Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Desperation and Panic Ruins Christmas

Today, Black Friday, the start of that horrible season of desperation and panic, goes into high gear.     Yep, Christmas shopping insanity, or inanity is here.

Actually, it started on Thanksgiving now that many retailers keep pushing their "Black Friday" sales back further and further on the calendar.
A typical Black Friday mob scene

We're not even allowed to enjoy our turkey and cranberries anymore. We have to SHOP! Or ELSE! And dammit, we're not going to let you wait until 2 a.m. Friday to fight the crowds in a cold, windy mall parking lot. No, you now have to shop on Thanksgiving. They'll keep moving it backward through the calendar, I'm sure.

At this rate, Black Friday will fall on the Fourth of July within a few years.

I am continually amazed by how what should be a nice, mellow, friendly and pleasant holiday can be utterly ruined by those twin, oh-so-unbecoming emotions of desperation and panic.

And really, that's what this is driven by. Major retailers have to show their stockholders that they're making money hand over fist so they try, try, try so hard to sell stuff. Their advertisements beg, beg, beg us to shop. And to shop at strange hours of the morning, or on Thanksgiving night. Please, please, please, they say, on TV, on the radio, in print, on the Web, incessantly, constantly, relentlessly. Buy! buy! buy!

You don't need it, you can't afford it, but buy. buy, buy!

If you don't respond to these ads, the retailers and advertisters whimper, your Christmas will be ruined. No, my Christmas will be just fine. It's the store's Christmas that suffers. Not to be harsh, but not my problem.


I doubt you'd escape it even if you moved to Pluto for the next month or so.

Yes, I know retailers want to make money and I'm not rejecting capitalism here. But desperation is not pretty, is it?

That desperation includes many shoppers, and the shoppers' desperation is also completely unattractive. Actually, gross is the word.
This unhinged Target pitchwoman captures the
unfortunate spirit of the holiday shopping season

Yesterday's New York Times had a front page picture of people camped out Wednesday in tents in front of a Texas Best Buy, waiting for Black Friday and it's $200 televisions to begin. The tents looked like some perversion of Occupy Wall Street. Bet these shoppers won't get pepper sprayed or tear gassed, no sir!  Not if their helping the corporate bottom line.

There's even been a report that three families camped out at a Florida Best Buy starting nine days before Black Friday to get their cheap plasma TV.  Don't they have anything better to do?  And if they spent those nine days working, assuming jobs were available, they would have made far more money than they're saving by being at Best Buy early. And isn't camping out in a bleak mall parking lot really, really boring?  I'd rather go without the TV.

At least there seems to be a growing sense that this is all so stupid. Many Americans have had it up to HERE with pre-dawn riots at the front doors of big box stores. Do people really need to get trampled to death for a cheap flat screen TV?

In yesterday's NYT, Cornell economics professor Robert H. Frank points out the insanity of these Black Friday sales. He notes stores try to open earlier than other retailers to capture more sales and more profits.

"But when all outlets open earlier, no one benefits. Few people actually want to shop in the wee hours, and the purchases that do occur are presumably offset, dollar for dollar, by reduced sales during normal business hours," Frank logically points out.
My sister Lynn gave me this beautiful wreath she
hand crafted, proving you don't have to get up at midnight
on Black Friday to give great gifts.
The wreath hangs wonderfully on my front door.

I bet his logic will go unheeded by the retail world.

Frank, inspired by Herman Cain's 999 plan, has what he calls a 666 plan to stop this insanity. It's simple. Impose a six percent sales tax over and above all existing sales taxes for goods sold between 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

Maybe it would discourage Black Friday stupidity. Probably not.

Even if Frank's improbable scenario happens, you can bet the stores will just open Thanksgiving morning and close at 6 p.m, briefly, to avoid the sales tax.

At least a few other people recognize this problem. The New York Times reported earlier this month that even some die hard Black Friday shoppers object to the Thanksgiving shopping. Ya think?

Even some retailers, while insisting on opening on Thanksgiving or a bit after midnight this morning, are acknowledging the unhinged quality of people who feel a need to shop early. Target's holiday ad campaign features a manic woman played by comedian Maria Bamford who trains herself to exhaustion and stays up for days making cakes in the shape of a Target store so she can be in prime shape to bargain hunt early and often.

Unfortunately, I fear there are really people like her out there. She's not coming to my holiday party, let me tell you.

Look, I don't mean to be a Grinch. If you like to Christmas shop, even in near-violent crowds, knock yourself out. And I like to find things that my loved ones would like as a holiday gift, so it's not like I don't want to be generous.

I'm also lucky enough to have sane, thoughtful loved ones who don't kill themselves on Black Friday to get me the latest gadget. Usually, anyway. Already, my talented sister Lynn has given me a beautiful wreath she hand crafted. The wreath makes my front door look absolutely perfect and festive.   

My holiday plea: Can't we all -- retailers, advertisers and consumers -- shut up, calm down, take a deep breath and enjoy Christmas for what it was meant to be? Sure, give people gifts because you care about them. That's part of the holiday. I know this plea will fall on deaf ears, but please, enough with the desperation and panic. Over a flat screen TV? 

I'd rather be desperate and panicky about something else. Maybe the fact I can't fit into my Carhartts after the Thanksgiving feast?

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