Well, folks, Thanksgiving came and went. As has become the norm for American culture, the frenzy of mass consumption known as Black Friday was much more the story than the beginnings of what would become the United States of America. Whether people believe that Thanksgiving should represent the importance of giving thanks for the charity that allowed the pilgrims to survive their first year in North America, or you take a more cynical view and focus on the centuries of betrayal and slaughter that followed that fateful year, one thing is certain; either is more important than shopping, and neither gets the focus afforded shopping after Thanksgiving. But the ridiculous hysteria centering around shopping on Black Friday tells us something very important about ourselves as a culture, as well. We have sold our national soul at the altar of capitalism in exchange for a few pieces of plastic and a chunk or two of compacted plant fossils.
Last year, in the media-hyped craze of consumerism, we witnessed people trampled to death as others, driven mad by the prospect of missing out on a good deal, ignored their cries for medical attention. Human beings seemingly forgot who and what they were, and instead reverted to some sick, animalistic version of a rabid baboon bent on self-satisfaction at whatever cost became necessary.
This year, the hype was even greater, and in the face of a woeful economy and high unemployment the pressure was on us all to spend, spend, SPEND! Should we be doing so? Probably not, but those who profit from the mass expenditure of Black Friday will pay any price for the media to convince us that we need to be giving our hard-earned money to Abercrombie & Fitch. Many news outlets were also attempting to ring the shopping bell to illicit pavlovian wallet-dribbling on the day after Thanksgiving. Am I the only one who is bothered by all this? Why is the news running stories about where the best deals can be had on iPods and flat screen TV’s? I don’t really know the answer, except to say that local news is highly ratings-driven, and they report the stories people want to see. Not one story about anything that actually happened to make Thanksgiving a day of historical or cultural import, just hour after hour of shopping news and updates on when the chain stores will be opening up for their doorbusters to provide another trampling casualty. There are no reports of trampling deaths to date, but I know I have a friend who almost got into a fist fight with an elderly woman over a purchasing dispute yesterday while infected by the contagious insanity that is Black Friday shopping.
Here’s how it really is. Most people don’t even know what happened on Thanksgiving, much less what the holiday was meant to inspire. Yes, the after-effects of the first thanksgiving were gruesome, brutal, and hypocritical. The first, though, represented a time when people would join together and be grateful for whatever good fortune had found its way to their tables. Instead of being glad for what we have, we have turned the day into a time when we are expected to be as unhappy as possible with what we already possess so that we will go out shopping for happiness in newer and “better” possessions. As a people, we have all too willingly given up on the spirit of gratitude Thanksgiving is supposed to represent. The rabid fever of conspicuous consumption we have come to know is exactly what we have proven we deserve. I can only hope we earn our real holiday back soon.