Put On Your Mourning Clothes, it’s Black Friday

By Hannah Quinque

Pho­to Cred­it: Final­ly, an occa­sion to go shop­ping! Pic­ture by Powhusku under cc-by-sa‑2.0.

Set­ting the scene: Gray Novem­ber skies, sea­son­al blues at full vol­ume. This Fri­day: Black. There’s no escap­ing the loud adver­tise­ments in the shop win­dows, at bus sta­tions, in every mail­box and inbox. They all pro­claim that this Fri­day, the one after Thanks­giv­ing, is the time to start shop­ping. Even if your coun­try, like Ger­many, doesn’t cel­e­brate Thanks­giv­ing. Black Fri­day, con­sumer culture’s biggest hol­i­day, is one very suc­cess­ful Amer­i­can export. Yet, how we cur­rent­ly view suc­cess might not be in tune with the suc­cess­ful con­tin­u­ance of human­i­ty or even a hab­it­able plan­et earth.

In the words of one of the most suc­cess­ful Ger­man exports, love-it-or-leave-it rock band Ramm­stein: “We’re all liv­ing in Ameri­ka.” That’s sure what it feels like when Black Fri­day becomes Black Week and Cyber Mon­day becomes Cyber Week. Before any­one cries hypocrisy, there’s a rea­son why the U.S. is ‘the’ sym­bol for mass pro­duc­tion, mass con­sump­tion, and the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of neolib­er­al cap­i­tal­ism in gen­er­al. There­fore, it should come as no sur­prise that Black Fri­day start­ed in Philadel­phia in the 1950s, accord­ing to CNN Mon­ey:

Along with the cheeses­teak and the hoagie, the term Black Fri­day is root­ed in Philadel­phia. In the 1950s, police in The City of Broth­er­ly Love used the term to describe the horde of shop­pers from the sub­urbs that descend­ed into the city for the days after Thanks­giv­ing, accord­ing to Bon­nie Tay­lor-Blake, a neu­ro­science researcher at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na. The city pro­mot­ed big sales and dec­o­ra­tions, ahead of the Army/Navy foot­ball game on Saturday.
‘It was a dou­ble wham­my. Traf­fic cops were required to work 12-hour shifts, no one could take off and peo­ple would flood the side­walks, park­ing lots and streets. The cops had to deal with it all and coined the term.’

The main issue today is that every­one every­where tends to buy into the sto­ry that fos­ters shop­ping on Black Fri­day. More is bet­ter, less is worse. It’s bet­ter (for us) to pro­duce more and to buy more. All is well if indus­try and econ­o­my grow, even if we don’t know to what end. Actu­al­ly, we do know what’s going to end: nat­ur­al resources. And the abil­i­ty of the blue plan­et to com­pen­sate for human activity.
It’s a vex­ing conun­drum: What makes Black Fri­day such a uni­ver­sal export hit – dri­ving the whole fren­zy – is an irra­tional, abstract fear of less. This is not fear of immi­nent loss, but rather dread of miss­ing out in the future (FoMo).
We are in the midst of a cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe and all kinds of wars for resources: Forests burn, homes are flood­ed, species go extinct, and all of it at a rate beyond what human­i­ty has ever lived through. That’s why we need to seri­ous­ly reflect on how to treat Black Fri­day. Whether we buy some­thing we need­ed any­how at a reduced price or not, next week is nei­ther here nor there. But it’s pret­ty impor­tant to think about what kind of world we would like to live in now and in the future. Def­i­n­i­tions of suc­cess, ful­fill­ment, and safe­ty are far too pre­cious to be dic­tat­ed by cap­i­tal­ist man­i­festos in bill­board for­mat. So the ques­tion remains: What does abun­dance actu­al­ly look like to you?

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