Today, dear readers, is Black Friday. Can I tell you how much I do not like Black Friday? A lot. I didn’t know what the big deal was until I was in junior high school, and once I learned what Black Friday was, I still didn’t know what the big deal was. For many years, my high school friends and I got together at Bellingham Town Common to play flag football or ultimate frisbee. We had the entire common to ourselves and we got to spend consumerism-free quality time with people whose company we enjoyed. And, it was a great escape from crazy families.
It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I realized the social implications of Black Friday, the ugly side of a consumer-driven society. And also that people kinda suck. At 17 years old, I still had a very naive perspective and didn’t quite yet have the proper vocabulary to fully understand the big picture. I couldn’t understand why people would stand in line in the cold (I lived in New England.. it’s always cold on Thanksgiving) to save a few extra bucks on crap they didn’t really need. I couldn’t understand their joy.
That thinking hasn’t changed, but now I have a greater understanding that Black Friday is the worst day of the year. I am confident in my claim that we’d do better as Mormons, feminists, Christians, or human beings (pick your preferred identity) if we not only renounced Black Friday participation, but also actively sought to reverse its consequences on the human experience. Let me tell you why from three perspectives: the stuff, the people, the doctrine.
Here I am going to state the obnoxiously obvious: we live in a consumer culture. We are bombarded with thousands of images daily that make us think that we must buy this object lest our lives be rendered incomplete and unworthy of existence. In Jean Kilbourne’s article, “Jesus is a Brand of Jeans,” she reminds us:
Ads have long promised us a better relationship via a product: buy this and you will be loved. But more recently they have gone beyond that proposition to promise us a relationship with the product itself: buy this and it will love you. The product is not so much the means to an end, as the end itself.
How often are we able to convince ourselves that we absolutely need this product, or that our lives would be easier or better if we only had this thing. Take, for example, these two images:
Both advertisements play to our emotional need for fulfilling relationships, and gosh darn it, this ring will make that happen! I work in this industry and it thrives on the messy relationship between buying stuff and true love (don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my job, but I’m abundantly aware of how and what I am selling). It’s not enough that she loves you to pieces, so you have to show her by buying this thing. But we rationalize it. And we do it really well. Many friends of mine update their iPhones more frequently than they cook a proper meal. Apple updates their phones even before the last person in line at the release of the last product buys a new phone.
Let’s do a little activity. Watch this video and pause it at :57. Hokay? Go. I’ll wait right here.
You back? Awesome. How do you feel? The very first time I saw this commercial, I felt so happy. I felt warm. I may have teared up a bit. Watching this, I felt really good.
Now, go back and watch the last :03 of this commercial.
WHABAM! Talk about capitalizing on human emotion! Whether you like it or not (whether you know it or not), that happy, fuzzy, feel good feeling will now be connected with PAMPERS. When you hear that song on the radio, or at church, or at WalMart, you will be reminded of that happy, fuzzy, feel good feeling. And PAMPERS.
This consumer culture we have created teaches us to exalt the stuff we have or the stuff we want to have and it reinforces the practice of defining ourselves by our stuff. Our “stuff” is so important to us, we worship it. We revere it. We’d die for it. Our “stuff” is the cultural artifact of our religion of consumerism. Consider Kilbourne’s argument again:
Advertising is not only our physical environment, it is increasingly our spiritual environment as well. By definition, however, it is only interested in materialistic values. When spiritual values show up in ads, it is only in order to sell us something. Eternity is a perfume by Calvin Klein. Infiniti is an automobile, and Hydra Zen a moisturizer. Jesus is a brand of jeans.
Sometimes the allusion is more subtle, as in the countless alcohol ads featuring the bottle surrounded by a halo of light. Indeed products such as jewellery shining in a store window are often displayed as if they were sacred objects. Advertising co-opts our sacred symbols in order to evoke an immediate emotional response.
If “stuff” is the artifact, then advertisements are our holy text, and Black Friday is our holy celebration.
As far as Black Friday is concerned, there are three major players involved in the magic: 1) the people doing all the buying, 2) the people doing all the selling, 3) the people making bank on our religious relationship with stuff.
1. Let’s consider, for a moment, the consequences of the following reality: that our relationship with”stuff” is so important it has the ability to replace relationships with human beings.
Oh wait, it is.
In the first ad, the snowboard is clearly advertised as more important than the baby – a very small, but very living person. In the second ad, the man is not having sex with a woman, but with a car. Here are just two examples of this relationship we have with our stuff; Black Friday capitalizes on this paradigm while reinforcing the cultural belief that we actually need the crap we’re buying. While advertising helps create the dangerous illusion that the stuff we are buying is more important than human beings, Black Friday reinforces it. We leave our families on THANKSGIVING (the same family we just gave thanks for at dinner) in order to line up to get the best deal on a 42 inch flat screen TV. For some reason, we buy into the idea that it is more important for us to spend time with strangers in order to buy a TV than to spend time with our families. We pepper spray each other in order to gain an advantage over other shoppers. We steal Christmas presents from each other’s vehicles. We punch, shoot, and trample each other. We have actually killed each other because the value of a 42 inch flat screen TV was worth more than a human life.
Group 1, you should also know that the Crazy Target Lady is the face of your group. Are you proud of yourselves? Is this how we are spending our holidays? There is no doubt the commercials are cloyingly obnoxious, but they are also strikingly lacking in one very important element. People. The lady is completely alone. She suffers in her consumer driven insanity without the support of her freaking family. Who is she even buying this crap for, anyway!? Ugh. Again, I reiterate, Team 1, she is your mascot. Congratulations.
2. My heart and soul hurts for the people in this group. Retailers who have to leave their families to be at work at 11:00 p.m. on THANKSGIVING in order to be prepared for the long line of shoppers just so happen to also be actual human beings who are ripped from their families in order to serve others who are voluntarily leaving their loved ones. These employees just so happen to be actual human beings and we are trampling them to death because we are more concerned about the value of an XBox than the value of another living human being.
Quinn Caldwell, minister at the Old South Church in Boston, wrote a devotional about keeping the Sabbath holy. His plea for action (well, I suppose inaction) is applicable for Black Friday as well:
You’ve heard about how sabbath helps us rest, recharge, get in touch with ourselves and God. But the Bible’s clear that sabbath is also about protecting those over whom you have power from being overworked—by you.
You may choose to race seven days a week, but what does that do to the people around you? How does your employee feel when he gets emails full of work on Saturday morning? What do your kids learn when you work 90 hours a week? Are you really doing the stock boy at the 24-hour supermarket any favors by demanding an all-night grocery store to fit your schedule?
OK, so calling your secretary at home on the weekend isn’t as bad as locking employees inside a tinderbox of a sweatshop. But the Bible is clear: your decision to work or to rest affects the people around you. It’s also clear about this: once a week, for their sake, choose rest
His message is clear. Our decision to line up outside of big-box stores affects the people around us: families, employees, their families. For those of us lucky enough to enjoy a long weekend, let us extend the blessing of some extra R&R to those of us who work 7 days a week.
3. Anyone else find the irony of taking a break from Occupying Wall Street in order to Occupy WalMart? The 1% spent their day laughing at us as they rolled in the dough we do not have. I also find it interesting that those who are generally peacefully occupying Wall Street are arrested or pepper sprayed for popping tents, but those who are occupying WalMart are free to camp out and shoot each other. I don’t get it.
Here’s what I have to say to you, numerated groups:
1. Stay home, will ya? We are the 99% who happen to be suffering from economic inequalities. We are also the group who has the power to put an end to this awful and embarrassing exaltation of consumer culture.
2. I am praying for you today. I pray that people are nice to you. I pray that you are safe. I pray that after work today, you can go home to your family.
3. Go away. And if you won’t, will you please show us that you value your employees by giving them a day to be with their families? Will you please be a radical example and send the message that people you employ are more important than the products you sell?
The Bible and the Book of Mormon have a bunch to say about greed, wealth, lust, and covetousness. I would even go as far as saying that we are commanded to not participate in Black Friday. I am confident that our Heavenly Parents look at us, furrow their eyebrows, and wonder what we are thinking. I wonder if Jesus Christ were here, if he would trash the registers of every store.
Here are a couple verses that make me think he totally would:
1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Alma 39:9 Now my son, I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things.
DC 88:123 See that ye love one another; cease to be covetous; learn to impart one to another as the gospel requires.
Scriptures, as far as I am concerned, are a great guide for “How to Survive Black Friday Shopping.” Basically, don’t go. Do something else instead. Sleep in! Volunteer! Don’t kill each other!
King Benjamin said, “When you are in the service of your fellow human beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
Heavenly Father, it is my prayer that we find joy in each other’s existence and value in each other’s lives. Please let us learn to recognize that the worth of a soul is greater than the worth of an XBox. Please remind us that the worth of souls is great in your sight (Doctrine and Covenants 18: 10).
So much love,