I’m still thinking about Black Friday and the start of Advent and here are a few words on Black Friday from my previous post.
“… somehow I found myself defending the shoppers of this crazy day marked by mayhem, materialism and marketing (yes my alliteration skills are improving – thanks Eminem – I watch the last battle in 8 Mile every chance I get.)
Now, I too, resent the retailers and marketers for some of these disgraceful tactics of opening on Thanksgiving Day, ridiculous discounts on popular products only available in limited quantities and attempting to create a hysteria over products (this year’s XBox One and PS4). I’m not defending any of this crap and it’s always important to call it out but let’s be careful.
That said, I was surprised by all the posts on Twitter and Facebook I saw against shopping on Black Friday. Some were harsh, some came off as self-righteous and some felt too much “us verses them.” This deserves a post on its own soon too but it certainly marked the weekend for me.”
Here’s the follow up. From my vantage point, there are two aspects that need to be thought through for those who want to dwell in the beauty/meaning of Advent/Christmas.
First, the shopping. I hear the business analysts on CNN telling us how much of our economy is affected by the holiday shopping season. It’s a sad reality that we are all guilty of contributing to in some way. There’s always a subtle message that we need to shop to build the economy and then another tucked in when the host asks a retail expert something like, “Ok, well what should we get the people we love this year?” The expert wearing a big smile holds up a bunch of cool products and says, “Well, we are fortunate to have so many great options this year …” Generally a good time to turn off the tv and walk away from the calculated manipulation.
Back to Black Friday.
There is clearly something concerning with seeing lines of hundreds of people outside Wal Marts, Targets, Best Buys and other stores standing in the cold for hours. Then suddenly they burst into the store, sprint to a particular section and hold on for dear life for the desired discounted product only available in limited quantities in a place that is now filled at a dangerous capacity and emotions are running high. Woe to those who use this for their gain.
However, this is not the experience of every shopper or at least the ones some of the ones I talk to. Over the years this has actually become somewhat of a learning experience for me as all I know from Black Friday is the mayhem I see in media reports. One person told me that she rolls in an hour or two past after the store opening and buys months’ supply of diapers and various baby/children products. “It saves our family a lot of money.” Hard to be against that.
One gentlemen thinks the whole experience is “fun” and he buys as a ton of toys for a particular ministry he loves. He says when people see his full shopping cart, they ask him how many kids and grandkids he has. He says he laughs, tells them he doesn’t have any and proceeds to share about his favorite charity. Sometimes a more meaningful conversation emerges about Jesus, Christmas and life. He’s the tall gray guy in a festive sweater and weird hat (though I don’t think he knows that) talking to everybody in line, handing out his extra coupons and sharing the tricks he’s learned over the years. Does the world need a Black Friday guru? Eh, I plead the fifth but the good news is that he’s a guru of many other wonderful things the other 364 days of the year.
I know people who use the money they save from Black Friday and donate it as part of their involvement in campaigns like Advent Conspiracy. There are a few other stories out there. Some of them are pretty cool, some of them feel exaggerated (we can create hero of out just about anything right?) but in the end, I don’t feel like I can judge all what happens on this strange day.
What I feel is fair to speak out against is the tension the retailers aim to create. When Wal Mart creates a”too good to be true” price on iPads and only makes them available in limited numbers, that’s unfair. I hate the greed of this day, I hate the violence, I hate the anxiety it creates and while I know this is a microcosm of the holiday rush and a few other aspects of our culture, there’s still a lot to be concerned about.
Further, these moments present opportunities for us to dialogue with others about the nature of materialism, consumerism and greed especially against the backdrop of the meaning of Christmas. But for the past few years, I have not seen as much dialogue as I’d like. There were a lot of rebukes, a lot of holier than thous, a lot of “us versus them” and a fair bit of legalism. This does not mean that if one tweeted concern for the day that they are a legalist, not at all. Some of the people I admire the most expressed appropriate, merciful and even prophetic concern. But we’d be blind to not have seen all the posts that for lack of a better term, came off as self-righteousness. To be hyperbolic, a lot sounded like, “I thank God that I do not shop today like these heathens.”
CyberMonday and All These New Days
Where was the backlash against Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday? Yes, these have subversive, counter-cultural roots but some of it is the same opportunistic garbage on a smaller scale. Giving Tuesday is a great practice but I could have gone without a clothing retailer telling me they’ll donate a small percentage to a particular charity if I paid full price today.
Why didn’t I see the same type of social media posts on Cyber Monday like, “Only in America do we sit at our computers all day and shop the day after Advent begins.” Sure, it’s less violent in the parking lots but the consumerism is arguably more!
Cyber Monday has been more and more painful as our inbox is flooded by sales and 15% discount codes. I suspect the novelty of this day will wear off for a growing population. Next year, I’m starting “Unsubscribing Wednesday” and maybe taking a few days of a technology fast. In the meantime, I do plan on trying Unroll Me (all your email subscriptions in one email).
So where does this leave us in practical terms this year?
I’ll work through this one in the next post as I have already killed my word-count and would like to respect your time.
Thanks for reading, feel free to push back, would be honored if you shared these posts and hope to see you soon.