So, Black Friday is this thing that happens in the States. It’s the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and takes place the day after thanksgiving. It’s called Black Friday for a variety of reasons but the one I’m going to use is one of the few examples when black something meant something good. Apparently retail stores run on losses throughout the year until Black Friday happens and then from there until Christmas they make enough profit to cover up for the rest of the year’s performances. Their accounts are in the red until black Friday and then they are in the black.
On this day customers rush the stores, they wait in lines and spend their hard earned money for a gift for their children last year(according to wikipedia) 247 million shoppers spent about 400 dollars each resulting in turnover of 59.1 billion. I looked at the statistics again; googled the population of America, it is 313.9 million. This adds up to 78.6% of the population. Mind you not the adult population but the whole population including children and seniors and people who are sick and away at war and too poor to spend 400 dollars on one day.
Before I go on I would like to say that these statistics make no sense to me. Basically it says that every adult of able body went out on that day and spent 400 dollars. It says every teenager of able body also spent 400 dollars. All on one day. Since its average maybe all the rich people who threw a few million at the problem skewed the result but still it’s an amazing statistic.
Anthropologists say you can tell a lot about a society by how it reacts to stress, what it shops for, what it considers its unifying rituals and how well attended they are. Here we have all of those factors. There are people lining up from midnight the night before to the next morning and all through the day just to get a chance to buy a present for someone. This is a highly stressful situation, what they buy when they get to the top of the line is what they consider important it’s what they want to define them for the next few days, how they want their friends to think of them and how they think of those friends. It’s definitely a unifying ritual. What in your country gets 78.6% of the people out of their houses. It’s not the dawn of a new day, it’s not work, it’s not school. Kenyans were very celebratory about the 84% voter turnout we had. Looked at against the backdrop of the dismal voter registration the year before where the IEBC struggled to get over 50% of the eligible population to vote, looked at against the fact that at least 40% of our population is below 18 its suddenly comes to about 35% of the population. We are more than doubled by the black Friday turnout.
This in other words is the American tradition. Maybe a higher percentage perform thanksgiving ceremonies or watch the super bowl but this is different from those because it’s a public ceremony. It’s the most religious of religious ceremonies, the people of Israel waiting to see if the high priest will make it out of the ark alive, the people of the world waiting to see if there’s black or blue smoke coming out of the pope’s chimney. It’s a disruption of normal life that happens in public.
There’s long lines and an underlying potential and threat of violence fills the air. It hangs heavy and sooty and too much of it will put anyone on edge. It becomes extremely important, your position on the line because without it you are no closer to what you worked for than when you began. When someone cuts the line it’s a problem. There will be none of the polite murmuring and cutting comments. You will be politely thrown out and maybe cut up. This is no joking matter, violence happens on black Friday and you can’t really blame them. They are antsy, they are on edge and ready for a fight.
They all seem to wait in line to buy the same thing though. The Christmas present of right then, the hot new toy of the year that every child needs. I imagine that it cuts across class boundaries and demarcations, especially when shopping for kids. But all the children whose parents earn between x and y expect present z. any parent who doesn’t deliver had best deliver his best “Santa doesn’t exist” speech. In other words break the heart of the wee one. What I don’t get is why don’t the stores stock as much of this gift as possible. America is a highly surveilled and polled country. Google knows what the gift will be before the NSA does (well maybe not the NSA who we should all just include when ccing emails and skip a few steps.) Ok the NSA could tell them what product will be sold out and they could restock. There could be enough for every little child in America who wants it. And people could go shop for these things on Saturday or Sunday or after work on Monday instead of all doing it together. But maybe they want to do it together. Without togetherness it isn’t a unifying ritual, it’s just a ritual. It doesn’t pull together the African and the Middle Eastern and the Caucasian and the Asian and the European and the Black American and the Latino if they don’t all do it at the same time. They need one thing they all do that says to them that they are not so different. Maybe this is why the mad rush is preserved at all costs.
Ok, but why does everyone want the same thing? It’s something manufactured by advertisers its Don Draper coming up with an ad that says you are ok and what you are doing is ok. It’s not real because it couldn’t be for so many people. But then I also have this theory that if enough people believe in something then suddenly it becomes real. It’s a theory that helps me believe that the saints committed miracles and that there are places that witchcraft works and there are people I know who swear they saw ghosts. So maybe those 247 million people make it real by all wanting and believing in the power of this thing to heal so many rifts. To tell children who never see their parents that the love is always there, to tell families who never feel it that home is where they are, to tell wives who never believe it that their husband loves them and only them, to tell husbands who never know it that their wives still think of them as they did when they first walked down the aisle. These presents they spend 59.1 billion on have a lot riding on them. They must do what words can’t and what actions can only approximate if done over a long period of time. They must make up for things lost and be a promise of things to come. This is their purpose.
And it comes from a good place, a place of love and remorse and reconciliation and thankfulness. It represents optimism in the future and in the healing abilities of time that is rarely expressed elsewhere. It’s all those millions of Catholics going into a confession box and coming out lighter. Believing they had done their penance. It’s ugly but it’s ultimately rewarding. Khalil Ghabrain once wrote that there are those who give with joy and that joy is their reward and there are those who give with pain and that pain is their baptism. Black Friday looked at this way, with all the struggle entailed is both a reward and a baptism. I didn’t think I would be endorsing it when I came to the end but sometimes you write just so you can change your own mind. Black Friday as it turns out says good things about American culture.