Saturday, November 25, 2006

Line 'em up

As one blogger rightly put it, the news coverage around the Thanksgiving weekend has become hackneyed enough that it’s now almost as traditional as the roasted bird. And one pillar of this same-as-last-year coverage is the rush to cover the racing people frantically buying all the garbage that was about to go into the half-price sale bin or get sent back to the manufacturer.

Black Friday has become synonymous with a culture hell-bent on the monolithic super deals at big box stores and maxing out decks of credit cards as if they were Ferraris on the autobahn. Buy more, buy it on sale and then put it on layaway so you save money. That’s the motto of this day, which for some has become almost a sporting event.

Perhaps that’s why editors of The Saratogian –in a rare moment of clarity –assigned a sports writer to the task to capture the play-by-play of the action at Wilton’s commercial death sprawl. In reading the article, one can almost envision sweat pouring from the brow of a short-breathed Shannon Robinson as she exits the buying frenzy for a post-game interview.

“My feet are a little cold, but they did a great job,” said the Connecticut resident during the recap, after waiting nine hours to make $64 purchase at Best Buy. “It was controlled and calm in the line.”

Sports indeed. Ask any Black Friday aficionado about their trade and they’ll tell it’s all about strategy; like running pages out of Don Shula’s playbook only in an isle-separated warehouse instead of on the gridiron. First, map out an offense and run the big-name items to get on the board; then tighten down the defense to round out the purchases and shoot to the shortest checkout line. Take no prisoners and show no fear. They smell fear.

Yes, shopping on Black Friday is an event that is staged with the same bravado that some reserve for Super Bowl Sunday, sans the wings, beer and spinach dip, but plus plenty of crullers, double-large mochachinos and an awful lot of time standing on line in what is inevitably arctic-like weather in the Capital Region.

But think about the savings, the shoppers say; think about the tradition that is Black Friday.

True, Black Friday has become quite the tradition for contemporary society. Although it’s tough to say when the phrase was first coined, it once came to symbolize the day the U.S. Government foiled a plot by a couple of chaps named Gould and Fisk, who attempted to corner the gold market in October 1869. Fallout from the debacle cause stock prices to sink 20 percent, export agricultural products to drop more than 50 percent and severely disrupted the national economy for months.

Then just two short decades later, Black Friday became known for the Johnstown Flood, which occurred when the shoddily constructed South Fork Dam ruptured and sent a wall of water surging through the Conemaugh River valley. More than 2,200 people died as a result of the breach and the bustling Pennsylvanian metropolis was reduced to a pile of tinder; a Black Friday indeed.

Internationally speaking, Black Friday is known among labor unions to denote a variety of struggles with government and corporate entities. In 1910, a crowd of more than 300 women suffragettes were brutally assaulted by police after the British House of Commons denied them the right to vote. Nine years later, some 60,000 Scottish workers rioted in Glasgow’s George Square, after a rally to shorten the work week turned violent. The result was 10,000 English troops being sent into the city to quell what some feared to be an unfolding bolshevist revolution.

More recently, Black Friday has come to symbolize the day the soon-to-be-deposed Shah of Iran sent tanks and helicopter gunships to mow down more a group of otherwise peaceful demonstrators, who were protesting his rule in September 1978. More than 80 protesters died as a result, polarizing popular opinion against the monarchy and fomenting the Iranian revolution later that year. This ultimately lead to the ascension of the Ayatollah Khomeini; a dark name for dark times.

Given this history, it’s somewhat befuddling that merchants and shoppers happily apply this sinister nomenclature to a festival-like spending spree supposedly representing phenomenal savings for the buyer and block-buster sales for mrechants. Perhaps Black Friday is fitting, given the present state of consumerism –rather the mind set of most consumers –in this great nation of ours.

Ironically, the longest line to be found in any store on Black Friday was the string of people wrapping around Walmart, waiting with shopping carts stacked above their shoulders with items to be placed on layaway on the day everyone is supposed to be saving money. Not one of the many articles and new casts that adorned the Capital Region Saturday bothered to mention this little oddity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The funny thing, though, is that you can't do layaway at Wal-Mart anymore -- a lot of those people ended up dropping their stuff wherever and going home empty-handed after all of that ordeal.

10:26 PM  

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