Consumer Culture Swallowing Family Values Whole

burnt-thanksgiving

 ^^^Burnt turkey picture credited to SF Station

By the time I post this it will be Thanksgiving, and the most obvious topic to be discussed is the plague of Black Friday.You hear complaints from retail workers all the time toward the end of November. Figuratively and sometimes literally, protesting work the day of Thanksgiving for the commencement of Black Friday. Who is really to blame for the social phenomenon? What issues arise from it? Can we see any good coming from Black Friday?

A little history about Black Friday is in order before we go any further. According to Snopes.com the earliest known use of the term was in 1951, and the origin of its meaning, while mysterious, has two popular stories. I found these stories via blackfriday.com and snopes.com. The first story, and the one I favor, is that Black Friday meant the time where Christmas shopping began and retailers would be able to write in their account books using black ink, indicating money gained, instead of red to indicate money lost. The second story states it was used by Philadelphia police the day after thanksgiving as a complaint about the high volumes of traffic marking the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. While I have no doubt deals were available during this time, I suspect the level at that time would pale in comparison to today.

So often society places the blame firmly on the backs of businesses for the degradation of the Thanksgiving holiday, and in the same turn of generalization refuse to take the responsibility for their role (society) in the problem. In the simplest of business terms, to be successful means giving the customer what they want. Which means the only reason that retail stores are opening up on Thanksgiving day is for the same reason you are camping outside of Macy’s three days in advance.

Kmart Thanksgiving

^^^ Picture credited to The Huffington Post

In America, everyone is a customer. We live in breathe by consumption. We are in every sense of the word a consumer culture. Our economy relies heavily on the purchase of goods, and we are subconsciously taught to enjoy doing so (to some extent). We get so wrapped up in the idea of getting deals on goods purchased that often, on Black Friday, people will purchase items not even on sale under an assumption that everything is marked down. This was explained to me by several friends of mine who did or currently work in retail.

While the loss of money may not be too significant a problem, there are others we really need to address. In large groups people tend to assume the “mob mentality”, in which we lose our self-awareness and feel comfortable breaking social norms. With the excitement seen on Black Friday it can easily turn dangerous. In an interview done by South Source with Tamara Avant, the Director of Psychology at South University, she states,”Groups can generate a sense of emotional excitement, which can lead to the provocation of behaviors that a person would not typically engage in if alone.” A very simple explanation and sad reality of society’s emotion towards others, when people are being trampled to death for the sake of ten dollars off that new car stereo. Self-interested behavior, and more specifically greed rears its ugly head, not even, a day after giving thanks for all that we enjoy. The conundrum leaves me nauseated and morose.

mob-banner

^^^ Picture credit to Sensei Marketing

But is that the most un-nerving part? Possibly. What concerns me is where the breakdown begins, at home. At first the trend seemed to be just the disassembly of a family event in the name of cheap goods, but it is becoming more and more of a family event to participate in Black Friday. This at first appears to be a positive adaptation to the turkey that has gone cold, but have we forgotten the main motivation behind such an event? Greed spread across a jumbled line of people de-individuated by the sheer volume of participants, fighting amongst one another for the last action figure on the shelf. Is this really what we as Americans want our quintessential family day to be redefined as?

I am a broke college student, and could be defined as cheap by some of my friends. I could definitely enjoy some of the deals found on such a day. However, I refuse to participate based upon the importance I hold for my values, morals, and ideals. No amount of money saved is acceptable for me to step foot on such a slippery slope, built around a sin that runs our country. While I understand the basis for saving money, I ask if it is worth contributing to the perpetuation of people blinded by green.

I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving, and as always… I love you guys!

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