Black Friday and Liberal Judgment
I’m off from work today, the day after Thanksgiving, and I have decided to do mostly nothing. The machine is washing my laundry, I’m eating leftovers, I’m watching DVDs. And I’m playing around on the internet, reading my usual round of blogs and Twitter links and nobody will stop telling me about Black Friday. Not just news of the GREAT! DEALS! I could get if I wanted to stir my still-pajamaed self out into the cold and crowds. But also about what an outrage it all is that Americans like to buy things, and to buy them cheaply.
Here’s the deal: I’m poor. A lot of Middle America is poor. (And that’s where most of this Black Friday madness happens, and don’t think THAT isn’t why a lot of the media attention is negative, because anything Middle America does is quite backward and embarrassing; that’s the one thing that coastal conservatives and liberals easily agree on.) We’re in a recession, remember? Did the election not stamp this adequately into your psyches?
Two years ago, I gave up my cable TV because it was too expensive. I make do pretty well with Netflix and Hulu and DVDs. But someday, I am going to have more money, and then I will have cable and DVR again. And I will do nothing but watch TCM for a week. And I will think to myself, “I worked hard, and I deserve this.” Maybe I’ll buy a Roku, too.
None of this will be the end of life’s problems. But that doesn’t mean the pleasure of it isn’t legitimate. There’s this segment of the liberal population that wants you to believe that the only real pleasures in life come from walking through the woods, or talking about organic tomatoes at a farmer’s market. (A lot of these people are on Twitter, of course, because smartphones are somehow exempt from being considered consumerist rubbish.) But all day I’m reading stuff like this, from the liberal Eclectablog, these smug manifestoes about not being part of the consumerist machine.
Here’s what I think: if I need a new microwave, and Sears has them, and they are marked down 70% on this one day, isn’t it in my best interest to go buy it on that day? Otherwise I don’t get the new microwave, which I may need. To not have a working microwave is not suffering on par with starvation, no. But it’s a serious inconvenience for someone who works a nine-hour day and dines regularly on leftovers and is simply used to having that machine in the house. I’m going to go ahead and call that need, because I’m not a person who takes pride in depriving myself of modern conveniences.
We are not all Wal-Mart marauders. A lot of people use this day to stock up on stuff they want or need for the year. To buy Christmas gifts for their families. And to maybe buy themselves a little gift as well, something that they ould not be able to budget for any other time of the year. Consuming goods, to a reasonable degree, is natural. We crawled out of caves and into houses, and began filling the houses with things. This is how we live. It does not need to be a tragedy.
I just read Babbitt, a classic novel of American behavior, about a middle-aged man who has achieved modest financial success and goes out of his way to make a show of it. He’s not a happy or fulfilled man. And in our modern, developed world, we need to be conscious of our wants and desires so that we don’t fall into this trap—this bottomless pit of wanting, craving, needing things, of believing that this next great thing is going to be the thing that is going to change my life! And then buying more, because guess what, it didn’t. And maybe it’s a slippery slope to get there, but it’s also a lengthy slope. We don’t become Babbitts overnight. I know people who have money, who still go out to the stores on Black Friday because they have made a sport out of finding the deals. And they are generous with the stuff that they find and buy. There are also people who have made it a family tradition. Most of these people do not need to be preached at about what is really important in their lives. This is just a day for them; it’s not a life philosophy.
I didn’t go out to the stores today because I’m a hermit and I dislike the crowds. But if I had gone out and bought some $25 sweaters (because I’m a professional woman who sometimes needs new clothes) or some $4.99 DVDs (because I love movies: they give me pleasure, they satisfy my constant need for narrative, and they are fun) I surely don’t believe I would deserve criticism for that.
Brief digression: it is necessary for me to acknowledge that we do sometimes have to apply social or moral considerations to consumer choices. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, ever. I think they’re a blemish on American society. I do fine without them (although they do fine without me too, don’t they?).
I also buy local, and American-made, whenever and wherever I can, but if the thing I want or need is not produced at all in America, I guess I’m still going to buy the version that got made in China. I promise that my next car will be American. I mostly buy my nephews books because toys are so frequently foreign-produced. I will even buy American goods and services for more than I would pay for foreign goods and services—right up to a markup of about 20%, and then I’m out. At that point, I will have to say, “I’m sorry, I cannot afford this fine American craftsmanship.” And that is not my fault. Talk to the Mitt Romneys of the world about that one.
One last word, on the ever-increasing open hours at retail stores. People are protesting and petitioning that Target, for example, opened at 9pm last night, because of those poor Target workers who had to leave their Thanksgiving celebrations to go to work.
But did anybody care about those workers in previous years, when they were getting up at 3am to open the store at 4? Is that any more humane? How about when they work until 11pm on Christmas Eve? How about the Memorial Days and 4th of Julys and Mother’s Days and New Year’s Days they work every year? Nobody complains about that—largely because of a thing called time-and-a-half pay, but also because that’s kind of the way retail works. I worked in a department store for three years during college and I worked all those days. I worked weeknights after school. I worked Saturdays. I worked Friday nights for an entire year because they really wanted me on the truck shift. I worked many Sunday mornings at 7am for the ad set shift. Once I worked an overnight shift for inventory. The point is this: when you work retail you get used to this. Same with people who work in restaurants and movie theaters and parks and anything else that people patronize when they’re not at work. (Let’s not even talk about the sacrifices made by doctors, police officers, firefighters, and other emergency response workers.) You get used to not being able to celebrate this or that on its designated day, or doing it earlier or later in the day. Dropping people’s presents off at their house the day after. Calling Mom on Mother’s Day instead of visiting and taking her out to lunch. People in your life will accommodate you on these things. If they don’t, you get new people to be around you, or you get a new job. Every single job in the world has its disadvantages. I just don’t find this to be an outrage worth protesting.
Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
Travels With Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck
The Little Friend, Donna Tartt
Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell
Alias, Season 5
Bosch, Season 2
Catastrophe, Season 2
Downton Abbey, Season 5
Silicon Valley, Season 3
The Last Man on Earth, Season 2
Recently Seen / Re-Seen
Shut Up and Sing (2006)
Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Jurassic Park (1993)
The Runaways (2010)
Love and Mercy (2014)