Black Friday lays bare our cultural sickness
The Rev. Torey Lightcap
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Yesterday was Thanksgiving, so today, of course, is “Black Friday.” It’s the earnest start of the Christmas-shopping season and one of the few days out of the year that retailers know they’ll end up in the black.
You know this day well, at least as a cultural artifact if not from your own life. The papers overflow with inserts touting 5 a.m. store openings and terrific loss-leaders. (“Why yes, I could use a waterproof monkey wrench with a clock radio in it. Heck, Marcia, let’s get one for every room!”) Newsreels display hordes of waiting consumers tripping over one another to grab the latest gadget or high-demand toy. Meanwhile, we who count ourselves among the tech-savvy wait out the weekend until Cyber Monday, when we surreptitiously shop the Internet from our work cubicles so that our browser histories don’t give away our gift-giving plans.
It may seem overly sensitive, or hypervirtuous, or just plain grumpy, but I’ve got a bone to pick with the world concerning this business of … well, business.
In the first place, it’s just the exercise of an unhealthy avarice. Rapacious bargain-shoppers giving each other elbows to the ribs over the last of the Iron Man action-figure inventory, no matter how well-intentioned they may be with respect to the happiness of their children on Christmas morning, are in no position to consider their scruples. If you’ve ever been trampled while trying to procure a Tickle-Me-Anything the day after Thanksgiving, you know how mob psychology dampens the individual conscience.
Those responsible for setting forth these feasts fare no better, although it’s easier not to cast blame upon an organization that, after all, has no centralized soul or conscience or will of its own. (Of course, it would be inconvenient to consider that such companies are made up of individuals ” the 25,000 individual souls/consciences/wills of the people who work for Mattel, say, or the more than 50,000 employed by the Walt Disney Co. in Orlando alone.)
Now dear reader, you may reply, and not without some heartfelt justification, that the economy is in the tank; that companies and professions of all sizes and stripes are struggling just to keep things intact; that our best hope for a rebound is a decent set of receipts for a season that starts today; and that, yes, while it probably goes overboard, it’s just one day out of the year, so let it go.
I’m sorry, but I can’t. I’m just not wired that way.
Because quite frankly, the activity you see and are surrounded by on days like today is so ridiculous that it serves to merely point out the sickness of the larger cultural landscape. We’re subtly taught, and are accidentally teaching our children, that (1) getting stuff is awesome, and that (2) actually having stuff is nowhere near as fun as getting it. The glee in the innocent eyes of your child as he unwraps presents under the tree is culturally predetermined to turn into newfound object lust for the next thing he doesn’t have. It’s fiscally dependable clockwork.
We cannot simply look past this phenomenon because we’re totally immersed in it. It is written into almost everything. The consumer’s obligation, nay, right to purchase is a sacred thing, up there with free speech and due process and the right to bear arms. “A well-dressed America being necessary to the total hipness of a free State, the right of the people to keep and use high-interest credit cards shall not be infringed.” Unless you grossly overspend. And even then ” heck, we can work this out later, so don’t be so quick not to buy that faux-emu underwear, buster.
In the meantime, listen to your soul. Check yourself, your gut. Is it any good for you, or are you just engaging in the Great American Ritual? What, in other words, happened to all those things you stopped and said grace over yesterday? Is it enough to have what you have, or is some other impulse at the wheel?
Why do we need to need when whatever is before us is so great?
The Rev. Torey Lightcap is priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glenwood Springs (www.saint-barnabas.info). Torey and his wife have two children and live in New Castle.
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