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Black Friday: a festival of consumerism

By Silvia Martelli

Black Friday. Almost as black as my housemate’s mood last week, when she had to cope with numerous shifts at an overcrowded St David’s, Cardiff main shopping mall. No wonder why for centuries the adjective ‘black’ was applied to days upon which calamities occurred – the first time ever being on Friday 24 September 1869, a day of major financial panic – before it started meaning the 24 hours of hectic consumerism.

In 1951, and again in 1952, the term referred to workers’ practice of calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving in order to have a long weekend. It is only in the 1960s that it was used by Philadelphia police as as we nowadays mean it, alluding to the huge shopping crowds.

Every year, thousands of people queue for hours in front of shops to get their hands on the best deals, sometimes even spending the previous night in sleeping bags to ensure the ‘privilege’ of walking in first. As the day goes, the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’ blur away, check-out lines get longer and longer, customers tend to grow angrier and staff increasingly frustrated. By midday, it should be no surprise that aggressivity, impoliteness and pure greed appear to be a social norm – all of a sudden, it is like a rugby match inside a store, but with no rules, or at least no rules that customers seem inclined to follow. A couple of years ago, I witnessed an elderly lady having a sweater brutally ripped away from her hands by another customer, a bunch of women shouting at someone for skipping the line and, to conclude, a staff member in the middle of a mental breakdown in a chaotic shop.

It seems that Black Friday has the magical power of making us want things even more than usual, and then translates this into ‘needing’ unnecessary things – a feeling always followed by the certainty that getting them (no less than on sale) will inevitably make us happy. It is also very interesting to notice that what was an American tradition has now become a global festival of consumerism. However, this is probably unsurprising if we consider that the whole modern economy is based on shopping as a pleasure in itself, on a thriving market of frivolities, on ‘the more we have, the more we want’ ethos. – no better chance to satisfy such desires than on a sales’ day!

Although I am clearly not a big fan of Black Friday, I am aware of some of its positives: eventually, it does keep the economy going, and if you genuinely need something, why not purchasing it for cheaper? I was genuinely shocked when my boyfriend, the living epitome of anti-consumerism and anti-materialism – “allergic to spending money in shops” in his own words – suggested to go into town last Friday… but then I realised he had been needing a coat for ages, and that was the perfect chance to save some pounds without having to freeze until the January sales.

On the whole, regardless of people’s motifs to go shopping on Black Friday, it should always be remembered that while they are trying to get their deals in, so are many others, and staff members are simply earning their living – if this consumerist nature of ours cannot be dropped, the least we can do is act kindly and respect each other.

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