Since I was a young hippie in Mississippi, this has been my motto: If you don’t buy it, they can’t sell it! Let me explain. What I am specifically referring to is basically the concept of overblown advertising. I am totally an American and a capitalist at heart, but moderation is always a virtue. Take television commercials, for instance. Remember the good old days when a commercial break really meant a one-minute commercial break containing a single commercial for a single product or service? These days my finger is always near the mute button waiting for the fourteen commercials that could appear during any commercial break. It’s not the root concept of advertising that bothers me, but the relentless overkill when the corporations are pushing something too stridently. Whenever they seem to be trying too hard to sell something, it is usually a better deal for the corporation than for the consumer.
This brings us to the most overblown consumerist concept in all Christendom: the annual Black Friday madness. Most of the leading national chain stores are opening earlier than ever this year. Some are opening as early as 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving day. The rest plan to open at 6, 7, or 8 p.m. Some others will simply open at midnight to be open for the entire Black Friday. Most Americans do not like this idea. If many American shoppers want to wait in line in freezing weather just to be the first to grab the Special of the Day at Target or Best Buy at six a.m. on a Friday morning, then that’s just stupid, but forcing low-paid retail employees to interrupt their family Thanksgiving celebrations is more ominous. Of course I understand that many Americans of the female persuasion have had it up to their eyeballs with cooking, cleaning, and football by the end of any Thanksgiving Thursday. These ladies want to spend Friday doing something they enjoy, and for many that happens to be a stampede to the mall. No disrespect is meant toward you ladies and your hobby. My distaste is with the retail giants who worship greed over everything, including the holiday gatherings of their own employees.
Amazon recently raised its free shipping point from $25 to $35. As a regular Amazon customer, I am distinctly disgruntled that the company did this, but even a $35 purchase easily beats paying $3-$4 a gallon for fuel plus the .0825 cent sales tax of my local area! Although Amazon now collects sales tax, it is only at the state level, which is currently six percent in my state. If you order a book or some other product through Amazon, but not directly from an Amazon warehouse, you still do not have to pay any sales tax. Then of course there is the simple fact that even discount locations such as Target and Walmart cannot compete with online prices, a fact greatly exacerbated at high-rent mall stores. In case you have missed it, much of the product from Walmart online now ships to your home for free, although you still pay full local sales tax rates. Walmart seems to be selling more and more product online that is not carried in the stores, so it pays to wallow around in Wally online before you even start your car.
You do realize that any of the special buys for sale during Black Friday are just that, special buys, don’t you? It’s whatever brand or product a corporation decided to market extra cheaply. It’s not the best choice for your gift recipient. It’s not the particular product that has proven to be the best in its field. It’s not the one with the best reliability record or the best warranty or the best ratings by consumers or critics. It’s the one from which the wholesaler and the retail store can reap the most profit. The best choice of product may be the same everyday price as always, and the online price would have been the better deal in the first place.
Speaking of Christendom, back in the good old days in the Deep South, we had what were called Blue Laws. The only stores that were allowed to open on Sundays were drug stores, and then only during the hours of noon to six p.m. No retail business was ever open on any holidays. Most even closed early on Christmas Eve. Now look at the madness! Even the standard hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. are not enough anymore. Retailers compete to see who can open the earliest or stay open the latest. Some of the biggest chains even try to outdo each other to see who can open and close at the strangest hours on and around Black Friday.
Like random gun violence and crazy weather from global warming, this trend has been accelerating America deeper into a psychosis in recent years. Although shopping mania may be more benign than these much more gruesome examples, it is still a blatant symbol of a faltering culture. We are a nation simultaneously in decline and denial. Must we so obviously prove it to the rest of the world? I have never shopped on any Sunday or any holiday and I have no intention of altering my plans. More than any holiday other than Christmas, Thanksgiving is a time to spend with friends and family, not corporations. After all, they ain’t people!
Floyd M. Orr is the author of Timeline of America: Sound Bytes from the Consumer Culture, The Tiddler Invasion: Small Motorcycles of the Sixties, and five other books. His blogs are NIAFS and PODBRAM.