11/30/2008

When "Black Friday" Means Mourning

KING OF PRUSSIA, PA - NOVEMBER 23:  Shoppers l...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

We've all read the numerous stories and accounts of the death of Jdmytai Damour, a temporary holiday worker at a Long Island, NY Wal-Mart.

Yet, I can't shake this feeling that something has gone terribly wrong in America. When the ad agencies and retailers manipulate the public into a frenzy with the tacit support of the media it was only a matter of time before tragedy happened.

Each year there are accounts of scuffles and assaults as people fight with one another for bargains, but this year it has ended in a man who was just trying to make a living losing his life on the floor of a discount chain, trampled by hundreds of people who refused to help because they might miss the $798 flat screen which is only on sale for a couple hours. Worse, they know well Wal-Mart and other retailer's trick of only having a few of an item available at the "sale" price.

In the week running up to "Black Friday" not only were there the usual sale papers arriving in my mailbox and in my newspaper but the news outlets themselves felt compelled to get in on the mania with the requisite "Black Friday" news stories. Local TV stations invariably had their junior reporters out whipping up a frenzy in the days before the big event by predicting incredible bargains and gleefully telling people to get out early.

Every year television gets more and more into the act by sending reporters out to interview the nuts who set up camp in parking lots and giving them their 15 seconds of fame. Rather than calling into question the sanity of such behavior, the television stations take the tack that if you don't camp out in the Wal-Mart or Best Buy parking lot you're missing out on all the fun.

After all, to them the holidays are not about family and friends but rather about mass consumption and irresponsible spending. That's the other part of this I don't get. In an economy where everyone is hurting why do people still feel they just MUST have a flat screen TV - even if it's 60% off? Is it because they are told they're "missing out" if they don't buy something they can't afford and don't actually need to survive? Probably.

This year the government has been in on the action as well. The frequent public service announcements about the "switch to digital" have confused many people. I've talked to people who have thought that they must buy a "flat screen High Def" TV in order to even watch TV come February. Most don't realize their plain old TV will work fine since they have cable.

So, these people thinking they must buy a much more expensive television work themselves into a frenzy at these "Black Friday" sales.

This rampant consumerism is disgusting. If stores can offer these products at these prices for a few hours they can offer them at the same price all day or all season. There is no reason to have the "Blitz Line" and "Early Bird Specials" at stores. They serve no purpose but to whip people into a manic mob with everyone fearful they will "miss out" if they aren't the first through the door.

The result of that is a man lying dead on the floor of Wal-Mart on Friday morning while rescuers desperately perform CPR. In this video you can hear people in the background laughing and treating the scene almost as a party. At one point a woefully misinformed man announces they aren't "even giving his CPR. They won't give him mouth to mouth because they're afraid." In fact, the rescuers are using a new emergency CPR designed at the University of Arizona that does not require "mouth to mouth". As the efforts fail you see them pull out an ambu bag and other equipment in preparation for intubation.

While the man was being placed in an ambulance you can see on some videos shoppers continuing to rush out of the store with their big screen TV's and carts full of junk. They don't even pause to notice what has happened.

In the minutes after the tragedy Wal-Mart announced it would be closing. The mob inside protested loudly, many refusing to leave and continuing to shop and demand their purchases be rung up.

I cannot fathom this behavior. I cannot fathom people getting into fist fights as happened elsewhere over Chinese made pieces of junk.

On Thanksgiving afternoon as a news break came of the television about "Black Friday" sales in town, my best friend's mother commented: "Black Friday is such a horrible name. It sounds so evil and ominous."

She could not have been more prescient.

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1 comment:

Ken Summers said...

Sadly, this news story seemingly fell through the cracks with most accounts just being a brief mention if anything at all. Yet it says a lot about society and humanity.

Too many people think life is about an accumulation of stuff. If you don't have that plasma screen or the latest Ipod, you're nobody. Most consumers have the herd mentality: go with whatever they (i.e. companies and media outlets) tell you, buy what they say you need, foam at the mouth, and catch mad cow. It's absurdly asinine.

The fact that no one bothered to wake up to what happened is maddening and terrifying. Is any material thing worth killing for or being killed for? Is a 75% discount grounds for homicide? Do we really value pointless crap more than human life?

Don't answer that last part, America. I already know the answer...

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