Orem is a pretty boring place. I know that because I live here. It’s one reason why the frenzy of Black Friday is one of my favorite winter traditions.
To watch some of the normally demure Mormon mothers scramble like offensive lineman for pallets of discounted goods, and to see them express so much excitement over their purchases, is like witnessing what Happy Valley would be like if it were actually happy. The adage “Money can’t buy happiness” must have been invented by the “One Percent” to deter the rest of us from getting in on their merriment. I say that only half-facetiously. Maybe money can’t buy happiness, but spending and saving some in the process is satisfying.
Some people on the interweb have scorned these crowds of shoppers, referring to them as “sheep” or “the lumpen masses.” They subscribe to the misconception that these early bird shoppers wage war over items that can be bought a few months later for the same price in a more “humane” fashion.
But in the United States, it’s almost impossible to buy anything humanely. Most goods are shipped from developing countries and produced in factories where working conditions are deplorable all year long.
By contrast, Black Friday’s endless lines and materialistic mob violence come once a year. Frankly, that’s not enough. Black Friday ought to be what excessive consumer culture is always like. It is not with ease or privilege that these things are produced; it shouldn’t be with ease that we buy them.
There’s been controversy over the woman who Maced people in order to acquire an Xbox. Yes, her measures were certainly extreme in a moment of chaos. However, policemen have been using pepper spray against peaceful civilians with state sanction for several months. In fact, the Black Friday Macing is perhaps more justifiable than recent incidents involving alleged keepers of the peace.
People will use this singular occurrence to condemn the entire practice. “Black Friday is so disgraceful, did you hear about that lady with the Xbox?” But that sort of thinking unfairly dismisses the fact that thousands of stores hosted millions of people who spent billions of dollars in the course of a couple of days with minor mishaps. It’s actually pretty brilliant.
For those who have not participated in Black Friday, it’s hard to properly describe the mélange of emotions in the air. We don’t often acknowledge the sense of community that permeates the day. Living in a valley that goes to bed at nine o’clock, it’s always refreshing and surprising to watch one’s neighbors be so alive in the wee hours. Sing-a-longs spontaneously erupt. Supplies are shared. Friends are made. Women thumb through their ads and share their strategies with others. Contrary to sheep in a pasture without direction or purpose, these crowds are rife with the most informed consumers you’ll ever meet. In fact, I’ve often wondered if Black Friday gets such a bad rap because it’s a day that women do something they’re known to be really good at. The threat of women nationwide adeptly performing a task will always be called “crazy” or “ridiculous.” Men act this way about sports all year long and somehow it’s totally normal.
There are those who criticize holiday commercialization. There are those who wish that Christmas was about Jesus and not presents, Thanksgiving about gratitude and not shopping. I don’t understand what any of that means.
It is trite to think that Jesus and presents can’t be symbolically germane to one another. Jesus gave his life for the world. We don’t give our lives literally but we give our money that we spend most of our lives working for to share with people that we love. Are not the most touching Christmas stories the ones where someone gets exactly what they wanted because someone else sacrificed for it? My mother sets aside a certain amount of her income every month so that when Christmas comes, she has enough. When I think about those midnight shoppers, many of whom are trying to survive the bad economic conditions, I’m convinced that the money they are spending is a bit of a sacred fund. Sacred because of how hard they’ve worked to earn it and because of what it expresses to the people receiving what was purchased with it.
Maybe some people think that it’s sad that it takes a good bargain to wake a community at four in the morning. But it’s not just about stuff, and I’m merely glad that something can rouse them.
Written by Felicia Joy