Black Friday celebrates the worst in consumerism
Two little words strike fear into the hearts of retail workers everywhere. The same two words that ignite enthusiasm and excitement in shoppers and bargain hunters. Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving, commonly known as Black Friday, is possibly the biggest shopping day of the year. It has become almost a holiday in its own right, with an official website (blackfriday.com) that advertises a "Black Friday Season". Retail stores hype up their extended hours and marked down prices, and consumers get lost in a mob mentality, often abandoning manners and common decency in an effort to buy items they don't actually need.
Black Friday is seen as the real beginning of the holiday shopping season, a season that could be described as the greediest time of the year. Huge corporations inundate our every waking moment with advertisements, and the general consensus seems to be the only way to prove to friends and family that you care about them is with gifts. The more expensive the gift, the more you love that person, obviously. This has led many to rightly criticize the "commercialization of Christmas", but another holiday has also had its true meaning corrupted by consumerism. A holiday that was supposed to stand for the exact opposite of the holiday shopping season.
Celebrated locally for much of America's history, Thanksgiving was officially declared to be the last Thursday in November by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. This holiday was meant to be a time to appreciate all that we have in life, and give thanks with our loved ones. Regardless of the conflicts between settlers and native people, Thanksgiving was intended to commemorate their coming together as one. In fact, Lincoln felt it necessary to give Thanksgiving an official date in order to promote unity between the North and South at a time when our nation was being torn apart. What Honest Abe would say at the sight of crowds climbing over each other for the latest Apple product, I shudder to think.
In fact, Thanksgiving seems to be taking a back seat to Black Friday more and more as years go on, with stores opening for Black Friday sales earlier and earlier, some even opening the evening of Thanksgiving. Many consumers choose to spend their holiday not gathered around a turkey, but huddled in lines, hoping to be one of the first to enter their favorite stores. Online stores are even worse, with "Black Friday" deals being offered all week long. Instead of being grateful for what they do have, many Americans are obsessed with what they can have. We desperately need to put the "thanks" back in "Thanksgiving".
But there is a counter movement out there, one aimed at bringing attention to the annual insanity that is Black Friday. This year, Walmart employees across the nation have announced a workers strike planned for Black Friday, with employees refusing to work unless Walmart executives meet their demands, which include pay of $15 per hour and full time opportunities for many workers, according to the movement's official website, BlackFridayProtests.org. This protest has gained a lot of traction, not just with Walmart employees but with many others who are taking to social media to show their support with the hashtag #Walmartstrikers.
A movement like this could be just the thing we need to get us to take a closer look at the power that these big companies have over the general public, especially when it comes to Black Friday. In fact, even the history of this event has been tweaked by corporate advertisements. Many maintain that the name comes from the accounting ideas of black ink being used on a ledger to show profits, and red to show loss. The day after Thanksgiving was a huge chance for companies to move "in the black". But according to an article in the December 1961 edition of "Public Relations News", the term "Black Friday" was first coined by police officers in Philadelphia in reference to the traffic and general chaos that ensued when the entire city flooded to stores.
So the history of the name itself is testament to everything that is wrong with this "holiday". People either forget, or choose to ignore, the human side of the event. They don't think about the minimum wage workers who have to show up long before opening to prep the store, deal with the onslaught of greedy, hurried consumers, then are forced to remain long after the crowd leaves to clean up the mess left behind. Is a livable wage for these people really too much to ask?
As well-intentioned as these protests are, it is doubtful that they will bring about any real change, either in our treatment of the holiday or our treatment of the individuals behind it. In fact, the hourly wage demanded is reminiscent of the recent $15 minimum wage requested by protesting fast food workers, which did not end in success for them. Whether or not Walmart executives give in, and whether or not these employees make good on their threat to strike on the biggest shopping day of the year, remains to be seen. But what is clear is that we as a population need look past the materialism this holiday season and put people over products.