Thursday, November 27, 2008


I'm not the best writer. I know this. That said, I'm able to console myself with the knowledge that a lesser writer would start this essay off with some half-inspired tripe like "Is it me, or is Black Friday a big deal for no reason?" I won't write that because I know it's a big deal for one very big reason. I've known this since 1992 when I got my first record store job in the mall. I know full well that "Black Friday" is the day when retailers sink or swim for the year, and has been since the '70's. What I don't know is why consumers continue to buy into the idea that they need to go batshit insane with their spending habits for this one special day each and every year. I don't get it because I understand that ON BLACK FRIDAY THERE ARE NO ACTUAL BARGAINS TO BE FOUND ANYWHERE PERIOD.

Sure, that Kitchen Aid Mixer you were admiring three years ago is suddenly within your price range for six hours, but only if you're willing to miss all your favorite stories on prime time TV and sleep on a sidewalk in temperatures hovering near the low thirties. Then you have to tussle with someone who is probably reasonable throughout most of the rest of their lifetime just to get through the door and to the thing you cherish before all eight of them are purchased and your dreams are crushed. Of course I'm only kidding about someone cherishing an outdated appliance. The fact is none of the stuff people are clamoring for on this day is the special big ticket item that their loved ones actually want. Looking through the ads it becomes apparent that these so-called great deals are actually close out specials on overstock and yesterdays mass marketed garbage.

For example: An eight year old boy today wants nothing more than Bakugon for Christmas. It's the hot toy that parents are pulling out their hair looking for this year. Toy's 'R' Us has a huge "doorbuster" sale starting at five in the morning, with lots of stuff drastically marked down, however, none of that stuff is Bakugon. In fact, they probably still don't have any Bakugon on the shelves or in the stock room, yet these same parents will cave in and buy a four year old Optimus Prime figure that the more privileged kids have already loved to pieces. If that wasn't suspect enough, it's ONLY the outdated Optimus Prime and none of the others of the multitudes of Transformers. This reflects manufacturing surplus and distribution patterns more than any interest on the part of a child. When you hand that toy to a kid that doesn't already have one you probably won't get any complaints. You won't get a high five either, because he'll go back to school the following week knowing he didn't score the big prize that is Bakugon. That's because "doorbuster" sales don't offer what you want, they only offer "deals," and these two concepts seldom intersect.

Touted by the media as a sort of shadow holiday, but really a symptom of consumer culture's clash with family values, Black Friday is traditionally the day when women lash out at their men for watching football all day during Thanksgiving, rather than actually spending quality time with their families. Since men define quality time as time spent in front of the tube watching football, it can be reasoned that women scuttling about at ungodly hours of the morning buying a bunch of stuff nobody wants or needs can also be regarded as quality time. And just as there are now three football games on Thanksgiving Day there is an even greater urgency for women to go out into the night and return ten hours later, exhausted, in a SUV sagging from the weight of all the future Christmas re-gifting, which can only be unpacked in the evening after a three and a half hour nap. This is a generational thing that has been cultivated for close to fifty years, and retailers have come to depend on it, only it isn't going to save them this time because they've been increasingly selling themselves out with outlet store marketing techniques the savvy shopper can find elsewhere all year round.

This year is the toughest year retailers have seen in a long, long time. Apologists will argue, but the truth is our economy has been in recession for somewhere near twelve straight years, or ever since the dot com bubble burst. Holding steady is not growth. Undocumented unemployment is still unemployment. Major retail chains like Circuit City do not tank because of one bad year. Just the same, when the news anchor introduces the unlucky suburban bureau reporter stuck at the mall annex, you can be sure that the people he or she interviews for the segment aren't actually accomplishing anything towards their long term financial goals. That is because buying something nobody wants at a steep discount isn't doing anyone any good. Not the presenter, nor the presentee, and certainly not the store it was purchased from. This is the year when Black Friday truly fails on all fronts.

It will be interesting to see what happens next year, whether the trend persists or women begin realizing how richly rewarding it is to merely sleep in on a day off. How many stores will emerge to fill the vacuum left by all the closings, and will there be any money left for the shear volume of stuff nobody particularly cares for but will recieve this year regardless? Maybe next year, there will be a sale featuring things that are culturally relevant to the time, and not the retail equivalent of your older siblings hand-me-downs. We'd all better hope so, because at this rate Black Friday isn't going to be such a big deal for much longer, and that's a problem.

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