A dystopian novel published earlier this year, The Warehouse, based on the workings of Amazon, makes repeated reference to something called the Black Friday Massacres. How these fictional massacres have impacted on fictional consumers, making them entirely dependent on online shopping because going to the actual shops is too dangerous.
Although these massacres exist only in the imagination of the author – so far, anyway – it’s not hard to imagine, in a country which equally worships guns and buying stuff, someone losing their shit and opening fire amidst the discounted widescreen TV aisles. Slaying fellow consumers as they grapple for cut-price laptops, at point blank range. Shooting and shopping – it’s just a matter of time.
As 38% of Americans are expected to hit the mall this Friday – that’s around 125 million shoppers simultaneously elbowing each other in the face – American shop workers report warzone levels of stress by close of business. Annual uploads show the unrich wrestling each other to the shop floor over power tools, blenders, coffee machines, headphones, trainers, kettles, kindles – we’ve all seen the YouTube carnage. We may snort with amusement, contempt, horror, or all three, but watching a zombie shopocalypse on a real-life shop floor is both horribly voyeuristic and hopelessly compulsive. Look! Someone getting decked over a half-price Nutribullet! Wait – is that a gun?
Obviously none of this could ever happen here, because we don’t have guns, but then we thought Black Friday could never happen here either, because we don’t have Thanksgiving. Yet here we are, gearing up for the stampede; Ireland and the UK, thanks to Amazon, have embraced Black Friday like Native Americans embracing smallpox-infected blankets as the first Thanksgiving turkeys were chased around with hatchets. Hooray. Or should we lighten up? Look! Cheap stuff! Deals! Cut price, half price, low price! How we all love a bargain, because this is how we have been trained to think from the moment we are born; unlike flat feet or colour blindness, consuming is not something we inherit from our parents, but from our wider social family via a lifelong barrage of targeted ad bombardment. We are so overwhelmed by this onslaught we don’t even notice it. It’s just here, all around us. Like smog. It’s why half the world is on fire and the other half under flood water.
Black Friday takes the core idea of festive gift giving – the pleasure of wrapping, giving, unwrapping, receiving – and mutates it into something toxic, a bit like the humble coca leaf, processed beyond recognition, ending up in a crack pipe.
We all enjoy presents, we all love giving and getting them. It’s human. But how have we ended up with the normalisation of stampeding past security guards, shoving our way towards a so-called bargain? What has this got to do with anything, other than making rich business richer as we impoverish ourselves to our core? Is this where we are now, in the‘developed’ world? Really?