Friday, November 23, 2012

Thoughts on Black Friday

I don't get Black Friday. I could object to it on moral grounds, I suppose, and post an easy rant on consumerism run amok.

But primarily, I don't understand what motivates people to be part of it. And it occurred to me today that perhaps the better thing to do, rather than wag my finger, is simply to ask: If you go to stores on Black Friday, why? What's the appeal? What do you get out of it?

Is it the very competitive nature of the shopping itself that appeals? Because you know you're being taken advantage of by the stores, right?

Or maybe "taken advantage of" is unfair; they're making money today. You're not beating the house at its own game.

But leaving any question of morality out of it, from a strictly monetary point of view, it doesn't make sense to shop today. There are better times to shop for bargains.

On the other side of the equation, I'd like to have a private chat with us moralists for a moment. Again, why? Why do we do this?

Every year we have a little chat with people about the terribleness of Black Friday. I suspect it makes us feel good about ourselves. But you could not pay me to go to one of the big box stores today, much less get up at 4 in the morning to do so.

So how moral am I, really? It's not like I'm not going to shop this holiday season. It's just that I'm mostly going to do it from the comfort of my desk, online, having others do the work of shlepping things to my door.

What do we get out of our little lectures? Do they do anything? How can we actually help?

Do we need to quit talking about it as a moral issue and talk about it as a monetary one? Or do we need to stop and listen first? Or do we need to change ourselves? I genuinely want to know, because I hate seeing this play out year after year.

e.g.: Washington Post article: Wal-Mart union protests fail to deter bargain-seeking crowds on Black Friday


it's margaret said...

I don't consider it a moral issue. Morals shmorals.

It is a problem of justice --there is no justice for underpaid no-benefit workers --no justice for those who shop --no justice in that it denigrates the idea of a holiday --holy day...

I could go on.

And since it is a problem of justice, it is a theological issue --and it is less a problem of finger-wagging bitching and more a problem of sharing the good news....

--or something like that.

LKT said...

I've got to tell you that I don't buy this at all, and I'll tell you why: The only calls to action I've seen have been about shopping - or not shopping. I haven't seen anything about not eating at restaurants or not staying at hotels. I don't see anyone protesting getting their hotel rooms cleaned on Thanksgiving or people serving them breakfast at 24 hour restaurants.

What's more, the only thing I've seen is about not shopping on one particular day and in particular kinds of stores. Small business Saturday is fine. But why assume that small businesses are inherently better to workers than big box stores? Why is it OK to shop Saturday but not Friday?

All of this smacks of morality, of distaste for pushing and shoving and competition, a disdain for the masses and a desire to Train Them In the Way They Should Go.

In short, I think we like to think this is about justice when it's really much more a matter of personal taste and distaste.

Here, for example, are two articles (older, so take them for what they're worth) that challenge my assumptions about the injustice of WalMart:

Progressive WalMart. Really.

Is WalMart Good for the American Working Class?

P.S. Is anyone paying you a just wage yet?

it's margaret said...

I don't buy the WalMart propaganda. They do not offer their employees (that they keep just below full-time status) any benefits --sooooo, sure, there are 5% on medicaid --of which I approve, but what about the other 75% who are not in supervisory roles, have erratic schedules so they cannot go to school, hold another job, plan time with their family.... And they are grateful for the job.... sure. And that says a lot about our times, when the riches people in the world don't give their employees health benefits and then stifle any attempts to make health insurance available to all.


And I'm not talking just shopping --although I do think it's all pretty gross and that's my opinion, I'll own it. But I don't "disdain" the masses nor do I desire to Train Them --but I live in the poorest place in our nation --ground zero of capitalism --I see what it does to our environment, the people, the culture --and to see or say otherwise is just denial of the denigrating and unjust circumstances of the poor.

What the poor need is not great shopping opportunities, much less dinner out or a clean hotel room. Because they already know none of those things is for them. Nor do they even get the jobs or opportunity to work and serve the wealthy while they shop and eat and sleep.

So, no, it's not morality. It's justice.

And, as to my wages --I make 3x what most folks in town make --so locally, I'm rich. I drive a car (yes, beginning to look like a Rez car with a pushed in front end and smashed headlight that we cannot afford to fix), I have clothes that might actually keep me warm when I have to stand outside, I have two dogs and a man that doesn't get drunk and doesn't beat me. I'm rich. But, according to the rest of pay rates in the church --I'm screwed. And I've totally messed up my retirement.

Oh well. I've never felt more alive.

And I shop at WalMart (I have to drive three hours to the city where there are actually shopping opportunities) because there are no alternatives. So, I participate fully in our own destruction.

There we are.

If you haven't watched this, it will answer the question of whether or not WalMart is Good for the American Working Class or not...’s-‘sacrifice-zones’/

LKT said...

I will watch the link! I want you to know that I am open to discovering new things, and that means that I'm open to being challenged both on my liberal assumptions and on my conservative ones. I am in the process, not at all decided. But the reason that I linked to those other articles is that I want to be open to things that challenge my assumptions.

But I want to go back and explain a couple of things:

First of all, this isn't about WalMart. This is about the way that many people I know in the church reflexively denigrate Black Friday shopping, and in particular the shopping that happens at particular stores -- not just WalMart. And yet the very next day these very same people were extolling the virtues of Small Business Saturday. But if the evil of Black Friday is consumerism, then how does that change when suddenly it's a small business? Is this really about consumerism, or is it about something else? And that's what I meant about morality -- not whether or not one store or another is behaving justly, but about whether our call to action really is about justice or about something else. I'm not talking about you, here; I'm talking about a general ethos of judgementalism in myself that I hadn't even noticed until I started writing about it.

This blog post finally got at what I was trying to say, and obviously had not said very clearly.

Regarding your own pay, I should not have said that in a blog post comment. I apologize. I'm just so mad that the church can cry justice for underpaid workers while at the same time blithely underpaying its own laborers.

it's margaret said...

Denigrating Black Friday shopping and extolling the virtues of Small Business Saturday I think point to the same thing --the knowledge that large corporations are putting the small business out of business which leads to a lament to globalization. I don't think the evil of Black Friday is consumerism --I think the outcry by those who are lamenting is far deeper than that --but that is all that is heard. But, when folks are crushed to death in a stampede to get in the door and get the best deals --something is very wrong.

I would trust the judgementalism in yourself that you feel --and I am grateful that you are exploring it.

I am NOT saying that we should all have a doleful Advent and not have parties and not sing and have a good time --and yes, go shopping for those things that will bring joy, if one can afford to do so.

But I think the rash of posts I have witnessed regarding this issue are bending towards denial that something is terribly terribly wrong. I think it is justice overload --overwhelming despair that we celebrate and pursue things that do not lead to a fuller and better life for all --forgetting all else.

So, the 'stop the gross shopping' hue and cry is only the most obvious and superficial resolve that some can take... But what we need to do is deeper than that. --and it will take the same organization and determination as the civil rights movement to change our culture.

We must do it --because the path we are on is one that leads to our own destruction, and the destruction of the planet.

I, too, am open to exploring my assumptions --but encouraging me to enjoy shopping or let others enjoy their shopping orgy when such shopping affects our 'moral' fiber and our existence (to use your word) isn't something that I, personally, will do easily. Any more than I can let racism, violence against women and children, abuse, homophobia --or any of those things that kill the spirit of the people --I cannot let them go unchallenged. And I am willing to be changed in that process.

And, PS --here, we're putting up Christmas decorations sooner rather than later in the church --and we are going Christmas caroling BEFORE Christmas and probably singing Christmas carols throughout Advent, and we will be having parties and handing out food --I have no problems throwing the church calendar out the window rather than making forced-sausage of Advent. This is how we will prepare to celebrate the Incarnation. But, for the sake of the people I serve, I will not go shopping --unless it's to buy plastic for their windows, or pay for their fuel, or get the kid a jacket.

Regarding my own pay --don't worry. No harm done. I am grateful that I work for a Bishop that submits to the same pay scale as his priests. THAT kind of example, I can follow.