Black Friday: A Consumer’s Dilemma

Eliza Llewellyn, Staff Writer

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If there’s anything that can stir anarchy, violence, and greed, it’s a sale: make it 50% off, limited time only, or even better—“buy one, get one free.” To consumers, the concept of a bargain practically reeks, and produces a scent that rouses buying-machines from their easy chairs and makes Americans everywhere rush to local mega-malls like frenzied Stepford wives in need of new material items.

Every fourth Friday in November, mere hours after putting away the turkey and giving thanks for family, friends, and comfort, shoppers flock to stores countrywide to snag discounts. This year, Black Friday spending rose almost 40% from last year, according to statistics provided by BGR. Cyber Monday sales were also strong.  With even more holiday shopping deals on the way, retailers are bound to rake in dollars just as Americans are blindly reeled in by advertising, sales, and commercial scheming.

Each Black Friday seems to have its share of violence, ranging from a woman turning to pepper spray for an X-Box in a Los Angeles Walmart to a horde of teenagers looting a Hollister in SoHo.  Commercials even make light of the bestial instincts that arise when Americans are confronted with a marked down appliances, electronics, and brand-name clothing. A cheery woman yanks items off shelves and out of others’ shopping carts while singing a rendition of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” tailored for the holiday. Another commercial shows a Target-shopper manically training for Black Friday as though it were a competitive event. But their depictions may be too close to the truth, especially when $2 waffle makers can spawn a cross between a mosh pit and rugby play, as seen in an Arkansas Walmart.

Black Friday is an ugly ritual representative of all of capitalism’s vices. Through underhanded marketing tactics, it convinces the public that it has only one chance to snag that $200 TV. The exclusive deal won’t last, so clearly justifies trampling others.

On any of the other 364 days of the year, shoppers might react to a highly marked down product with suspicion – too much of a bargain may compensate for a defect or poor quality. But Black Friday, a “holiday” manufactured by retailers, justifies price slashing and takes away the consumer’s ability to reason – there is no such thing as “too good to be true.” With reasoning tossed aside, the consumer can fully focus on pepper spraying competitors to get an edge in the race to the discounted flat screen. It’s a day that condones consumer greed.

But holiday sprees associated with Black Friday are merely the icing on the consumerism that chokes our country. We are obsessed with buying.

This “gotta-have-it” mentality is bred in part by our society, which caters to a consumerist mindset. Commercial businesses are expert manipulators, using advertising to wage psychological price wars. According to Art Markman, Ph.D., for Psychology Today, advertisers condition us to subconsciously associate their products with positive items. As leggy models parade in lingerie or a charming gecko pontificates in an Australian accent, we are being programmed to buy.

I am no different from the manipulated masses, merely a consumer racking up receipts. I admit that some part of my logic may turn animal when faced with things to buy. On Black Friday, I also was hitting the shops, albeit during the afternoon. I encountered throngs of shoppers, all carrying bags. Every store window seemed to scream an unbelievable sale, every passerby seemed to mock my empty handedness. The sense of urgency was palpable; all I wanted to do was join the mindless shoppers rooting through baskets of bargains.

The truth is that I don’t need that shiny new phone or those pre-ripped jeggings. We overspend on trivial items that retailers convince us are necessities. According to Worldwatch.org, the worldwide annual expenditure for cosmetics is $18 billion. The estimated annual expenditure needed to eradicate hunger and malnutrition is $19 billion.

But I am still guilty of turning to retail therapy, obsessively stalking online sales, and harboring piles of unworn clothes with the price tags attached. It’s easy to blame my thirst for stuff on those unethical advertisers or that confounded system known as capitalism. But to break from the vise of retailers, Americans need to take responsibility and collectively deemphasize buying. Consumerism has gone too far when a day of bargains can result in bodily harm. It’s frightening that our desire to accumulate goods overcomes our humanity. Material thirst has rewired basic biology, causing us to value the acquisition of goods over the safety of fellow people.

Capping the pepper spray and controlling the mobs would be a start. But that still doesn’t address the guilty shoebox in my closet. The boots were half price – I couldn’t resist.

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