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Fell on Black Days*

24 November 2006

Today is known in the United States as Black Friday. “Wow! That must be bad,” you might say. That would be a reasonable guess, considering Black Monday was a bad day, many times. Black Tuesday followed on the heels of the 1929’s Black Monday. Lest you think that American economics takes all the name days, Black Wednesday is all about the UK (well, and George Soros, of course). Everybody has heard of Black Thursday, but it is more infamous than you may think. Black Saturday also recalls several violent incidents, and Black Sunday defined a decade.

But, no. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, is named that because this is the day that retailers finally go into the black (that is, they start making a profit). (There may be other historical dates remembered as Black Friday, but when the man on the street is asked what Black Friday represents, this is the one he’ll mention.) People can begin shopping as early as 5 o’clock in the morning**. 12:01 am in some places, I saw on the television news last night. Thanksgiving being a pretty light news day (or maybe this is what the news focuses on all the time, I wouldn’t know, these two days that I’ve been home alone is the first time I’ve watched television news in … gosh, I don’t know, years***, I think), the three network stations filled a good portion of their half hour pablum with tips on how to do best (wear running shoes, start in the back of the store, make lists, bring snacks so you don’t waste time at the food court) and spotlights on everyday people who become Back Friday Shopping Heroes (they scan the Black Friday ad Web sites, they have a plan of attack, they divide and conquer).

Prices are slashed, special deals are offered to those who shop early, or shop often. It’s all about the Buy! Buy! BUY!!!!

What does “the American way of life” mean to most people? If you ask them, most people say things like—freedom, the right to vote, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of the press—high and mighty ideals. But that’s just how they “talk the talk.” If you look at how most Americans “walk the walk,” you’ll notice that it’s all about consumption. Over-consumption. Of food. Of natural resources. Of consumer goods. Of anything and everything. Trash. Trash. Trash.

For shame. A day fighting with millions of others (over 65 million last year, they said on the news last night) over clothes and gadgets and trinkets that will only be used for a season or two? A day of rudeness (“I saw that first!”) and greed (“I’ll buy four of those!”)? Is that really what it’s all about?

Really?

For years we’ve been passively participating in Buy Nothing Day (which also happens to be today). Mostly because shopping is not in the top ten things I do for fun (it’s not anywhere on my “fun” list at all, actually—but you guessed that already, didn’t you?) Now that I’ve seen the newscasts, it makes the point of the protest more important. (And no, I won’t be shopping tomorrow or Sunday, either.)

Take a walk. Play a game with friends or family. Read a book. Be a person, not a consumer.

Thus endeth the sermonizing.

*Tip of the hat to Soundgarden.

**If you have thought that I have exaggerated in the past about not really being in sync with American culture, let me tell you that when I first saw on the news that stores were opening at 5 a.m., I thought 2006 was the first year this is occurring, and I was outraged. Then, I realized this is just par for the course on Black Friday. Can this be true? Has this been going on around me for years without me knowing about it? Can someone confirm this?

***I get my news from The New York Times online and from National Public Radio.

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