[I am headed to Minneapolis to spend Thanksgiving with my son and his family. So I am copping out by re-blogging a post I wrote last year. When you’ve seen one Black Friday you’ve pretty much seen them all — except that the Walmart employees have threatened to strike this year and that will hopefully reduce attacks from pepper spray!]
The headline read “Woman pepper sprays other Black Friday shoppers.” In an effort to have a better chance to get at the cheap electronics Walmart was using as a lure to get shoppers jump-started this holiday season, a woman pepper sprayed about 20 customers who were in her way. Except for the talking heads on Fox News who think this is perfectly acceptable behavior, everyone is in a dither — but for many of the wrong reasons. Out-of-control shoppers are a worry, but the whole marketing ploy that increasingly encroaches on Thanksgiving is the larger problem.
We do live in a commodified culture, as Robert Heilbroner told us many years ago, but our values are clearly out of kilter when money and the things that money can buy become the main focus of an entire nation. If we take a commodified culture preoccupied with owning things, combine it with an immense advertising machine that works buyers into a frenzy prior to Thanksgiving, it is no wonder that things like this happen. We shouldn’t be surprised; clearly things are out of focus. Citizens who bother to go to the voting booth any more are there to turn around a weak economy. That has been the rule for some time now: vote out the bastards who are taking money out of my pocket. The real issues, like the damage we are doing to the environment in our tizzy to raise our already obscenely high standard of living, are largely ignored.
Christmas should, of course, be a time for reflection and thought about others. In this country, and other “developed” countries around the world, it has become a time to get that 20% of the yearly profits that keep the engines of commerce running. It is understandable, since business has become the cornerstone of our culture. But is it necessary to point out that the ideals of business are antithetical to the ideals of the one whose birth we celebrate next month? The fact that a woman in California would pepper-spray her way to the cheap electronics in Walmart is simply a sign of the times and a clear indication that we need to rethink our priorities.
Hugh, you are exactly right. Pepper-spraying customers is one of the expected outcomes as we push to the extremes in our money- and material-obsessed society, no different that corporations cutting corners on pollution or food safety to raise profit but possibly put customers’ health at risk; the imperiling of human rights by American companies that outsource manufacturing, especially of clothing, to cheap-labor 3rd World workers, or companies like Wal-Mart that sell clothing made in such places — again in the name of profit and less-expensive goods for Americans; not to mention the greed that enriches corporate executives while their lower-level employees are not even paid a living wage. Charles Dickens has an interesting novella appropriate to this topic and this time of year. Something about an old guy named Ebenezer and a kid named Tiny Tim, and, oh, someone who resembled a doornail.
Scrooge needed to get scared nearly to death to learn his lesson. Will we?
We don’t seem to learn lessons from either literature or history, sad to say.
One of our pastors this morning offered a couple of satirical sentences in his sermon: “Did you see the news coverage of Black Friday? Wasn’t it great to see people in line stepping aside so others could get in the store first, and letting the person behind them have the last flat-screen TV that was on sale? Wasn’t it great to see people reaching into the aisles for those doorbuster deals and passing them back to the people behind them? It’s so nice to see people willing to give the best deal to someone else and not just rush in and keep the best deals to themselves.”
Got some laughs, but made his point. Not exactly the giving spirit of Christmas on display in some places, many places.