Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Black Friday and the Ten Commandments

I wrote this up for Care2 and thought some of you may find it of interest.


I’ve been trying to write up the piece I had planned for today and I just can’t do it. It’s tough to talk about a little pink mouse when there is a huge white elephant standing in the room, stepping on your toe. That white elephant of course, is Black Friday.

What exactly is going on people? Are we really killing each other to save $10 on wii? Have things really gotten that out of hand?

For the few of you who may not know what I am talking about, here’s a little update. While the rest of the world spent Thanksgiving day waiting for word on Mumbai, wondering whether the Thai government will step down or not, and watching the latest in the Somali pirating sagas, many US citizens were getting their track shoes out, warming up their already maxed out credit cards, and, in at least one case, loading their weapons.

Why you ask? Because Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is what has come to be known as Black Friday here in the US, an eagerly anticipated event that stores build up to with a fevered pitch, where “stuff” is on sale. As a result, many stores will open at midnight to throngs of shoppers mad to get $10 off on their child’s favorite Christmas toy or a new blender for the holidays. And as a result, people often get hurt, and as in this years case, killed.

In Long Island, NY, a frenzied crowd outside a Walmart stampeded in as the entrance was opened “ripping the doors off their hinges”, injuring 4 people including a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy, and trampling and killing a 34-year-old employee. In an effort not to be outdone by the East coast, hours later, two fathers in a Toys R Us in California, shot and killed each other after a dispute between their wives. It remains unclear as to what started the dispute (it may have been gang related), but they were there for the sales, and I’m guessing their kids’ lives will never be the same.

All over the country, crowds surged, people shoved, mothers grabbed, fathers ran, children cried – all in all a really wonderful way to bring in the holiday season don’t you think? Ain’t the US of A great?

OK, if you read my articles, you are probably asking yourself, “where’s the wacky guy, we usually like to hear with the tips and ideas?” Well, I’m still here, I’m just a little upset right now. For starters, shame on the stores for allowing this to happen. Shame on them for lighting the fires of anticipation with their circulars and shame on them for allowing these mad dash events to occur. Remember the WHO concert in Cincinnati where all those people were crushed back in the 70s(http://www.enquirer.com/editions/1999/12/03/loc_concert_industry.html)? That changed things, shouldn’t this?

And shame on the shoppers. I recognize that people like a good deal but there is a point. When we forget about human decency and are able to trample a man rather than stopping and trying to help, we’ve gone too far. There has been talk about a mob mentality, and there is truth to that, but a mob is made up of individuals and each of those individuals has the ability, nay, the responsibility to step out of the mob, no matter how tough it may be. I think my favorite headline from yesterday was a CNN piece that read “Walmart Trampling Death Could Have Been Avoided.” Really? Ya think?

Anyway, enough with the sadness and condemnation. Here are a few things I’d like to see happen next year.

For starters, let’s take a stand and stamp out Black Friday. Adbusters (http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/bnd)(a cool org by the way) has a great site devoted to Buy Nothing Day, their version of Black Friday. As protests go it doesn’t get any simpler than this – do nothing. Next year, instead of rushing to the stores, send the merchants a message and don’t show up at all. Can you imagine how disappointed everyone will be when no one is there to rip the doors off in anticipation of buying the first Hannah Montana Pees A Lot Doll (if that takes off I want my cut by the way).

Secondly, let’s all relax, take a deep breath, and take another look at the Ten Commandments, but with a capitalist twist. I mean no disrespect to anyone here, but this is a list that a large number of us know and it does have a few good pointers. To keep it simple, I’m going with the Wikipedia translation.

1. I am the Lord your God – Recognize that stuff isn’t going to make you happy, but faith in whatever it is you believe in, love, and understanding are what’s important. The iPhone can wait.

2. You Shall Have No Other Gods Before You – That wii may be cool, but making it the focal point of your life isn’t doing anyone any good. Get yourself out into nature for a few minutes. Play with your kids. Read a book.

3. You Shall Not Make Wrongful Use of the Name of Your God – As in “So help me god, I’ll kill you if you don’t let go of that Suzie Barfs A Lot Doll” - that’s just not neighborly.

4. Remember the Sabbath and Keep It Holy – A stretch on this one, but maybe we could all take a day or two off each week from consuming and do some good instead? Just a thought.

5. Honor Your Mother and Father – Ask yourself “Would my parents be proud of how I’m acting?”

6. You Shall Not Murder – Ya see, it doesn’t say, “unless something is 20% below cost,” it just says don’t do it. Simple.

7. You shall not commit adultery – Not touching that one (pun intended).

8. You Shall Not Steal – Let that little girl have the doll she’s holding. Sure you’re bigger and can take it before her mommy sees, but come on.

9. You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor – Allright, this one doesn’t work so much, but it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on no?

10. You Shall Not Covet Anything That Belongs To Your Neighbor – Simply put, let the Joneses be the Joneses and let the Smiths be the Smiths. The things that you have that are important can’t be bought and can’t be sold. They are learned and passed along from one generation to the next. Take a look at who you are, and stop worrying about everyone else.

Bottom line is this – we all need to wake up and recognized that we are being played. Somehow we’ve bought into this notion that owning bigger and better stuff makes us bigger and better people. When in fact it makes us shallower and hollower. Last Friday proved that quite well. So here’s to next Back Friday when the stores are empty, the aisles deserted, and everyone is home with their families having made a decision about what is truly important, and acted upon it.


Anonymous said...

Isn't this a rather specious argument? Two people were killed on "Black Friday", so this says something about our consumer culture?

Every year thousands of people die in alcohol-related incidents, and so the MADD/prohibitionist types use this to try to enact more alcohol laws and restrictions.

Every once in a while some vegan dies of malnutrition and the meat-eaters go crazy and try to imply that this says something like this post does: that some instances of individuals being dumb says something about about the larger group. It doesn't.

I hate being a consumer as much as you, but these kinds of generalizations are wrong.

Julie R. said...


Dave said...

Hey Crappy,
Thanks for stopping in (love your screen name by the way - no kidding). I hear what you are saying but I don't know if I agree with your argument. Yes only 3 people were killed (although that seems like two much for any reason). That said, our society is not telling us to go out and drive drunk or eat or not eat meat. We are being told that consumption is key and that Black Friday is the day to capitalize (pun intended) on it. The mad dashes happen everywhere in America, thankfully there were only a few places where it came with these results though.

We are all repsonsible for our own actions but as a group we are being told to buy buy buy and it's that message (and the fatc that it is being heeded) tht I have a problem with.

That said, im sorry if i upset you with a mass generalization and i certainly didn't mean it t cover everyone, moreso, those who partake in this mass mentality adn are willing to look past simple human decency when confronted with a blue ticket item.

Any thoughts?


VG said...

Wow, I don't remember hearing about that, but it seems pretty mind boggling. We have a similar holiday/event here in Canada on December 26 that we call Boxing Day. Most stores have massive sales, and the whole thing helps the stres clear out extra stock that didn't sell for Christmas. That said, it's basically the same promotion of rabid consumerism as your Black Friday, but I can't imagine anybody stampeding employees to death over it (not having a constitutional right to bear arms effectively deals with the shooting each other to death case).

To be sure, we look at it as a hunt, a thrill, and a chance to get something you've been wanting for a while at a fraction of its regular price. Some of us even get up at ungodly hours of the morning to go and line up (yes, in a single file line, not a mob!) outside of a store with a particularly good deal in -30C weather (in Edmonton, I'm sure it's warmer in Toronto or Vancouver).

Perhaps that is what stops the stampeding: we're frozen too stiff to do more than shuffle quickly into a store! Sorry if I'm sort of rambling a bit, but this really shocked me. I think I'm just trying to relate to it and deny it could happen at the same time. No matter what it is, if you can buy it off of a box store's shelf, it isn't worth a life.