Monday, December 2, 2013

The Day America Sold its Soul... for an iPad

We have a tradition here in the states called "Black Friday." It takes place ever year on the day after Thanksgiving, and it is so designated because it is on this day that many retailers go "into the black" profit-wise. American retailers try to drum up extra business by throwing huge sales often marked by loss leaders like $100 laptop computers or popular electronics discounted by as much as 70%.

This is all well and good. It's a sign of a thriving capitalist society and a consumer oriented culture. I get it. Unfortunately, something about Black Friday has changed in the last few years. Big corporations like JCPenney, Best Buy, and Macy's have decided that their massive sales on Black Friday are inadequate. In the effort to wring more blood from the proverbial stone, they have begun to open their stores on Thanksgiving day. This forces shoppers who would otherwise be at home celebrating the holiday with their families to instead rush to these stores in search of bargains they could not otherwise afford.

Let's forget for a minute that we don't live in a third world country where a sale on rice and milk might just save the lives of our children. Or that when asked, most shoppers admit these purchases aren't actually gifts; they're shopping mostly for themselves. Let's also forget that in doing this, we're forcing low-wage workers out into the cold on one of the most widely celebrated holidays in America. Let's just take a look at the toll this practice has been taking on America:

How about this story from NBC: Violence flares as shoppers slug it out for the best Black Friday deals:

"...a Las Vegas shopper was shot at around 9:45 p.m. local time (12:45 a.m. ET) late Thursday as he tried to take his purchase home..."
"...three people got into a fight in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Rialto, Calif., because shoppers were cutting in line..."
"...Another shopper was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer after getting into an argument with a New Jersey Wal-Mart store manager about a television set..."

Or Black Friday Violence Erupts Across the Country from the New York Post:

"...A cop at a Kohl’s store outside of Chicago shot a would-be shoplifter who fled in his car — and dragged another officer who was halfway into the vehicle across the parking lot..."
"...A Thursday night fight over a Wal-Mart parking space in Claypool Hill, Va., ended when one man knifed another in the arm so viciously that he hit bone..."
"...Shopping also ended early for Richard Ramos, 23, of Passaic, N.J., who was pepper sprayed and arrested by police on Thursday night at a Wal-Mart..."

These are just a few stories. You can quickly find many, many more if you do a quick search. There were shootings, stabbings, and fistfights. There were shoppers tasering each other. There were stores vandalized and looted, and even police were injured.

This ain't Baghdad, folks. It's not  Ethiopia, either. This is America, where 91% of the population has a cell phone and 98% have access to broadband internet. We have no shortage of gadgets, televisions (the average American home has more televisions than people) or other junk. We're not starving, that's for sure. We're on top of the food chain, economically speaking. So why the need for this madness? Is a half-priced iPad really worth killing someone? Is a $100 laptop worth dying over? Violence has long been a side-effect of Black Friday, but it seems worse lately. For the sake of argument, I'm willing to say I'm okay with Black Friday for what it is. The commercialism can't be avoided. It has always been there, and always will be. I also understand the excitement, the rush of adrenaline, the quest for that fantastic deal you'd never get without it.

But do we really need to bring this into Thanksgiving? Does Black Friday have to become Black Thursday, marring our holiday with violence and greed, forcing tens of thousands of low-income workers to face this onslaught when they should be at home with their families? I wonder how many single moms left their kids at home alone on Thanksgiving because they had to work? I wonder how many Thanksgiving Day shoppers have considered this, or taken a moment to examine the fact that these fantastic sales prices are costing them something much more valuable in the long run?

I, for one, will never take part in this. I will do without that iPad, laptop, or big screen TV, so that somewhere, maybe, a single mom can stay home with her kids on Thanksgiving Day instead of racing out into the snow and leaving her kids home alone. It's also worth pointing out that if we all stayed home, the crap would still be there on Friday.