Black Friday epitomizes American culture

Michael Williams

Black Friday has become more reflective of American cultural values than Thanksgiving.

The irony of Black Friday is clear, perhaps cliché. If we are celebrating gratitude and contentment on Thanksgiving, then is overconsumption the day following appropriate? Is the concept of Thanksgiving thus disingenuous? What stinks of gratitude and contentment less than incessant dissatisfaction manifesting itself as consumption?

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

Black Friday weekend of 2012 grossed $60 billion in sales in the United States. That’s 10 times the amount of money spent in the 2012 presidential campaign, which, by the way, was the costliest presidential run in U.S. history. Yes, more money is spent for nondurable goods in this country than for the institution of democracy.

The gross sales of Black Friday 2012 valued higher than the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of the globe’s 120 poorest nations. These sales valued more than the GDPs of Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Mongolia, Iceland and Niger combined. Often, the gross sales of Black Friday trump or are comparable to the GDPs of the nations producing the goods. Global wealth gap, anyone?

The goods purchased on Black Friday are rarely produced in the U.S. The vast majority of consumer items are produced in developing nations that have little to no regulations regarding employee standards. Conditions in these sweatshops are abhorrent and unimaginable to most Americans.

For example, Foxconn, a Chinese company that produces the majority of Apple products, has installed suicide nets on the side of their factory in recent years to curb the number of employees successfully killing themselves. Most of their employees are born into Foxconn and do not have the freedom to leave. That’s 21st century slavery, buttressed by iPad sales. And for the record, I own a MacBook.

The companies that gross the highest sales on Black Friday, typically big-box stores like Walmart and Best Buy, pay minimum wage for often non-unionized workers who thus cannot lobby for better treatment. These companies can afford much better wages for their employees, but skim all they can for shareholder profits.

Not only does Black Friday perpetuate horrid working conditions, it poses a threat to global environmental health.

The oil needed to ship this crap across the world (plus the mineral and oil extraction necessary for production of these goods) is hardly fathomable. The burned oil and gas becomes pollution, adding itself to rising atmospheric carbon levels linked to disasters like Hurricane Sandy and Super Typhoon Haiyan which killed more than 5000 and displaced nearly 2 million people last week. It all connects, including our credit cards.

Lastly, people stoop to absurd behaviors produced by avoidable physical and emotional states like anger, anxiety and fatigue on Black Friday.

Are the quantities of gifts under the tree come Christmas or the lengths it took to buy them really what’s to be appreciated about our loved ones? I hope not. The people in our lives are sacred in and of themselves.

Black Friday isn’t “just what we do.” It’s a new phenomenon. And it is bigger every year. Remember when Thanksgiving and Christmas were days to appreciate loved ones with physical and emotional gesture? Neither do I. I’m a millennial.

Most big-box stores are opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year. That is insulting to their labor forces. Opening on Thanksgiving was inconceivable a decade ago — part of the respect zone in owner to worker relationships.

Rather than tire ourselves on Black Friday racing between store aisles, nudging strangers, hopping from parking lot to parking lot to repeat the process of the tedious check-out line, why not do nothing? If one has the rare privilege of not working that day, why not make it an extension of Thanksgiving Day and spend it enjoying time off? Or, if shopping is irresistible on Black Friday, why not go downtown? Businesses on Washington Avenue and Third Street have big sales too. Throw some change their way. They won’t be as crowded, they will cater to you and they could use the commerce.

The big-box businesses on US 41 are faceless. To them, their money is in your pocket—but only if you swipe your card.

But choosing not to run that charge is a statement. At the end of the day, they don’t need that money as much as you or Marquette’s local businesses need it.

And ultimately, your family will still love you.