-watch that scene as I just did, I promise the similarities are uncanny).
America needs to get a reel in on its rampart consumerism. There is no need for this excess of buying that only leads to excess of debt that only leads to excess of waste. If for one year we would honestly treat Thanksgiving as a time to really reflect and be grateful, we perhaps wouldn’t find it necessary to run to Macy’s the next morning to save a few bucks. At the end of the day, I know no matter how good a deal is, I will always be more thankful for my friends and family than for ten extra dollars in my wallet.