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Everybody’s Doing It: A Word on Black Friday

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Can I talk to you for five minutes about the Friday after Thanksgiving?  Those of you who have been with TTM since our humble, semi-literate beginnings may recall that last year I was on the receiving end of this dark day in my capacity as an overwhelmed assistant manager for The Target Corporation.  Unfortunately for me, 12 months of counseling, electro-shock therapy, and recreational alcoholism (just kidding, mom) have driven all memories of that day from my mind.

As I tried to write this article, I came to the troubling realization that if I wanted to comment on the parade of poor discretion that is Black Friday I would have to drag my turkey-laden body out of bed and experience it all over again.  So that is what I did.  Like a victim of violent assault with self-destructive tendencies, I returned, on the anniversary of my assault, to the back alley where my last holiday season was bludgeoned to death with the lead pipe of low prices. This is the first time I have intentionally “researched” anything for this site, and – in light of the exasperation and exhaustion that ensued – it will likely be the last.

For those of you unfamiliar with the madness of Black Friday (i.e. anyone possessing sanity or good sense), the closest parallel in common human experience would probably be attempting to walk up a downward escalator.  While intoxicated.  At Texas Stadium.  Immediately following a Bruce Springsteen concert.  It’s an uphill battle against a sea of humanity.  Every step you take winds up on someone’s foot, child, or stack of $2.99 DVDs.  Any direction you head, you are met by a stampede of carts going the opposite way.  It’s like being a groomsmen at a wedding rehearsal.  You’re always in someone’s way.  Fortunately (and surprisingly), most everyone seems to be in fairly good spirits (again, not unlike Texas Stadium following a Springsteen show).

Having heard reports of tramplings and shootings at last year’s Black Friday, I was expecting a surly mob of professional shoppers who would let nothing and no one come between them and their iPod docking stations.  That was not the case.  People were intense but excited, focused but festive, maniacal but mirthful.  Most were too preoccupied to be disgruntled.  They were trying to pick up an Armor-All gift pack without dropping the PS3, inflatable lawn snowman, and electronic BBQ fork that they were already holding.  They were trying to make room in their carts for a remote-controlled velociraptor without having to put back the 42” LCD TV, the Harry Potter Monopoly, the Barbie convertible, the Garmin, or the cooler with built in speakers that were already in there.

There’s no time for petty squabbling when there are only 2 Nintendo DSs left on the shelf.  So what if your foot just got run over by a cart for the fifth time?  How can you be angry when Season 4 of The Office is selling for $12.99?  Indeed, how can anything in the world be amiss when Paula Deen non-stick cookware is selling for 40% off?  Black Friday has a way of putting things in perspective.

Forget what you may have heard about Super Bowl Sunday, The 4th of July, or St. Patrick’s Day.  The day after Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday.  It’s painful to admit, but it’s true.  There isn’t a cause in the world that can unite this nation like a doorbuster sale.  For one day, divisive issues like world peace, climate change, and the BCS system are set aside (along with budgets and inhibitions) and replaced with something we can all get behind: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for only $39.99.  Black Friday is a celebration of all that our country holds dear.  It’s a carousel of caffeine, a carnival of consumption, a cavalcade of credit, a cacophony of cash (I could go on all day).  People of all colors, ages, creeds, and incomes lay down their arms and join hands to prance around the cash registers – stress-free and strung-out on America’s drug of choice: discount electronics.  It’s beautiful.

And yes, it’s probably appalling, and disappointing, and a bit frightening as well, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions regarding what lessons Black Friday has to teach about materialism, capitalism, and the human condition.  I’ll let someone else postulate on the behavioral parallels that could be drawn between Sudanese refugees at a food truck and American shoppers at an electronics counter.  There’s probably an off-color joke or scathing indictment in there somewhere.  It just seems like a lot of effort to spell it out and, frankly, I’m not in the mood for moralizing.

I will say this though; I’ve seen a thing or two in my travels across this country of ours.  I’ve had a hot dog at Wrigley Field. I’ve had a Budweiser at the Indianapolis Speedway.  I’ve lost money in Vegas.  I’ve taken pictures in Times Square.  I’ve been to Disneyworld (twice).  I own The Patriot. I’ve listened to John Mellencamp.  Never in my life have I witnessed a scene as authentically American as the one I saw Friday morning as I watched a man waddle out of a Target Store at 5:30am.  Easy-Bake Oven under one arm, Rock’Em Sock’Em robots under the other, giant Nerf gun in both hands, three bags of assorted trinkets draped around each wrist, and his wife at his side, double-fisting a Starbucks coffee and a Monster energy drink.

God bless America?  I’d say we’ve had about all the blessing we can handle.

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