Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on December 1, 2013
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When Black Friday Comes . . .
When Black Friday comes
And catch the grey men when they
Dive from the fourteenth floor.
I’ll collect everything I’m owed
And before my friends find out
I’ll be on the road
Don’t let it fall on me . . .
I’m gonna dig myself a hole
Gonna lay down in it ’til
I satisfy my soul
The Archbishop’s gonna sanctify me
And if he don’t come across
I’m gonna let it roll
I’m gonna stake my claim
I’ll guess I’ll change my name
― Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, Steely Dan
I was in my 20s when I first heard Steely Dan’s magnificent tune, “Black Friday” on the “Katy Lied” album. For my part, I thought the song was about seeing a looming catastrophe (economic crisis, war, social upheaval or riot) and running like hell to a simpler life in a secure backwater where one could hunker down and ride it out in safety– a familiar theme on these pages. Thus the song went through my head this past Friday as the war on Thanksgiving continued with this year’s Black Friday riots, fistfights, and stun-gunnings.
You’ll recall that the retail arms race that is Black Friday claimed its first casualty in 2008, when a Walmart worker was trampled to death in a Black Friday stampede at a Long Island store.
The Black Friday stampede plunged the Valley Stream outlet into chaos, knocking several employees to the ground and sending others scurrying atop vending machines to avoid the horde.
When the madness ended, 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour was dead and four shoppers, including a woman eight months pregnant, were injured.
“He was bum-rushed by 200 people,” said Wal-Mart worker Jimmy Overby, 43. “They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me.
And thus in 2008 did the annual Homage to Mammon known as the Holiday shopping season begin. In the years since, we have perfected the arts of injury and death in pursuit of “low, low prices.” (There is even a website that tracks deaths and injuries attributed to Black Friday, and it even features back links to news stories about each incident.)
This year’s festivities did not disappoint, in terms of sheer avarice.
According to a Walmart press release, Thanksgiving was a day of record-breaking sales, sales that were “bigger, better, faster, cheaper and safer than ever.”
Safer, huh? Let’s examine the video evidence.
The fight above is at a Walmart store in Elkin, N.C., captured by New York Filmmaker Brian Spain. According to Spain, “I immediately had an employee — I assume the manager since he was the one that kicked me out — tell me that I had to turn my camera off and leave the store or I would be arrested for trespassing.” The strategy for keeping the stores safer, you see, involves banning people from filming unsafe situations.
This fight at an unidentified Walmart shows a battle for televisions that ends with handcuffs:
And in Texas, everything is bigger, including fights over DVD players and Garmins in Ft. Worth. The display cases cave under the weight of the madness, but the woman with a “heart problem” getting pushed around by “motherfuckers” provides the best commentary of the year’s Thanksgiving Walmart fight videos:
Interesting that Walmart company policy involves threatening those documenting episodes of violence with “trespassing.” It would be easy to criticize those in search of holiday bargains, but that would be waiting deep into Jim Quinn territory. The point here is not to mock “the people of Walmart” so much as to observe the level of frenzied competition that informs the search for bargains, and the need to keep up appearances, at a time when everybody’s resources are pinched, and everyone is starting to feel the strain of survival. These videos depict what amounts to a little friendly jostling in the scheme of things. Imagine what this snapshot of the apocalypse would look like in the face of genuine shortages.
Others cruise the parking lots and steal the big screen TVs from people trying to carry them out.
In one of the most violent incidents, a Las Vegas shopper was walking to an apartment complex after buying a big-screen television when a suspect approached him and fired a warning shot so that he dropped the device, 8 News Now reported.
The thief allegedly took the television to a nearby vehicle where another suspect was waiting and, as he loaded it inside, the victim tried to get the gadget back. The suspect then shot him in the leg.
And closer to home, native Virginians did us proud. Police in in Tazewell County reported a stabbing after two men got into a fight in the car park over a space at a Walmart store around 6.30pm on Thursday.
Sheriff Brian Hieatt told WVVA that the incident occurred in the parking lot. Two men, 61-year-old Ronnie Sharp of Russell County and 35-year-old Christopher Jackson of Jewell Ridge in Tazewell County, were arguing over a parking space.
This escalated into a threat with a firearm, and then Hieatt says Sharp used a knife to cut Jackson in the arm, slicing down to the bone.
Sharp is charged with malicious wounding and brandishing a firearm. Police seized a rifle from him. He is Southwest Regional Jail in Tazewell and is out on $5000 bond.
A complete ecology of assholes, with predators, prey, hyenas and vultures each playing their role in the biosphere. And then there is this:
Why trample someone on Black Friday when you can use a stun gun? Here’s a video of a woman at the Franklin Mills Mall in Northeast Philadelphia zapping someone while shopping at 2:30 a.m.
[I was unable to embed this video for reasons which remain opaque. But follow the link to see the vid.]
While hand-wringing over consumer behavior and wondering how fast the world is going to hell, there is another point of view, harvested from the Gawker site from which these videos come. Commenter “JohnMcClanesSmirk” observed:
The only thing more disturbing than Black Friday is Smug Saturday: the annual tradition where self satisfied liberals mock people who indulge in Black Friday sales events and use it to draw vague, sweeping conclusions about materialism and capitalism, ignoring the fact that
A) with the exexption of a few outrageous cases it’s relatively harmless
B) some people enjoy inane competition which is what this partially is. Again, not my cup of tea but so what?
And C) a great deal of those who participate in Black Friday are just lower and lower middle class people who wish to save money and maintain an appearance of middle class prosperity. A reality that may depress you but a reality for which Black Friday and those who participate are certainly not its most vulgar manifestation.
Now, today, let us cosmopolitan types all go back to ordering our gifts full price on Amazon or at our artisanal Christmas markets, while sitting back and deriding the unwashed masses because something something capitalism something something America.
I guess “harmless” depends on which end of the stun gun you are on, and whether it’s your arm that gets sliced and your television stolen. In the same thread, MissNormaDesmond responded:
What makes you think hating Black Friday has to be about hating the people who shop, as opposed to the stores giving the sales, and the culture that tries to distract people from how much their lives suck by waving shiny things at them? If I had to watch one more ad that said, effectively, “We’re doing everything we possibly can to give you an incentive to ditch the people in your life and miss out on time you might have spent enjoying them because as far as we’re concerned you exist to buy our shit,” I was going to scream. I get not to dig that or want to reward it without its making me a bad person, either.
Because it assumes, by it’s nature, false consciousness on the part of those who participate which is the laziest combination of presumptuous and masturbatory. Families often shop together as part of the ritual. Which, again, for me, is batshit insane but I also don’t think those who do it only do so because they’re being brainwashed by commercials. Many actually like it and, again, many – if not most – just want to save money.
Smirk is correct to this extent: by focusing on the people who participate, we ignore the culpability of the companies conducting these Black Friday stomp-fests, pretending they are doing some sort of favor for consumers. Businesses do nothing unless they make a profit. Period. By suckering people in to line up (gathered like so many Russians in a Soviet bread line) to buy their crap with some impossibly low teaser price, they are running nothing more than a bait and switch. Almost no one gets that sale price. But are now in the store, and in full blown emotional crisis mode– the fact that the other items aren’t much cheaper than they are during the rest of the year notwithstanding. Prices are raised gradually weeks prior and then just shaved a bit. It’s a scam. And a profitable scam at that.
Lost in this discussion is how “Black Friday” has subsumed the Thanksgiving holiday itself, with many stores announcing that they would be open on Thanksgiving. Eager to get that black ink flowing as quickly as possible, companies found the presence of a family holiday in the middle of a week a useless impediment. Cue the sales promotion: open on the family holiday were usual suspects such as Walmart, Kmart, Sears, The Gap, Toys “R” Us, Michael’s, and Target. (Notably absent from this list was Costco, besides paying their employees reasonably well determined that profitability might remain safe and God secure in his heaven if they gave their employees a family day off.) The reason for this behavior is clear: share–poaching. Forbes makes this clear:
A Black Friday spending analysis from the credit card giant shows a whopping 70% of consumer spending happens at the first two stores a shopper visits.
Every big box chain is therefore competing to be the first port of call for shoppers as they battle long lines, cold, fatigue, and sharp elbows — not to mention dwindling funds.
Another motive for early openings? The huge chunk of each shopper’s holiday budget that gets spent between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.
A study from the Georgetown Institute for Consumer Research shows that the average adult spends 50.7% of his or her allotted gift budget during this sales blitz.
So while there are plenty of noisy opponents to Thanksgiving shopping, count on the practice and its accompanying fistfights remining an evil part of the holiday landscape while BAU lasts. The only thing that would change retailer behavior would be if they found it unprofitable. Which looks unlikely.
Meanwhile, at least one Pizza Hut store manager struck a blow for his employees, lost his job for his trouble, and in the subsequent shitstorm of bad public relations, got it offered back.
The general manager of a Pizza Hut in Elkhart, Ind., claims he was fired for refusing to force employees to work on Thanksgiving Day, according to local TV station WSBT 22.
The manager, Tony Rohr, had worked for the pizza chain for more than 10 years before taking a stand, telling his bosses it was not fair to force people to work on a day meant for family.
Rohr additionally claims that he was asked to pen a letter of resignation. Instead, he wrote a letter, of which he showed WSBT a copy, that railed against the company:
“I am not quitting. I do not resign however I accept that the refusal to comply with this greedy, immoral request means the end of my tenure with this company… I hope you realize that it’s the people at the bottom of the totem pole that make your life possible.”
Because nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving,” and speaks to traditional family values better than hot pizza, right?
“As follow up to the situation in Elkhart, IN, we feel strongly that the situation involving our independent franchisee and the local store manager could and should have been avoided. We fully respect an employee’s right to not work on a holiday, which is why the vast majority of Pizza Huts in America are closed on Thanksgiving. As a result, we strongly recommended that the local franchisee reinstate the store manager and they have agreed. We look forward to them welcoming Tony back to the team.”
Interesting, isn’t it that we hear nary a peep about the “war on Thanksgiving” from the usual neighborhoods of perpetual victimhood usually ever-so-quick to proclaim the contrived “war on Christmas.” Feel free to wait with me for Sarah Palin’s upcoming book about the war on Thanksgiving, and for Bill O’Reilly’s breathless reports on same. Meanwhile, crickets.
I avoid Black Friday for the simple reason that I don’t like crowds, and despise waiting in lines for anything. I would rather be hit between the eyes with a four-pound sledgehammer then go out and wrestle somebody for a 70 inch Vizio LED TV in the abbatoir that is a Best Buy the day after Thanksgiving. Some talk about ways to make such endeavors “safer.” As one commenter said,
So much could be said about the use of the word “safer” applied to the sale of consumer products at Walmart. “Safer” for employees who cannot even pay basic necessities with their salaries? “Safer” for the workers in third world countries who manufacture most of the stuff? “Safer” for the environment depleted to create most of this quasi disposable stuff?
Nah, “safer” for the Walton’s bank account is probably the most accurate.
Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and a shifting menagerie of adult children in various stages of transition.