On That Blackest of Fridays

This Friday just gone the forces of the great crass-consumerism monoculture struck yet another blow against common sense and caused chaos on the streets of Great Britain. I am, dear hypothetical audience, of course talking about the inexplicable export and subsequent rise in popularity of that peculiar American tradition of The-Friday-After-Thanksgiving-Sales-Chaos, or, as it’s known to its friends, Black Friday. And when I say chaos, I really do mean it, in stores up and down the country masses of people who’d for some reason bought into the whole crazy mess descended in their droves. Incidents involved police being called to various branches of Tescos, shoppers fighting over allegedly cheap televisions, people causing affray and so on. All in the name of great deals. By which I mean consuming.

I shan’t go deep into what Black Friday is, partially because the amount it’s been forced down our throats means most will be aware of it by now, but also my WordPress stats inform me that most of my hypothetical audience is from the opposite side of the Atlantic, so it’s safe to assume you all know the basics. The curious thing is, however, how it has been pressed to become a thing in the United Kingdom. Now, thanks to the internet, and having bought stuff from the ‘States a fair few times over the last decade I’ve been aware of Black Friday for quite a while thanks to trans-national marketing emails, and it always struck me as the American version of our very own Boxing Day Sales (Same principle, just substitute “Friday After Thanksgiving” for “Day after Christmas”). However, over the last five years or so it has suddenly become a thing we in the UK are expected to give a crap about. It started small, with the perpetrators usually being companies owned by American firms (Like Asda, Walmart’s British arm since 1999), which, while annoying, is somewhat understandable. Then some of our own, larger home-grown retailers started to get in on the act, including such luminaries as Tesco and John Lewis, though this still wasn’t that much of a big deal. Then this year rolled around, and it’s suddenly fucking everywhere! Small retailers, independent retailers, online only retailers, the works!

It’s not immediately obvious where this push has come from. As I said, the earliest examples over here were American owned companies, I can understand that to a degree. I imagine some suit over in the US sent an edict to the transatlantic division to enact the same discounts as the mother company at the same time to try and drum up sales, without actually thinking about it much. I get that. But the speed and willingness of its adoption beyond that is terrifying, really. Especially as we have no major reason for taking to it over here, we don’t have Thanksgiving in any way, shape or form, so there’s no holiday for the corporations to exploit here, it’s just a random Friday in November we’re expected to get our consumerism on for. The marketing also doesn’t really give us a reason, either, the whole matter is neatly side stepped as Awesome Bargains® are dangled in front of us as a distraction.

Marketing is really the crux of it, if you consider things for more than a few seconds. This whole event exists solely to exploit us for corporate profit. The suits at the top of it’s originators really couldn’t care less that we don’t celebrate the event Black Friday’s willing to exploit, money must be made donchaknow! Sod the prevailing cultural differences across the Atlantic, nothing must be allowed to interfere with profit margins. As for the adoption by everyone else? Well,the two reasons I’ve heard quoted to me from marketing types in my acquaintance are A: “the deals are too good to keep just to the US” and 2: “Everyone else is doing it.” Whilst A is a promising sign that people are beginning to realise there are no borders on the internet (among other areas of life), it’s marginally depressing it’s being used in this manner rather than more productive ways. 2, frankly annoys me. Everyone else is doing it is one of the worst reasons to do anything, as it is a very anti-innovation and anti-creative reasoning. If I’m honest, I would have vastly preferred the energy put into shilling this crap into something altogether better for both consumers and indeed the wider human race. But no, profits dictate we all have to go out and get the same deals everywhere in the world and then, to quote Warren Ellis, celebrate by buying the same burger.

And it’s not like we didn’t have our own equivalent here. The Boxing Day Sales have been a traditional fixture of British calendars as long as I’ve been alive, and often attracted similar levels of madness, and had the added bonus of lasting far longer. The madness doesn’t subside for a while, either. Once I got dragged into the flagship London store of a nation clothing retailer in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and it was pandemonium. Never again. But it’s interesting how the big companies have chosen not to wait all of a month to exploit a longer sales period, they’d rather have the money globally there and then. This pretty much confirms the whole “instant gratification” aspect that infects modern consumerism goes all the way to the top.

On both the Black Friday and Boxing Day sales counts, it’s pretty sad that consumerism has pretty much co-opted two very traditional events in two different global cultures, Thanksgiving and Christmas respectively. Ignoring the religious aspects and slightly dubious interpretations of history, both have, in recent years, been pushed as celebrating friends, family and loved ones, which is a fairly noble reason for a holiday if you ask me. The co-opting of both by commercial entities really only trying to push their consumerist agenda to create profit for themselves is deeply depressing. The idea that we can no longer celebrate being happy for who we know and love without showering them with tawdry tat is a sad indictment of how our society is allegedly progressing, and a trend I would love to see reversed before we end up being defined only by what we own not who we are.

Since the whole Black Friday thing has now been and gone, only to morph into Cyber Monday, which is more of the same, I propose this: In the coming “Holiday Season” don’t buy into the consumerism, don’t play to their tune, just spend your time with people you enjoy being around and love, and make sure they know you appreciate them. Make happiness something you do, not something you own.

Until next time, folks

—Work, Buy, Consume, Die
—Also: Bah Humbug Day Minus 25

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