How hard should we fight Black Friday?

A meditation on the latest imported festival in the calendar of late capitalism

28 November 2015

9:00 AM

28 November 2015

9:00 AM

The veneer of civilisation is easily cracked, as anyone who has followed Donald Trump’s Twitter feed will know. This Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the point of which is no longer clear, there will be riots in shops across the globe, as people fight over discounted products they do not need or even want. The returns rate for goods bought on Black Friday is very high, which does not surprise me. This kind of shopping is a very pure narcotic, and it ebbs fast and wild.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day — capitalism has its own liturgical calendar now. Festivals are essential to humans; and as the sky shrinks and the advertising hoardings get larger and more grotesque, where can we turn but to Asda?

Actually, not Asda. There was so much violence in Asda last year — including a ‘stampede’ in Belfast, a city I always thought could look after itself — that they have ceased Black Friday operations due to ‘shopper fatigue’. The ‘stampede’, hopefully, will return next year.

Here I pause and wonder: is it possible that the Asda ‘non-Black Friday’ or ‘anti-Black Friday’ is an advertising campaign in its own right? Always differentiate yourself from your rivals! As in — ‘Asda: for a non-violent shopping experience’. Or ‘Asda: no one will break your nose at the till’.

Black Friday is not really consumer-driven, although if you ask someone if they want cheaper products they will usually say yes. But not me; not when the product is human. I do not want a discounted Black Friday cleaner, although I was offered one by email, and neither should you. If you consider it, slap yourself, or go to Tesco on Black Friday, where someone else will do it for you.

It is above all free advertising — as ‘Grisly and Disgusting Death in Disney World’ is still free advertising for Disney World (you’re welcome) — and for newspapers, awash with ‘churnalism’, it is free content; although, to be just, the January and July sales never came with a riot. Newspapers, ever in denial about their own malice, warn of carnage while providing countdown clocks to the carnage. I love a countdown clock, but not to a stranger’s death. There is a website called blackfridaydeathcount.com detailing shootings, stampedes and car crashes.

Are people angrier now? More covetous? Or, with relative peace in the West, is there nothing better to fight over than TVs, trainers and, I hope, because I love irony, Christmas decorations? I think the branding of capitalism, so sagely and cynically, as ‘freedom’ is essential when analysing Black Friday. You are not ‘box-wrestling’ your fellow for a TV because you are a cretin. It is in the cause of freedom. I also think it is important that the greatest public disorder of the Cameron age occurred in the alleys of Foot Locker. Bread riots. Shoe riots. It is arguably progress.

It is also a new genre of entertainment, which lingers somewhere between shopping, fighting and watching TV. You can participate in Black Friday; or you can watch it online as spectator sport called ‘Head Injury in Electricals’, or ‘That Bra is Mine’.

It is impossible to watch the footage of Black Friday 2014 without thinking of The Hunger Games, or even Gladiator: ‘My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius and I want a Bosch washing machine. Not a Hotpoint. Eat my fists.’ There were ‘disturbances’ in seven separate Tescos last year. A woman broke her wrist. Another was hit by a falling television.

The police were appalled and tweeted, drolly, with hashtags — which missed the point, as hashtags are advertising — in between breaking up fights: ‘Even on #BlackFriday shoving people to the floor so you can get £20 off a coffee maker is still an assault.’

Civilisation, I suspect, will endure. The day after Black Friday, one hundred bookshops will participate in Civilised Saturday and will offer cake, prosecco, and singing. You could call Civilised Saturday a light in the darkness of a late-capitalist night; or you could call it another feast day in the calendar of consumption, but more middle-class, and therefore nothing to mock. You are the consumer. You choose.

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Show comments
  • FrankS2

    What, from the retailers’ position, is the logic of Black Friday? If demand is so high, wouldn’t the logical response be to put prices up? And wouldn’t satisfying all that demand in a one-day orgy of discounting mean there is less demand in the remaining weeks until Christmas? Maybe it’s just to sate the appetites of the vulgar hordes, so they stay away and let the full price customers spend in peace.

    • Andrew Cole

      The logic is to hype it up, tell everyone everything is reduced by massive amounts and then be able to shift sell your old, duff or bought in specifically cheap stuff.

      The fact so many fall for it proved it worked however the publicity and adverse reaction from many that it got has meant many are publicly stating they aren’t doing it………..to get good publicity.

      They could have just not done it but no…..they have to say they are not doing it.

      You could always do what I did last year……….ignore it. I’ll buy a telly when I need a telly. I don’t buy chit from the stores I don’t want just because of an offer……unless its a good offer on something I really want and I am already in the shop.

      • KingEric

        Couldn’t agree more with your last paragraph. I’m convinced an awful lot of people spend more than they would have just in order to take advantage of “bargains”. Like the people who go out to eat when there is a voucher for a restaurant. If there was no voucher they would have eaten at home and not spent any money. Unless I really need something, I won’t be troubling the retailers today.

        • Andrew Cole

          And then they all talk about the cost of living and food banks and poverty because that is what the middle classes tell us we are suffering.

    • Mongo

      It’s completely meaningless in this country. Either the governement declare Thanksgiving a holiday here, or they ban Black Friday

    • Andy M

      They are still selling the items at a profit and a lot of the time people are buying things they wouldn’t normally buy, meaning they are selling more stock, to more people, getting a bigger profit.

  • Mongo

    Black Friday is another example of creeping cultural Marxism. If you saw the footage and photos of last year’s stampedes and brawls in the stores, you will see exactly which demographics this day is targetted at

    and note this takes place on a Friday rather than a weekend. So it isn’t aimed at the working populous

    • Kennybhoy

      Jesus wept… 🙁

      • Mongo

        I wept too. What possesses people to descend into savagery over a few plasma screen TVs?

  • Bristol_Boy

    The want, want mentality, convince the fools to buy something they really don’t NEED just because it is cheaper, and the winners are, the credit card companies.

  • Andy M

    I understand people’s resentment of being ‘told’ what they need to buy, etc. But actually it’s a two-way street. People that buy things purely for the sake of it being on offer are doing so of free will, they don’t have to. They are just not savvy enough to know better. I’ll fully admit: I did buy an offer on Amazon in today’s Black Friday offers. But it was something I had been wanting for around a year and have not seen it as cheap I saw it today, with an extra item bundled in with it. So for me, it was a genuinely great offer for one single item that I already wanted and would have bought if the price was lower. In this sense, Black Friday is perfectly acceptable and actually does help some people save money on items they want/need.

    • Mongo

      no problem with buying stuff online, but watching people savagely fighting each other in the stores is shocking.

      Pesonally I don’t care if some chav morons get hurt brawling with each other over plasma TVs, but watching how easily otherwise civilised humans descend into savagery to get a few quid off is disheartning. The footage from last year looked little different to looting, and as I said below the businesses are deliberately targetting certain demographics.The stores are culpable – they’re encouraging this animalistic behaviour.

      I wouldn’t lower myself to that kind of behaviour even if they were giving TVs away for free

      • Andy M

        Yes I completely agree with you. In terms of brawls, violence, etc. it’s just not worth it and there should be some degree of responsibility bore by the shops for putting their customers at risk, whilst also the customers themselves need to take responsibility for their behaviour. In the light of this type of behaviour, I think there is something to be said for online only sales.

  • Cyril Sneer

    Working jobs we hate, buying sh t we don’t need.

  • Michael H Kenyon

    You don’t have to participate. There are always people with more money than sense, people with even less money than sense who can’t stop squandering, and others who think “shopping” is a hobby. Like Molesworth, i diskard them. There are better things in this life.

    • Andrew Cole

      These people who have more money than sense or virtually all included in the demographic that the media and government tell us are ‘in poverty’ and struggling with the cost of living. No wonder getting £150 off a new telly is top of their priority list. If their telly stopped working in the next 6 months how would they be able to replace it at full price?

  • Fraser Bailey

    I purchased a cheap second hand bike the other day to replace the cheap second hand bike that was stolen. Apart from that I haven’t bought anything that might be described as a ‘consumer goods’ for years.

  • amicus

    I thought about indulging in a fit of frenzied on-line buying but couldn’t be bothered.

  • Dogsnob

    “Late capitalism”?
    Black Friday and its utter stupidity is to ignore. All emails carrying the phrase are instantly junked.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    To be politically correct one must also have a “White Friday” or even a “Beige Friday”