BLACK FRIDAY — ESCAPE THE CLUTCHES OF RETAIL SLAVERY.
As someone who only escaped the clutches of retail slavery a few years ago, the holidays has always been for me a time of intensely mixed emotions.
For me, it begins with a tremendous amount of anticipation and excitement, followed by an almost compulsive need to do nice things for other people (which is the good part) and, almost simultaneously, an overwhelming, soul-sucking sense of disappointment in the human race.
Mentally I imagine society all together, as a whole, standing in line to greet some sort of conglomeration of Jesus and Santa, so we can sit on his lap and ask for what our heart most deeply desires. The trouble is that we are asking for the wrong things.
I’ve come to approach this time of year as a good barometer for how much our country’s sense of social justice has evolved, as if the rest of the year didn’t really count.
Maybe I am jaded from my years in sales and service, and I myself don’t claim to be perfect, but as I imagine us all between velvet ropes looking forward to greeting the Santichrist, I am embarrassed at what I see around me.
If you work in retail, most of the anticipation surrounding the holidays is of two basic varieties: the let’s-get-this-shit-over-with type that comes from a vague recollection of the concept of sleep or what I like to think of as Freak Show anticipation. You know: the kind where you are more curious than excited.
When you have this type of anticipation as a retail worker, the real event you are looking forward to is that Mecca of consumerism, Black Friday, and all you really want to know is how many rabid window-lickers there will be and what will sell out first. After all, that’s where the fun is, right?
Why else (other than to keep your job) would you want to show up to work at 3 am (or now, even Thanksgiving night), if not to gawk at the people who will physically assault each other over waffle irons and iPods, spending way more money than your weary body will make in a month in a single transaction while leaving in their wake a debris field that rivals Hurricane Katrina?
Gift-giving is fun, and I very much respect the notion of giving of ourselves in some way to show those we love that they are meaningful and important to us. My frustration and attempts to explain it aren’t meant to deny anyone their tradition, especially when it’s done out of a sense of love, gratitude and self-sacrifice.
Volunteering together. Dinner together. Time spent together and conversation. These are meaningful gifts. What hurts my heart is when things devolve into a pissing contest about whose gift cost more money or who has the most packages to open. This is the part where I start to lose faith.
When I worked in retail, and even now as I listen to ads on television and the radio from I could never help but think of my favorite book-turned-movie, Fight Club, as I watched the mayhem unfold.
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
Although most of what’s being purchased on Black Friday will end up as well-intentioned gifts, I can’t help but wonder just how much of this shit anyone really needs and, also, if all this knee-jerk buying of things isn’t somehow just a habit we’ve developed to compensate for the way we usually treat each other.
It’s something I personally try to give a lot of thought, especially at this time of year when every message I hear is related to spending cash.
Does my daughter really want or need this or I am buying it because I feel guilty for missing that concert? Will I make someone’s day that much brighter with a coffee mug or tie? Couldn’t I also do that by taking them to lunch or spending an afternoon together?
Do the holidays have to keep being just about material things? What would happen if we went back to making them about people instead?
This is the cause of my impending dread when it comes to this time of year. It hardly seems necessary to rehash the facts about what an average Walmart employee earns or how sales are starting earlier each year, cutting into the time these same workers get to spend celebrating with their families.
(If you need a refresher, just check your Facebook feed, but more than just retail workers lose out on the holidays… doctors, nurses, police officers and countless others have been missing Thanksgiving dinner for years.)
These things, while unfortunate and often unfair, don’t even come close to the way consumerism is affecting our lives. The sad truth is that it’s just more pronounced during the holidays. This stuff happens all year long.
Can we skip the sales and hype this year? Can we learn to appreciate the gifts we already have and the gift of each other? Can we not spend the day after (or the day of) Thanksgiving needily hoarding, as George Carlin so eloquently put it, “shit we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like”?
Instead, celebrate the holidays for what they are really about, regardless of your religious tradition: love for one another, goodwill, peace and a real spirit of giving.
Help meaning triumph over materialism by giving experiences instead of things, helping others and being mindful of what you do purchase.
For every person who is willing to do this, my heart will grow two sizes and we can cut the black heart out of Black Friday.