A prevalent drive of individuals in this society is to be a part of the crowd, to belong to a movement, something greater than oneself. This drive is greatly alluring. Regardless if people really love Twilight or the Democratic Party or Dr. Who, there is an attraction of sharing an experience or an emotion with strangers and friends alike, via a common activity or affinity. The manifestations of this are infinite, and the day after Thanksgiving, it comes out as a shopping spree.
On Black Friday, it seems that the news is preoccupied with people behaving badly and not acting in the spirit of the season. After all Thanksgiving is based around the idea of being thankful for what one already has: the opposite of greed and avarice. Yet, there are no lack of videos of people lining up in dark early morning, only to stampede and trample through the aisles of Wal-Mart, Target and other stores, so they can buy presents for Christmas, a holiday that calls for “peace on earth.”
Black Friday is held up as an example of the worst of American materialism.
Perhaps. But there is more to the picture than simply greed.
The people lining up in the dead of night know it will be crowded, frantic, pushy, and perhaps even dangerous. They also likely know that most of those Black Friday specials are available online, and that other sales will inevitably appear later in the season. However, these same people still insist on camping out and recklessly grabbing discounted items willy-nilly.
Black Friday is not purely materialistic; perhaps it also is fun. Perhaps shopping and the savings and the discounts are secondary. Perhaps it is more like Mardi Gras. With many people suffering in a harsh economic climate (the result of extreme corporate greed), the rest of the year revolving around pinching pennies and making do with less, Black Friday is a day when it is acceptable and even expected to let loose. The people lining up in the sidewalk are participating in a tradition, a time when they can act in frantic and even reckless manner.
The (sometimes violent) behavior on Black Friday should not be condoned. Yet, these people are not reckless in everyday life. They are not bad people; they love their families and want the best for those that they care about. But once a year, they can let that slip away, go a little crazy, and put on a show for the cameras.
Our current society measures success in life by money and material possessions. It is the measure that people use to size themselves up against strangers. The holiday season, for better or worse, has a preponderance of focus on gifts, increased revenue and Christmas bonuses. Black Friday is a celebration of this, and it is that one time of year that an exaggerated materialism can be expressed and even celebrated en masse. Perhaps it is not the best outlet, but it is an outlet that is available.