Black Friday: It’s all about the Bengamins

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Black Friday: November 25, 2011 . It was posted on Yahoo News by 9 a.m. of that morning! NINE A.M.! Which means this happened sometime in the previous nine hours before the article was posted. Like, who would not only stand in line for hours and then go rushing in at 12:01 a.m. and stir up some shit that makes the news by 9 a.m.? It just blows my mind.

The story: some woman here in California, a well-to-do neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley no less, was  pepper-spraying other shoppers! Really! The other shoppers weren’t attacking the woman, weren’t being any more rude than your average Black Friday shopper. No, the woman just wanted to get them out of her way so she could get whatever do-dad she was trying to purchase. She sprayed about 20 people waiting to get an X-Box at a Wal-Mart — of course. Store management was assisting the police to find out who the woman was, which includes looking at surveillance video and checking sales receipts for the people who bought X-Boxes.

Also in California, the Bay Area, would-be thieves outside another Wal-Mart tried to rob a family of their purchases, at about 3 a.m. When the family refused a scuffle broke out. That’s when one of the robbers pulled out a gun and shot the man. One of the attackers was caught by the other family members and handed over to police — who in turn handed him over to medical personnel so he could get his injuries tended to after being held by the angry and vengeful family.

Looks like California is Kook Central, but if you scan the news and Google “Black Friday violence,” you’ll see acts of violence, or just blind greed that causes serious injuries, from coast-to-coast. Have you ever wondered why, every year, the most heinous acts of greed and selfishness occur on Black Friday and every year the bar of civility drops even lower than the year before?

The stores themselves help lower that bar. They keep starting the practice earlier every year until the big controversy this year was Wal-Mart (of course) coming under fire for forcing their employees to work on Thanksgiving — during the day. Not at night, after most people would have consumed a nice, quasi-peaceful holiday meal with family and friends, but during the day.

  • I say “quasi” because for some, getting together with family is never peaceful, or at least not peaceful the entire day.

This year, as I was pedaling my Trusty Trek past the Best Buy near my home I saw half a dozen people camped out waiting for the Black Friday sale — and this was on Tuesday. Okay, which one of you was camped out at Best Buy this past Tuesday?

Black Friday in Great Britain

What is it about Black Friday that causes people to go insane with their greed? We can put some of it on the advertising hype, but that wouldn’t be a factor if there weren’t people that respond to it.

Christmas … the greediest, most materialistic holiday on the calendar. The Christians like to put up their billboards reminding us to “remember the reason for the season” or “Keep the Christ in Christmas.” Usually that makes me bristle because the holiday pre-dates Christianity by hundreds, maybe thousands, of years, but contrast that message to the violent greed displayed by people Christmas shopping …

Greed is the real national religion in America. This whole notion of the “free market” is predicated on greed and we’re brought up to worship at the altar of the Almighty Dollar. Just watch the commercials for Black Friday and Christmas shopping in general. We are sent two messages: “I want ____” and “I wanna get the most deals before everyone else!”

In the interest of honesty: I want stuff. A new car, preferably a new Cadillac (what can I say, I’m old school), a new Macintosh, make that two: a tower and a Macbook Air. Maybe an iPad. There’s always been this dream to have the biggest estate in La Jolla, CA, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Well meaning people will say, “It’s just stuff!” True, but it begs the question: will you just hand your stuff over to me and forget about it? I’ll never say it’s just stuff because honestly, it’s my stuff.

It isn’t just “stuff.”

To be honest though, the mobs crowding into Wal-Marts and malls across the country offends me. It’s laughable, but the reason for the laughter is because we can’t believe the insanity of it. Just watch the videos, they’re on Youtube. Would you stand in line for hours on Thanksgiving waiting for a store to open? Thankfully, the majority of Americans don’t, but enough do that it becomes a national obsession.

Then the news networks report the early estimations of money spent: is it up from last year? Will retailers have to add extra sales later in the shopping season? Will it help or hurt the economy? Our entire system, our society, is based on consumption. It’s the American Way and Christmas shopping — Black Friday weekend in particular — is the apex of our social system.

It’s not just Black Friday either. It’s the entire Christmas shopping season. The crowds, the short tempers, the frustrations and disappointments; this is how we define ourselves as a nation. Get more of everything at any cost to dignity and common sense.

Black Friday shoppers screaming through the doors

What keeps the system in place, more than any amount of money and lobbyists to pass it around, is the fantasy that any of us can become a part of the One Percent. We don’t want to change our “Free Market” system! It might interfere with our plans to become a part of the Elite.

Forty years ago we didn’t much worry about it because so many of us had good-paying industrial jobs. We made things and shipped them around the world, confident that “Made in America” meant this was the best of whatever it is you want to purchase.

Then the 1980’s hit and we slowly started turning into a nation of consumers. Our government encouraged us to be greedy so American companies could begin moving their production facilities, first to Mexico and then to Asia, any place where they could take advantage of slave labor.

Some call it low wages — enforced by the governments of the host nations. Unions are actively and violently opposed in these countries. It would raise the standard of living in those nations, but the leaders are paid to keep it cheap.

As a result, we’re no longer a producing nation, we’re a nation of consumers. Yeah, most of us work, but the workers continue to lose ground financially. But do we really want to change the system? Not now. Any hint of Socialism is bad.

Unions are socialism — or so the rulers of this nation would have you believe. It’s amazing how Americans have been convinced unions are bad and that working longer hours for less time off and stagnant wages makes us a better nation than European countries where workers are guaranteed time off from their jobs for vacations, illness and to take care of sick family, and they have universal health care and incomes that have raised their standards of living far higher than ours.. But somehow this nation is better because we pay more for things like health care and receive so much less in return. And we have lower wages.

But there is that unrealistic chance we will magically hit the jackpot and become a member of that ruling elite — the financial “One Percent.” So we remain greedy, eschewing everything that would benefit us as individuals and our society, just for the ridiculous chance we might one day go hobnobbing with the Waltons and Kochs of the world.

And with our stagnant wages and dwindling free time we are encouraged, almost pushed into spending more than we can afford to have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays because spending money we don’t have is what makes America great.

As a result our social system rests upon Christmas shopping and Black Friday Weekend. Seriously, if businesses don’t do well, people could really lose their jobs. Retailers do 25 percent of their yearly business in this month of shopping so they promote the hell out of it.

Wal-Mart is the biggest example of this national zeitgeist. They are best known for driving small business out of business and providing their employees with as few benefits and salary as they can get away with. And they’re known for their low prices.

This year Wal-Mart employees are holding strikes around the country. Good for them. The organized, even without a union.

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When Black Friday rolls around, retailers cut the prices of items that so many people appear ready to die for and mayhem ensues. And none of it would be possible without our complicity because for us, as a society and as individuals, it’s all about the Benjamins.

Black Friday shoppers fighting over lingerie.

The one bright spot from this year’s Black Friday madness: Costco chose to remain closed on Thanksgiving so its employees could enjoy the holiday with their family and friends.