How long is Black Friday? A day? A weekend? A week?
Now that American retailers have freed themselves from the taboo against shopping on Thanksgiving, Black Friday can mean anything one likes. With more and more stores offering discounts and revving up advertising right after Halloween, the holiday shopping season threatens to consume the entire fall, much as the harvest, processing and storage of the crops used to do before the industrial revolution. Instead of sickles, threshers and canning equipment, we wield credit cards and smart phones.
I wonder how traditionalists feel now that Black Friday sales begin the Monday before Thanksgiving and earlier? Do they miss the week-long anticipation of a one-day bacchanalia of shopping bargains and surging crowds? Do they sob in dismay as presales drain the true meaning out of Black Friday—the official kickoff to a month-long potlatch of buying and consumption? Or do they embrace the greater opportunity for celebration, as the de facto number of shopping days swells? Perhaps some even welcome the expansion of Black Friday, as it swallows Thanksgiving and diminishes the imperatives of that competing holiday of an older culture. After all, why should a family meal impede the imperatives of consumer culture?
All facetiousness aside, I find it fascinating to see how different vendors are approaching the start of the holiday shopping season now that the rigidity in start date imposed by the obligations of celebrating Thanksgiving has eroded. I applaud the many national retailers such as Costco, Marshall’s, Barnes & Noble, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom’s and Burlington Coat Factory who are staying closed on Thanksgiving. I wonder if they ran the numbers and realized that keeping the doors closed for Thanksgiving does not cost them any overall sales. I’m sure they have happier employees, and happier employees are usually more productive.
Walmart has opened its doors on Thanksgiving for almost 25 years now. It currently intends to treat Black Friday like an invasion—phasing in different sales events as if they were deploying tank divisions to breach a border at several points. At the chime of midnight on Thanksgiving, Walmart starts a blitzkrieg of sales on its website. While Walmart will have its doors opened all day Thanksgiving, it will offer a round of special sales at 6:00 pm and another at 8:00 pm. Then comes the main event—the traditional 6:00 am Black Friday opening with its own set of special sales.
Walmart, by the way, is far from the only retailer to desecrate Thanksgiving. Macy’s, Kmart, Sears, Penney, Target, Kohl’s and Best Buy are just a few of the many national retailers who think they can make extra bucks by getting a head start on the holiday shopping season.
For my household, Black Friday week started when the mail came today, and we saw the New York magazine holiday gift guide—551 gift suggestions ranging in costs from one penny to $4 million, virtually all of which are completely frivolous and inessential. Some of the more conspicuously useless of the gifts under $50 include “Yoga Joes (G.I. Joes doing Yoga instead of waging war), an evil-eye key chain, a bottle of water from the so-called fountain of youth, Japanese KitKat bars, socks from the tailor who supplies the pope and a banana slicer.
Unlike the traditional magazine gift guide, the New York guide is an interactive tool. All you have to do is download a free app and then scan the image of the products you want to buy by holding “the smartphone steady 4-6” away from the printed page and let your camera focus until you hear a chime,” as a full-page ad in the publications tells us. The third step—since it’s as easy as one, two, three, like everything else in the dreamland called American commerce—is to buy the items from the e-commerce page.
We somehow finagled a year’s free subscription to New York, but some people are actually paying money to get this special issue, which conveniently arrived on the first day of the new American holiday of Black Friday Week.
I must have somehow become an obstinate old codger. I proclaim the virtues of diversity all the time, and yet the diversity in Black Friday celebration that we currently have by the various national churches of commerce such as Walmart, Macy’s and Costco leaves me uneasy. I find it unseemly that in generating Black Friday Week we are naming a week after a day. I also wonder what meaning there can be left in the shared traditions of camping out overnight, pushing together to break through a logjam of people and sending different family members with lists to different departments or stores—all the fun stuff we associate with Black Friday and remember from our childhood—all of it must lose some meaning knowing that you could have picked up the same hand-held computer or hot toy earlier in the week. I should instead marvel at the fact that in the United States, you have so many options for buying meaningless crap—that is provided, you have the money.
LOL or COL (crying out loud).