I have posted this piece before, but in light of the fact that we now have a mega-holiday that a character in one of the comics I enjoy calls “Hallothanksmas,” and given also that advertisers are now calling November “Black Friday Month,” it seems especially appropriate since we are about to see the ugly face of commodified Christmas once again. The more things change the more they stay the same! I have added a few pithy comments to this version.
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 begins before Thanksgiving [Halloween?] 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 at a time when the theme should be “peace On Earth.” If we take a commodified culture preoccupied with possession of 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 when money becomes the center of one’s life. Citizens who bother to go to the voting booth any more are there to turn around a weak economy, tighten the purse strings. That has been the rule for some time now: vote out the bastards who are taking money out of my pocket; when you retire move somewhere where the taxes are lower. The real issues, like the spread of nuclear weapons and the damage we are doing to the environment in our determination 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 30% 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 presumably 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. But we won’t.
Right you are. We won’t. A lot of sad gravy floating in that particular boat…
Ah, would that it be so that we’d spend even one-tenth the time on the actual significance of Christmas that we do on the commercialism. In the U.S., while pepper-spraying is something new, the excessive commercialism of Christmas has probably been going on for much longer than most of us realize or remember. The “Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus,” editorial was written by an atheist, first published in 1897, and had the weird trajectory thereafter to expand from being an editorial written about a largely fictional, commercialized icon of Christmas into a mega-million-dollar, multi-media money-making machine.
In my research for my 1940 book, I was often startled by the emphasis on shopping and sales in the small-town weekly newspaper from Minneota — Christmas ads appearing already in November. Stores stayed open for longer hours for nearly two weeks nonstop. While the Santa Claus Day sponsored by the business association in mid-December offered events for kids, they were largely a ploy to get parents to spend the whole day shopping at the town’s retailers. In an editorial ahead of Santa Claus Day, the editor of the paper wrote what amounted to a blatant begging for shopping dollars on behalf of businesses.
To be fair, two weeks later, the editor wrote one of the paper’s most eloquent editorials of the year in a hope for peace in a world on the verge of exploding in war, a hope that people would, indeed, exhibit the spirit, the decency of the actual Christmas.
Your editor sought balance. That ship seems to have sailed!
Black Friday, and all pre-Christmas Sales should be banned. They bring out the very worst in Society. But that won’t happen because the corporations (who really run things), love the extra profits that they can extract from their already tightly squeezed slave worker population.
What is happening in society is like a plot from some futuristic science fiction.
It is as though the corporations secretly meet and discuss how they can further profit from ‘the slave worker religious holidays that they reluctantly have to fund.’
I am serious… There is something seriously wrong with how corporations are run these days!
I am often caught imagining a secret meeting among the corporate giants plotting just how to keep the cash registers ringing and the profits expanding. It seems like a conspiracy theory, but it’s not altogether outrageous! And, indeed, this will not stop any time soon.
Hugh, well said. Black Friday may be as much about individual purchases as it is for gifts. Nothing says that better than pepper spraying a “deemed” competitive shopper.
It is not a Scrooge-like attitude, but I find myself liking Christmas less and less, because of the commercialization. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday as it is about friends and family. If we could skip try to capture that same sentiment for Christmas, I would be more content. Mind you, we still rejoice our togetherness, but it feels different. Keith
Christmas is still special, but it gets harder and harder to shut out all the noise!
I would agree that Christmas is excessively commercialized these days. As a Christian, I would love to see the real meaning of Christmas celebrated more than commercial successes. There are a lot of social pressures in our culture that oblige us to participate in this nonsense. Another thing to consider is that many of the purchases made during the Christmas season is not of gifts for other people, but of items for our own pleasure. I am guilty of this.
I suspect many of us are. Thanks for the comment!