I’m a digital learning teacher and currently run a moviemaking workshop for Bronx teens, and presently we’re looking at how camera angles operate as the “secret weapons” of visual storytelling — manipulating emotions by controlling the presentation and amount of information an audience receives. The concept of “Black Friday” works similarly.
The holiday season can be a free-for-all for the powers-that-be who jump at the excuse to fuck with us just a little bit more. Corporations “sell” Black Friday by barraging us with relentless campaigns that serve to exploit our dwindling spending cash levels and amp up the continuous state of feeling like we’re running out of time. They’ve inextricably linked Black Friday to the rest of the holiday season and are exploiting love, anxiety and poverty as a driving force behind another made-up money-making holiday.
Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the fiscal year and the most notorious. Huge retail chains, like Sears and Best Buy, advertise obscenely low prices for many of their hot-ticket items, like flat-screen TVs and laptops, and set discount parameters that transform Black Friday into the jaded vengeful mistress of the holiday season. The sales begin at ungodly hours, thus screwing with family time and torturing their employees. This year Best Buy’s opening at 12AM on Friday and will “hand out tickets up to two hours before the midnight opening.” Wal-Mart, the epitome of an evil corporation, is opening at 8 PM on Thanksgiving Day for “Event 1” and 10PM for “Event 2” for those desperate for a new TV, Laptop or Blu-Ray player. If you’re willing to skip Thanksgiving altogether, you can visit Target, which will start its Black Friday deals on Thursday. That must really suck for everybody who works there. Macy’s is another store opening on Thanksgiving Night to get the jump on Black Friday earnings. How ’bout you give me a minute, son? Jeezus.
Furthermore, fine print trumps all of the big sale signs: there are limited quantities of these items, and you just might get trampled over that flatscreen TV. Ok, ok, I really don’t want this to turn into an overly militant anti-capitalism rant. Pause. I get that some of us wake up early on Black Friday to engage in delirium-fueled, shopping-based hooliganism with relatives, friends, your whoevers and then crash for the rest of the day. You’re ok with that and so am I. But fuck, it’s still a day that’s been co-opted and re-packaged to control what we do.
Since the late 19th century, major retailers in the United States have made it their focus to bring shoppers into stores immediately after Thanksgiving as a way to provide an ‘official’ start to the holiday shopping season. Obviously there weren’t any flatscreens back then or Macy’s commercials, so stores hosted parades to excite and encourage people to hang out and crack open their change purchases. It sounds kinda awesome, actually, like, okay, you want me to support your business so at a reasonable time of day, a parade is thrown for my enjoyment, and then I can leisurely stroll around either alone or with people I love and peruse all your pretty goods? Deal. Back then it wasn’t even called “Black Friday” and it lacked all these Fear-Factor/The Gauntlet-type obstacles. In fact, “Black Friday” is the term Philadelphia cops, taxi drivers and bus drivers coined in the 1960s as a way to describe the massive traffic problems caused by throngs of people out in the city on the day after Thanksgiving.
Retailers eventually revamped Black Friday into what it is today, forever altering our view of consumer chaos. Modern retailers — I’m looking at you Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, Loews, etcs — have tried to sell that chaos into something endured for the love of family. As I said, city workers in the 60’s dubbed it Black Friday because shit got crazy. There were mad people everywhere and they would have probably preferred to be home with their families instead of out in the streets with the crazy. But they went anyhow, following the lure of ridiculously low prices, and the tight timelines for when such deals exist give panic its proper role as fuel.
Panic pushes into competitiveness until they become this super force that urges people out of their homes at 3am and onto lines to buy goods so that they can be the one who gets the deal. Is this really a deal though? Hey Gabby, you want this new shiny thing that goes beep beep and plays Beyoncé videos? You know I do. Ok, well all you gotta do is wait outside in the cold, dark parking lot while you’re still drunk and full from Thanksgiving. I’m gonna pit 500 other people in the line with you and only provide enough magic beep beeps for 1/10 of the people. Just get through the horde, find the prize, and give me your money. Are you serious, bro? Can I just like take a nap and forget you ever propositioned me with this bullshit?
I’m already anxious. Also, if the idea behind Black Friday is that obtaining these low-priced must-have items so early in the shopping season will ease your worries about not obtaining adequate gifts for your self/family/friends/fuckbuddies — why would they have to sell it so hard? It’s pushed so heavy because that shit is a joke! There are sales all year-round in all major big box retailers and department stores in the United States. Just throw a dart at your Autostostraddle calendar and I’m sure some mall somewhere has a sale going on.
The best way to get people in this country to do something is to invoke fear and hand out credit cards. Funny, they play on the anxiety created by potentially missing a sale but fail to discuss the real anxiety faced when those credit card bills and monthly payments for whatever luxury item purchased start rolling in. Why don’t they make commercials warnings for that, man? Fear + people using credit cards to buy shit they don’t need/can’t afford * chaos = F.U.B.F.
And credit card debt is far from the worst consequence of stoking people’s fear and consumerism so hard in a 24-hour period. In 2008, Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death by a Black Friday mob at Wal-Mart. Here’s what a typical Black Friday morning looks like at a major retailer:
Is it ok for us to behave this way for shit we’re just going to re-buy next year? For shit that doesn’t biodegrade or say “I love you so deep and this is what I’ve wanted to gift your soul with the entire year?” Is it okay that you can click on a link titled 13 Most Brutal Black Friday Injuries/Deaths?
But honestly what bothers me the most is this: why is it okay for corporations to encroach on our time to reflect, give thanks and be loved? That’s how I non-denominationally view the time period that begins on November 25th-ish and runs until January 3. Yes, we should maintain those feelings all year round and be super queers but fuck it’s hard sometimes. I think it’s dope to dedicate a season to focusing on those sentiments and giving them their due. They get lost during the year, you know? We don’t mean it but shit happens. We’re busy getting degrees in QPOC gender studies, organizing hurricane relief, binding breasts, and teaching kids in the Bronx how to become filmmakers. Black Friday isn’t our problem. To me, Black Friday is the close-up shot that highlights what we allow in our lives and in our traditions and how much control corporations have on the way we celebrate holidays.
Is Black Friday just a thing in the United States? I’ve heard that Boxing Day in Canada has a similar shopping situation going on? What’s Black Friday like in your country? Does it exist? Please, tell me that it doesn’t. Tell me that the rest of the world runs on the love and patronage of autostraddle, flea markets, craft fairs, artisans, DIY gifts and geeky corny love stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with a sale.
Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.
when I came back from my HS exchange thing in ’06 I had to do a short paper on an american culture experience that impressed (aka scarred) me the most. I choose this craziness.I had to get up at 3.30so my host family could buy about 2 dozen paintball guns while I hid in the parking lot and smoked a spliff
I’m rolling my eyes so hard at this article.
Thanks for the update!
You’re most welcome.
Thank you for this. We don’t have Black Friday where I am but even from across the world it’s easy to get sucked into the whirlwind – all my favourite online stores are having sales and as embarrassed as I am to admit this I’ve gotten into a “omg! must buy all the things while they are still cheap!” panicky state. Your article is a wake-up call and reminds me that this anxiousness is actually something retailers are deliberately trying to make consumers feel in order to improve their profit margins.
The point you made about how the stress of missing out on a ‘good deal’ is actually nothing compared to the stress of debt and brokeness is a powerful one.
I am going to buy one thing in the sales – a beautiful 1950s dress – but that is something I have thought through and worked out I can afford :D
I stand with Gabby! I have never been shopping on black friday but I have worked the retail end and it is a nightmare. At Target I witnessed two fights over this children’s toy that in reality probably would have been on sale around the last minute of the holiday shopping season and was grossly understocked to begin with. The shoppers are also very rude on this day despite it supposedly being fueled by warm feelings and the gift of giving.
I usually do small business saturday, and last night I wanted new pants from Old Navy.com, but you only get the deals if you go to the store and I’m not about shopping in stores because like so many other things it causes anxiety. Crossing my fingers for decent cyber-monday deals.
Ah, I too worked at Target. That video above both saddened me and brought back nightmares. The desperation, madness and lack of civility is both horrifying and grotesquely intriguing.
I’m not in the US at the moment, but I’m going to make it a point NOT to go shopping on Black Friday, or the following Saturday and Sunday, once I’m back there. Besides, I’d rather give handmade (by me or someone else) things anyway.
I see this time of year in the same, non-denominational way you do – and it’s sad that so few people really do. It’s all about buying crap nobody needs. Some day, I think I’ll try to make it that if my kids are going to get toys and such, they need to get rid of some they don’t play with anymore. Help teach them that quality is better than quantity, and having tons of junk doesn’t make you awesome.
Also, about those big hordes of people who wait around stores, the only time it’s worth getting caught in that kind of crowd is if you’re seeing your favourite band. Just saying.
You know it!
Don’t really know what the Australian equivalent of this is. Probably boxing day. I hate shopping during normal times so i especially avoid in the holidays. As i was reading i was thinking…is this like those videos ive seen…then yeah…it was. I can’t believe its really like that.
Those poor target workers, I totally laughed at the video too, (i feel so bad about it!), But yeah those people running, Hahaha.
I was appalled at the idea of extending shopping into Thanksgiving. On Tuesday, I was at Target and chatted up 4 random 30+ y.o. employees for their thoughts – 3 of them said they didn’t mind having dinner earlier to make the extra money; the other was of the opinion retail sucked 24×7 so this just made it suck worse.
I know people who shop Black Friday because it allows them to buy non-frivolous things they couldn’t afford otherwise and others who do it because they approach deal shopping as a competitive sport, no different than people I know who get together for a traditional game of flag football this weekend.
I’m not enough of a shopper to know what’s a real deal and what’s not, so I typically find some vetted deal monitoring sites and watch those. As a geek and inclined to give tech gifts, I’m watching Wirecutter http://thewirecutter.com/2012/11/holiday-gadget-deals-of-the-highest-quality-and-where-to-find-them/ and Lifehacker has a whole page of Black Friday myth-busting and shopping resources http://lifehacker.com/black-friday/ – about midway down is a link to their page of deals, sortable by store and their deals use a star rating to indicate if it really is a deal and how good it is.
As intently as the stores work to manipulate our actions, ultimately companies are driven by customer behavior: if enough of us stayed home, they’d stop this madness..
I hate Black Friday because I was just at work from 11pm to 10am.
The best part of the day was peeking out of the locked doors around 11:30pm and waving at all of the cold, crazy people.
Ugh, whatever, get that money…
The tradition of talking over dessert and playing board games with my family replaced by flipping through flyers and leaving dinner early to get in line for the latest shiny gadget. It’s up to those of us who see through the consumerist BS to find a way to bring back the love.
Well said Gabrielle!
Every year I come up with a reason not to go shopping today.
This year I came up with a haiku.
Black Friday Shopping.
You lose and They win.
if i had a prize for best black friday haiku, you’d win it and whatever was behind door #2.
The Canadian equivalent of Black Friday used to be boxing day, but in the last 2-3 years, Canadian retailers have jumped on the Black Friday bandwagon. It’s mostly chains that originated in the US, like Walmart and Best Buy but even the locally-owned bike shop I work at is having an event. Even still, it’s not quite the BFD that it is in the states; only American chains have doorbusters and most places’ sale prices are in the “pretty decent” range rather than “holyfuckcheap!”. And we had Thanksgiving in October,which probably effects the amount of family guilt people are feeling. Boxing Day is still a thing though, it can get a little crazy with the prices but in general it’s less chaotic, at least in my experience
In Mexico they just started, last year I think, something called “Buen Fin” (Good Weekend), which is supposed to be similar to Black Friday: major sales at all sorts of stores, though without the all-night lines. It was last weekend. I think it’s especially bizarre because at least Black Friday came out of an actual tradition of going shopping the day after Thanksgiving; Buen Fin is just arbitrary.
Also, sadly, a lot of people in Mexico appear to know more about Black Friday than they do about Thanksgiving. Yesterday when I told people it was Thanksgiving, I got a lot of responses like, “Oh yeah, and so Black Friday’s tomorrow!” Aauuugh, who the fuck cares about Black Friday!
We hates it.
I just worked from 11:30 pm on Thanksgiving to 9:30 am. The store where I work was projected to make 16,000 dollars today. Just today. That’s far more than I make in an entire year. People were actually somewhat pleasant, but we are just a small shop with no real big ticket items. The whole idea of Black Friday makes me sick, mostly since I have been working in retail since I was 17. Late nights/early mornings and long, stressful lines really bring out the worst in people.
“Ok, ok, I really don’t want this to turn into an overly militant anti-capitalism rant.”
But if you decide you do, I am so up for that. Seriously.
Agreed. I purchased something from Target on Tuesday and left feeling like Scrooge. The energy in the store was so tense and angry during this “happiest of the year”. Stayed in the house with my cats and a glass of wine today and feel relaxed.
I don’t like crowds or mornings, hence my only goal on Black Friday is to go nowhere near a store
also, walking through perfume aisles in department stores gives me an asthma attack. somehow this is related to your comment.
Perfume aisles are pure evil, they give me an instant migraine
I’ve never been out on Boxing day to a store other than the grocery store I work in but I don’t get the impression its quite as crazy as this.
I’ve never really understood the whole shopping after a holiday thing but whatever. I just feel bad for the employees, something tells me everyone is not the nicest on these days.
we need more protests! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/22/walmart-strike-dallas_n_2175697.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter
I also read that in LA there were arrests made during a Walmart protest….
I kinda wish I would have gone to a protest but I was driving late last night and decided to sleep… meh… Black Friday sucks!! I refuse to buy ANYTHING on this day from anywhere.
Never shopped on Black Friday, never will. My family and I have pretty much ceased the Christmas gift giving all together because of the ridiculousness. I now prefer just to get laid on Christmas. Fight the man! Free love!!
My immediate family and I like to do a non-traditional thanksgiving. They come into Manhattan to visit me, we have thanksgiving dinner at a great restaurant, and we hit black friday. We never go for the crazy early-morning deals: we stay relaxed, take the time to eat a nice breakfast, hit a few department stores, and then go to soho. We have a lovely time strolling around, looking at storefronts, buying things for each other and eating dinner together.
And I got dumped this thanksgiving, so black friday served as a welcome distraction, and made me truly appreciate the company of my family and all the support and love they give me.
i was at target for part of black friday this year, but it’s only because i was trying to find my best friend, who was shopping, and convince her to drink with me. all because i had gotten dumped…on thanksgiving…at 10pm…at a casino.
side-note, it was terrifying and just being there for a second made me hate people and things while simultaneously taking my mind off of what had just happened.
Kittens are fine and all, but I’ve just realized how desperately I want every Autostraddle article to be illustrated by pictures of Beyonce instead.
i’m working on it.
Black Friday is freaking lame. Thanksgiving we spend the day “giving thanks” for what we have and spending time with our family and friends. The next day people go crazy knocking each other over CAMPING OUT IN TENTS in front of the store over stuff they want. I’d kind of like to camp out in one of these stores during Black Friday and just watch and shake my head at the crazy people!
Using “lame” in that manner is ableist language.
Also someone told me if you wanna know what the zombie apocalypse would be like just go to Walmart on Black Friday!!!
I guess Canada’s equivalent would be Boxing Day, but it’s extended into a week-long event so that you can take your time and get good deals at your convenience. Yeah, so we don’t get giant TVs for $200, but at least we don’t trample one another. We’re Canadian, so there’d be a lot of “Sorry! Oh god, I’m sorry!” and “No, you go ahead. No, it’s okay, I can wait. Thank you!”
Also: I want magic beep beeps.
papi, you really really get me. all i want for xmas is a beyonce magic beep beep.
THANK YOU for writing this! so much yes to everything you said. Yeah, we have Boxing Day madness, but it’s not quite as crazy as Black Friday looks. The thing that worries me is that Canadian businesses are tired of ppl going across the border for all the American so-called “sales,” so now they’re starting to slowly introduce Black Friday here. Each year more and more Canadian stores are advertising Black Friday deals, which sucks, cause before you know it we’ll have Boxing Day AAAND Black Friday craziness, and I just want to have stress-free, flyer-free time to relax with my family/friends and digest my Oma’s good holiday cooking.
Thank you! I decided a long time ago I wanted nothing to do with black friday, I’d always stay in with my uncles and younger cousins while everyone else headed out to stand in line, but this year I had the grave misfortune of working at Sears 7:30pm on Thanksgiving through 3pm Friday. I had to skip the first Thanksgiving in years where I’m actually living close enough to be with my family in order to spend the day sleeping so I could make it through without passing out. Black Friday is hell for retail workers, and the shoppers are often downright hostile. If I never have to work black friday again it’ll be too soon.
Black Friday doesn’t exist in France (well, we have les soldes twice a year, but it’s not as crazy as Black Friday looks), and to be honest, before this year I knew nothing about it. I learnt what it was because my inbox has recently been polluted with Amazon emails that strongly advice me to spend my money.
YES. Thank you. I went from being one of those starry-eyed holiday-loving types to an utter grinch after a few seasons in retail, and I still haven’t recovered. Black Friday (which keeps getting shoved back and back and encroaching more and more on Thursday) makes me angriest of all.
It’s not just that people are shopping. It’s that people are incredibly fucking foul while they are shopping (from November 25-ish to December 24), and they are foul en masse and generally while in a huge anxiety-driven hurry. Even when I worked at an indie bookstore whose customers prided themselves on being Not Like That…they were for that month or so. Maybe Small Business Saturday will be a step in taking the wind out of the huge corporate sails of Black Friday (without taking on the madness of BF)–fingers crossed.
What kills me is that these days don’t *have* to suck. Take time to cultivate gratitude? Give each other thoughtful gifts? Hang out, eat, drink, and generally be awesome to one another in the darkest, coldest days of winter? Awesome. Sign me up. How that turned into fistfights over iPads at 3am I’m still not entirely sure.
CHRISMAKWANZAHANUDIADELOSREYES. I want to celebrate that thing.
Was anyone else distracted by the brilliantness of this article by that sexy girl wearing a gray hoodie in the bottom right of the crowd picture?
In Sweden we have the “mellandagsrea”, which means the “days-in-between-sale”. And the “days-in-between” are of course the days between Christmas and New Years. So our crazy sale thingy (this was the one I felt was most similar to Black Friday) actually takes place AFTER Christmas. It’s starting to spread out a bit though, sometimes they will continue for the week after New Years as well.
Then we have sales at other times of the year, notably the book sale which starts in September some time (if I remember correctly). And individual stores have their own sales whenever they want. But yeah, the “mellandagsrea” is the only one that is really crazy.
I don’t know if we have anything like that in Australia – though I know one of the shopping centres(malls) near me does a 36hr open thing the day or so before christmas. It’s not Black Friday crazy though – just regular pre-christmas hectic. I know a lot of people who go in at 3am just for the novelty of being at a shop that late. I’ve never seen a sale mob here.
Good article and all but some people can’t afford laptops, TVs and presents for their friends and families without events like black Friday. I like that they extended the sale to Thursday at decent times like 8pm and 10pm for people that don’t want to be standing out in the cold on Friday morning and finally, about this “…But honestly what bothers me the most is this: why is it okay for corporations to encroach on our time to reflect, give thanks and be loved?” Stores can advertise all they want but they don’t actually force anyone attend black Friday sales. The bottom line is you can choose to go or stay home if you like but don’t make people feel bad about going shopping on black Friday.
I had to work Thanksgiving night and Black Friday morning when I worked at Target last year, and it was horrifying. It was also my first time experiencing Black Friday because seriously I cannot make myself care enough about sales to get up way too early in the black and cold after a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, when all I want to do is sleep late and then eat leftovers.
Also, my hometown has this thing called the Christmas Preview the weekend before Thanksgiving, and it’s adorable. It’s held in the evening in downtown, and all the stores are all Christmassy and lit up and you can walk in and get free hot cider and cookies and listen to live music while you look at possible Christmas gifts, and then wander the sidewalks where there are lots of street performers and carolers, and some of the storefronts have local dance troupes performing in the windows, one of which is always doing something from the yearly production of the Nutcracker, and everyone’s all bundled up and happy, and usually the only thing we buy that night, before we leave, is when we pick out a new Christmas tree ornament, and it’s just the most wonderful thing ever. I had to miss it this year, and I’m still sad over it. Stupid Seattle.