Black Friday 2018

black friday

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!

Economics Is Hard

money

I’m a big fan of our consumer society; to me, it’s a no-brainer.  Ever since the Phoenicians discovered that people were willing to trade silver for a useless purple dye, the obscene amounts of cash produced by conspicuous consumption have propelled our world.  Today, we live in a benevolent society because we generate enough coin to pay for it.  In fact, our society is so benevolent tons of people (including me) can earn money from just bitchin’ about it!  The thing is though, since buying crap is so fundamental to our world’s well-being, one would think we’d treat the whole business with the care and consideration it deserves — but we don’t.  In fact, we go about it in such a dysfunctional fashion it’s a wonder we’re not still riding donkeys and grinding our own flour.

Let me show you what I mean:

Watch people buy clothes sometime.  Is it the right colour?  Is it the right style?  Is it too short?  Is it too long?  Is it on sale?  Do they have it across the street?  Does it come in beige?  Can I get it in tweed?  How do I wash it?  Does it match my eyes?  Does it make my ass look fat?  And this goes on for hours, sometimes days, even weeks — before we whip out the credit card.  Here’s the deal, folks: clothes are transient.  When we’re young, we outgrow them; when we’re old, we outlive them. The truth is, 90% of all the clothes we buy eventually just end up in the back of the closet, waiting for the next charity to come along.

On the other hand:

We spend a third of our life in bed, doing various activities — excuse me! — sleeping, reading, watching TV.  And how do we buy a bed?  We sit on the edge of it and maybe bounce our bums a couple of times.  Perhaps we lie down (fully clothed, flat on our back) to see how it “feels.”  Now, how the hell can you tell how a mattress “feels,” lying there like a sarcophagus?  You can’t!  Yet nobody shows up at a store with a pillow and their pjs and says, “I’d like to test-drive that blue one over in the corner.  Could you dim the lights and come by in a couple of hours and give me a shake?”  On average, before they buy it, people spend less than 8 minutes of full body contact with the most essential piece of furniture they’re ever going to own.  8 minutes?  I can’t even fall asleep in 8 minutes!

So what have we learned?  People are illogical, their buying habits are stupid, and anyone who says they understand economics is lying.

Black Friday: Who, What and Why?

black fridayToday is Black Friday, the ultimate orgasm of North American conspicuous consumption.  By close of business today, millions of people will have spent billions of dollars on tons of crap they couldn’t possibly need.  Not only that, but consumer debt will take a measurable leap skyward, as most people will be spending credit card money they don’t even have.  And why do we do this?  Because we have to.

It’s very fashionable these days to decry our consumer society, but I’ve noticed that the same people who are always yipping about how “Money can’t buy happiness” usually have an abundance of both.  Obviously, money can’t buy happiness — but let’s get real — it certainly takes the sting out of any bad mood I’ve ever had.  Likewise, it’s pretty hard to be genuinely joyous when your only leisure activity is lying awake at night, worrying about how to pay the rent.  I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor; take a wild guess which one I prefer.

Let’s put this thing into perspective.  Black Friday isn’t about money or shopping.  It’s way more primeval than that.  Black Friday is the hunt.  Trust me, if you scratch the 21st century off those folks camped out in front of WalMart, you’ll find a pack of spear-waving Cro-Magnon, on the prowl for mastodon.  They may have traded in their pointy sticks for an American Express card, but so what?  Grog the Caveman, wearing a sabre tooth tiger pelt, and Morgan the Media Consultant, playing with the latest iPhone, are basically the same person — separated by a few millennia of history.  It’s all about prowess.  Both of them are telling the world, “Hey!  I am a successful Homo Sapien.”

Across the length of human history, the rules haven’t changed that much.  We might all mouth the civilized platitudes (“Money isn’t everything,” etc.) but at the end of the day, successful people usually find a way to tell the world about it.  Whether it’s a solid wall of sound stereo system or an ancient, esoteric salad ingredient, the rest of us know who’s making their way in the world.  And that’s why Black Friday exists.  Bargain hunting is hunting, and loading a 60-inch TV into the back of your SUV is no different from dragging a woolly mammoth back to the cave.  So conspicuous consumption be damned!  Shop ’til you drop, North America!  It’s in your DNA.