The class-based spectacle of Black Friday

We were only a few hours into Black Friday today when the first of the “brawling shoppers” videos hit Twitter.

It’s become an annual tradition, too: Fighting over the goods.

We should stop watching them, writer Luke O’Neil writes in the Washington Post today.

Shopper-on-shopper violence is a huge draw for the news business, he says. And, like the first brawl videos on Twitter today, it brings out the racist comments almost immediately.

As we’ve seen of late in the Ferguson-related unrest, the physical struggles of non-white America writ large make for great television. I’ve seen dozens of variations on the obvious and racist pun in the name of the day itself already today. But one thing we can say for sure is that it isn’t the wealthy or the comfortable who are standing in line in the cold, or wrestling with one another over a slightly discounted Xbox.

None of which is to say that resorting to violence over a discounted television or video game console is admirable, but it’s worthwhile to stop and consider just what it is that inspires such desperation in the first place. As in the world of Panem, an artificial scarcity is imposed from the top down — Wal-Mart, Target and so on — in order to whip the public into a frenzy of aspiration. The affluent media corporations are then complicit in the con, gorging themselves on advertising from the very stores raking in the sales revenue. And we, the advantaged, sit at home in front of our computers and tablets and phones, all of which we’ve already purchased at non-bargain prices, and delight in the spectacle.

It’s possible the demise of Black Friday may solve the problem. The fizz is going out of the day, The Atlantic reports today. It says since 2006, 97 deaths have been attributed to Black Friday.

As a spectacle, it may be celebrated by all, but it is participated in, increasingly, by a few. Black Friday stands, both temporally and culturally, in stark contrast to Thanksgiving, which is not a Hallmark holiday so much as a Williams-Sonoma one, and which involves, at its extremes, people who can afford heritage turkeys/disposable centerpieces/vessels designed solely to pour gravy congratulating themselves on how wonderfully non-commercial the whole thing is. With stomachs full of bird and broccolini and bourbon-ginger-apple pie, they settle in to watch the news stories that come out of Black Friday—the stampedes, the stabbings—and gawk in amusement and amazement. “All that for a flat screen,” they say, drinking their wine and clucking their tongues.

Related: Mall of America, others took a stand against Thanksgiving openings — it seems to have paid off (CNBC)

  • Mike Worcester

    Gosh I guess I’m just not enough into the holiday spirit to get into a scrum with other shoppers to save a couple bucks on something I probably don’t need anyway. Does that make me un-American?

    In truth, even though I am working today, the only black I saw this morning was the back of my eyelids as I slept in while others showed their seasonal cheer.

  • MrE85

    I did a fair amount of shopping today w/o crowds or brawls, and I did them in real stores. Timing is everything. When I hit Target at 8 am, the “doorbusters” were long gone and the late risers were still at home. Very few shoppers, lots of staff.
    At the liquor store, the clerk mentioned they were overwhelmed on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. Likewise, no problem in the bookstore later that morning.

    • RBHolb

      “Likewise, no problem in the bookstore later that morning.”

      When have you ever had a problem with crowds in a bookstore? I would (non-ironically) love to see that sometime.

      • Robert Moffitt

        Well said.

  • Rob

    My new holiday tradition is binging on shopper-on-shopper brawl clips. ‘Cuz ‘merica.