The sheer magnetic shine of “Black Friday” consistently draws large crowds of around a hundred million yearly, hypnotizing consumers like mosquitoes, irresistibly attracted to an artificial light in the dark, fruitlessly searching for their way home, or in our case, for brief, fleeting satisfaction.
Wherein mosquitoes innately utilize the moon’s light as a navigational aid, the artificial glow of bulbs confusing their movement patterns causing the insect to spiral inwards towards the source until flying into it, “Black Friday” disorients our common sense, navigating us away from any semblance of logic, leaving us with mounds of varying unneeded “stuff.”
But it’s not our fault, not entirely. Marketing executives have mastered the art of manipulation, a refined coercion of sleek advertisements convincing consumers that “Black Friday” hosts must have once-in-a-lifetime deals and ensuring that your absence from this celebration of excess may leave a lingering feeling of emptiness from missing out on America’s great pastime, namely, our corporate worship.
Although, focusing blame on the system is quite lazy and serves to dismiss ourselves from the corporate equation – an equation that grossed approximately $50 billion dollars in 2014, according to The New York Times. Participation in the Friday after Thanksgiving, after all, does call for activity without a single shred of consciousness; for any real deliberation would send any sensible human running in the opposite direction away from the deranged hordes of shoppers mutilating each other over getting their hands on discounted consumer products.
Beyond product advertisement, the tactics of executives extends its reach to the very imposed meaning of “Black Friday” itself.
Common myth dictates that “Black Friday” is coined after accounting jargon; it’s the day when corporations go “into the black.” In accounting ledger books, losses are written in red while profits are written in black. Companies operate at a financial loss throughout the year and “Black Friday” – being one of the biggest shopping days of the year – turns a huge profit, delighting retailers during the year’s final weeks.
Though this is often accepted as the explanation for the name of “Black Friday,” one of the initial instances of this phrase stems back to a police department newsletter from the 1960s in Philadelphia, where police officers, traffic cops, and cab drivers customarily used the term to describe the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy citing massive traffic jams as an “irksome problem to the police.”
In other words, usage of the word “black” was never meant as a term of endearment – rather an association of the day after Thanksgiving with disaster and misfortune.
Pointed out in the very same public relations newsletter, merchants weren’t fond of the biggest shopping days of the year associated with dark, unsavory undertones. In response, Philadelphia’s Deputy City Representative, Abe S. Rosen, then one of the country’s most experienced municipal PR executives, “recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday.”
The media, of course, cooperated in this rebranding, associating “the beauty of Christmas-decorated downtown Philadelphia” and the “popularity of a family-day outing” with “department stores during the Thanksgiving weekend.”
Despite these name change efforts, the original title, as we know, remained and “Black Friday” caught on, growing and spreading like wildfire into what it is today. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that stories appeared of business going “into the black” on “Black Friday,” clearly another attempt to rehabilitate a negatively tinged phrase that wouldn’t go today.
With connotations of profit, even if meant solely for retailers, this new association paved way for the American celebration, albeit a parody, of excess during the days that follow Thanksgiving and mark the start of the Christmas holiday season.
Surely, if the deals are genuine and money is saved while amassing otherwise expensive products, what’s the real harm in your participation in this day?
Several studies, such as the MRT brain scans conducted by neuroscientist Dr. Gregory Berns at Emory University, have concluded that shopping triggers a release of dopamine, leaving us happy at the mere anticipation of a deal. When hunting for bargains, our brains flood with dopamine and other chemicals, impeding our ability to think rationally.
Dopamine can cause us to make bad decisions when caught up in the shopping moment. According to Dr. Berns, “[dopamine] motivates you to seal the deal and buy them. It’s like a fuel injector for action, but once they’re bought it’s almost a letdown.”
Much of the pleasure drawn from holiday shopping can be traced to this brain chemical. Retailers, marketing executives, the like, are fully aware of this and exploit it to the great extent. Promises of savings of largely illusory and dependent on luring you into shopping based upon premises of
As The Atlantic notes, “It’s more common that a few tantalizing items will be sold at a loss to lure shoppers through the door while smart floor design guides them toward more profitable items.”
Retailers do everything they can to reduce the immediate pain of spending, a pain that comes as the chemicals fade away. This explains the ubiquity of rebates, in store credit cards, installment plans, but these things are often riddled with hidden fees and loopholes that end up killing and eclipsing the savings you thought you were getting in the first place.
Like an addiction, these chemical releases leave some people woefully uncivilized, causing several incidents of yearly injuries and even death, such as the 2008 trampling at a Long Island Walmart. It resulted in an employee’s death when a mob of frenzied shoppers couldn’t bare the wait and smashed down the store’s front door in frantic impatience and led a rampage.
So when thinking about shopping on “Black Friday,” keep in mind you are participating in an illusion, a carefully calculated deception intended to have you, the consumer, act as irrationally as possible. In the battle between our susceptibility to coercion and our ability to utilize free will, we, as individuals, solely retain the capacity to support or oppose corporate America. A contribution to your local economy rather than a corporate chain is a vote against institutions that hold a lot of power.
On a more abstract note, does the term “consumer” trouble anyone?
“Consumers” are the vanguard of a corporate mindset rooted almost entirely in seeing you as a cog, a default participant, in the economic system hellbent on turning product. The term is a very confining, however accurate, definition of the individual. We are, many times over, seen as consumers before seen as citizens – a very convenient perspective that enables our exploitation.
Calling a person “consumer” is acknowledging a fundamental lack of self-governance.
Whoever is contemplating whether or not to participate in “Black Friday,” consider who really is making the choice for you.
Dimitri Kandilanaftis is a third-year student majoring in communications with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at DK838967@wcupa.edu.