A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Unless you live on Jupiter, you know that today in America (and increasingly around the world) it’s Black Friday. This is an annual orgasm of consumer culture that has psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and bloggers like me bursting at the seams with explanations of why ordinary people go nuts every 4th Friday in November. The truth is people can’t help it. We have culture, history and our own DNA working against us.
First of all, humans are essentially hunter/gatherers. No matter how far out of the caves we think we’ve come, just go to somebody’s house and take a look around. What you see is a lifetime of hunting for and gathering up loads of stuff that, for the most part, we don’t need. The fact is, many of us have gathered up so much crap that we have to pack some of it in boxes and hide it in the basement. Yeah, yeah, yeah: we all want to eat, sleep and watch TV out of the rain, but one of the main reasons we even have houses (the bigger, the better) is to store our stuff. And we put locks on the doors just in case another hunter/gatherer wanders by and decides to add to his collection by stealing from ours. Black Friday is just an elaborate hunting expedition where the weapons of choice are credit cards — not spears.
Second, humans are social animals. We run in herds, and anyone who’s studied herd behaviour will tell you that, once the herd starts moving, it’s pretty hard to stop. And … the difference between a meandering flock and a ferocious stampede is just a couple of boys in the back thinking they’re going to get left out. Push comes to shove, and suddenly, Morgan, from your yoga class, is elbowing old ladies out of the way to get at the 60-inch TVs. Black Friday is just the kind of limited time offer that triggers this herd mentality.
And finally, all human society is built on the bargain. It’s in our DNA somewhere. Even the most primitive, egalitarian, every-hand-in-the-pot people are looking for a deal. Nobody, anywhere, has ever said, “Eddie Bonenose wanted two chickens for his daughter, but I talked him into taking three.” Never happens! And retailers know this, so discounts (real or imagined) are everywhere — sales, coupons, 2-for-1, Happy Hour – the only things that never go on sale, these days, are the Church and Apple Computers — and they’re both banking on religion to suck us in. Anyway, Black Friday is the ultimate something-for-nothing day that satisfies this primitive urge. No wonder people love it!
Personally, I think Black Friday, like New Year’s Eve, is basically amateur hour, so I don’t participate, but for those who do – I’m pretty sure you’re just fulfilling your cultural, historical and genetic imperative. Good on ya!