Friday, November 28, 2008
Black Friday can bite me
Recently, two different friends emailed me a "get to know you" questionnaire with a Christmas theme. Since I'm a sucker for those time-killing, ego-stroking surveys, I set to work.
One of the questions in the survey asked what my least favorite part of Christmas was. That's easy: rampant, insidious consumerism! Obscene consumerism. You MUST spend lots of money on your loved ones. WANT! WANT! WANT! GET! GET! GET! CONSUME NOW! The spend-and-purchase messaging we're inundated with is repugnant and profane. Today, I can add to those adjectives, murderous. Come along ...
Black Friday, as the day after Thanksgiving day has become known, has long been the start of the holiday shopping season in the U.S. It's called Black Friday because this is the day when most retailers make enough money to move out of the "red," into solvency. This was something I learned a few years ago. Before, I thought "Black" Friday referred to the abyss of our souls; how else to explain how a nation can move from day of humble gratitude to harried greed in less than 24 hours?
Each year, stories of incivility in retail shops surface by the time the evening's news rolls around. Soccer moms getting into fist-fights over Chicken Dance Elmo, store clerks being berated by customers because an item has been sold out, the occasional shooting in the parking lot. It's shameful. This year a WalMart employee was crushed to death after he opened the doors of the store to let shoppers in. So eager to get a Wii or a Numi or whateverthefuck people are cravenly drooling over these days, were these shoppers that even as other co-workers tried to move to this poor man's aid, they had to fight to stay standing. The metal frame doorways of the WalMart were actually bent by the crush of the crowd. People wanted so badly to spend their hard-earned dollars on paltry shit at 5AM that they wouldn't even stop to help this man stand up. Who the hell are we? Frankly, that story makes me ashamed of my countrymen. Clearly, our desire to consume supercedes our desire for patience and our capacity for mercy.
Consumer spending is probably good for the economy, in general. But when are we going to recognize that rampant, careless consumption is baaaddd for our souls?
Christmas consumerism is particularly offensive because, the ostensible reason we're supposed to sate our bottomless greed is to celebrate the birth of the holy man who told us the meek would inherit the Earth, that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven and that God was most pleased when we clothed the naked, fed the poor, visited the prisoner and generally tended to the "least" of those among us. Even if one celebrates Christmas in a purely secular fashion - which I suppose most do since it is more a cultural holiday than a religious one - it seems we can all agree that the assumed point of Christmas is to celebrate our loved ones and our time with our loved ones.
Gift-giving is fine. Good, actually. But how does it genuinely benefit anyone for one's kid or spouse or partner to get $1,000 worth of toys and goods on Christmas day? That there are wise shoppers out there who may spend that amount on gifts that will have a long lifespan, I do not doubt. But most gifts bought are simply upgraded the next year and disposed of. We are a nation disposed to the disposable goods. I, too, am a less thoughtful consumer than I should be. Can't and won't deny it. But I'm trying to improve. I'm taking baby steps to be more mindful of what I spend my money on and my motivations behind spending it in the first place.
The image at the top is from a documentary titled What Would Jesus Buy? The premise is that a performer named Reverend Billy visits temples of Mammon to exorcise them and call people's attention to their spending habits. I think I'll bump it to the top of my Netflix list. Something we can all do, next year anyway, is join the folks who choose to spend Thanksgiving Friday at home, doing a puzzle, reading a book, hanging with family and otherwise observing Buy Nothing Day. It seems the least we can do to honor the memory of Jdimytai Damour is to not be a part of the insanity that killed him in the first place.