Antisophie on: Black Friday in the UK

[Thanks to Antisophie for penning this at 1am]

 

“Can you say something about Black Friday [for the blog]?” – Michael asked me. “So long as you let me be honest”, I replied.

 

I had the same line as he did initially. A response of cynicism and despair about all the negative things it entails. Firstly, the idea of a Black Friday surely presupposes a Thanksgiving Thursday does it not? However there’s something a little bit rich about having a US holiday in the UK where the traditional narrative of Thanksgiving is about a group of British (and other European) exiles settling in a new land. Probably not the narrative that the UK would want to address given the whole immigration ‘crisis’ it’s dealing with in the political public sphere.

 

I was going to say it’s a cynical attempt to display the naked capitalistic/Marxist narrative where our consumption is the most ingrained/taught/primal desire, evidenced by all the notorious stories about violence and disorder as people seemingly panic buy special ‘one time only’ deals in retail hubs.

 

Then I thought about two things. Firstly, how the former old guard of grocery/supermarket retail organisations are in a bit of a fight for survival with new players, and secondly I can’t decry Black Friday because I bought so much (unintentionally).

 

The retail issue

 

As someone who works in an industry where…lets say, I depend on the sudden whims of other people’s decisions in order to work at all. I have a bit of sympathy with the figure of 1.4 mill (ONS 2014) people estimated to be on ‘zero hours’ contracts. When people panic buy, I imagine all those folks working security jobs and shelf stacking will be asked to work an extra and additional day. It’s the easy response to say that these so-called ‘zero hours’ contracts are being overused but I suspect it’s for things like sudden influx of customers where it really can be beneficial.

 

I also hear (and I am uncertain of how much credence to give this) that many people in management at retail wish to ‘invent’ a UK Black Friday (which was introduced last year, and implemented more this year) to deal with their own difficult revenues. In other words, people on the whole are spending less and going other places to do so. From that perspective, having a pretense of a black friday probably wants to help what is usually a busy period of the retail year but in recent years has been disappointing. And now, there’s the personal story.

 

We are all slaves to spending

 

Michael was spending the best part of friday watching some of the YouTube uploaded footage of how Black Friday is observed in the USA, by apparent fighting, stampedes and in one video, a use of a taser. Michael mumbled something about how this is the Hobbesian State of Nature in a world of actual government and statehood, and attempted to make some deep point that the role of the state was to fundamentally prevent the disorder of the Hobbesian state of nature, and as such contractarian accounts need to find some way to account for how actual limited forms of chaos exists in a world of authority (the state). Michael also said something to the effect of ‘Black Friday shows who we really are in extremis’.

 

I was sort of in agreement except for two things. I largely ignored black friday except via a whatsapp chat group which included Michael’s weird Hobbesian reference and diatribe about conspicuous consumption. I just went by my busy day as I normally would.

 

-Then I got a text from my sister – telling me that she wants a DVD of Season One of Something or Other* made by HBO and that ‘it’s probably cheaper on Black Friday’. It wasn’t, but I got it for her anyway.

 

-Then she texted me again – telling me the DVD is for my Brother In Law and she actually wants a shawl from Cos*. Ugh, okay sis I’ll get it for you.

 

-Then when I was at the website, I saw a nice deal on a nice little number that I was meaning to buy anyway. So I bought it. I’ve ended up spending £70 already. But I did save £40 and I got free delivery.

 

What black friday seems to reveal is that we live in a world where we both seem to need and we indeed want, many of the things that are put on a discount or offer. By buying, we consent to perpetuate whatever it is many people find objectionable about consumerism. This is very much an issue of choice, and it isn’t the retailers or the customers or the economy that really wins out. It’s our choice. Notably consider how choice varies from another word choice such as liberty or agency.I suppose because I already buy into the notion of Christmas that I also invariably found a £40 saving so attractive on things I probably was going to buy anyway. I feel utterly disappointed in my ability to launch a critique at Black Friday.

 

As I was checking my RSS feeds just earlier, I got a pop up notice from Feedly which said there was a ‘black friday’ sale of 20% off a yearly pro subscription. I’d lie if I wasn’t attracted by that. But there is a massive and perhaps inevitable liberal hypocrisy in paying for a black friday only deal on Feedly, and then using feedly to read blogs criticising black friday and how problematic it is. Even though my shopping was in fact online, I do feel I contributed my part to the social reality that larger encompasses the mobs crashing into superstores and people rushing to buy the latest so-and-so  for such and such a discount.

I think the moral if there is any is this: I spent £70 on stuff but think/was told I made a saving of £40. That is the meaning of Black Friday.

 

* names have been changed

 

Advertisements

On things that weren’t made to last

One of the things that I absolutely hate doing is getting new electronic devices. On the other hand there is a sense in which we are invariably forced to doing so as electronics are designed to have a limited lifespan and there is the other factor of predetermined obscolescence.

I had to get a new computer recently,well, I ‘needed’ it a year ago but was only in a position to get it recently. I was looking at specs of computers and remembering when I used to read PC magazines about 18 months ago and what were ‘hot’ features and what comes as standard these days. I found a desktop on ebay (used stuff eases my conscience) which had specifications that seemed absurd to me. 16GB ram (where the standard ‘high’ spec is 8) and a processor with 6 cores. It is a clear comparison that this machine was like an American Muscle car.

There’s a lot of talk about the latest Apple announcement. The Cult of Apple’s press conferences seem to get more attention and interest than when the Pope makes a statement on a social justice issue. Plus Bono is linked to both institutions. I was thinking about the notion of a smartwatch lately and I felt unconvinced.

The reasons are as follows: firstly, until the need has been ‘invented’, like my ‘need’ for a tablet computer that can check email anywhere at home. I currently work in an arrangement where responding to emails quickly gets me money and so my lifestyle has been oriented around the effiency of being contactable on email.

The other issue is that I already have a watch. I liked the idea of a tablet because it added to my life in a way that genuinely made things easier. It did have a cost of course, of having to charge it all the time and the one time where I actually went back to work on a weekend to find my lost computer (never again, never again).

As a man, a watch is one of those pieces of fancy bling that are socially acceptable and sanctioned without attracting too much attention. Such as wearing a chain might be considered gaudy or most jewellery in general seems gender subversive, but that’s a whole other issue. Watches have become for men signifiers of status and class, sometimes signifiers of what kind of person you are. I have to admit that one of the things I was socialised into was the cult of watch-fascination. I think it started from the fancy laser watch that Bond played by Pierce Brosnan had in Goldeneye. I’ve always wanted a laser watch and when that is invented and on a commercial market I will have a need invented for myself.

The other aspect of the ‘cult of watches’ is the durability of a watch. I love automatic watches or watches that don’t need battery replacements. I’m attracted to the longevity of watches and in an age where everything is supposedly replaceable and designed to break, there’s the notion that getting something that can last is a statement against it.

The idea of a watch that everyone else might recognise and have is contrary to the signifiers of watches as status-symbols. The iPhone has ceased to be a status signifier insofar as most everybody has one. Indeed it is true that watches can be prohibitively expensive signifiers and hardly the sort of thing that expresses a revolutionary temperament.

I do like that my watch has been repaired a few times over the years. I do like that I can keep my watch if it is repaired and its functionality remains. I would really wish that we could own things that we could repair easily and upgrade with ease. Of course, that seemingly doesn’t make money for these brand leaders nor is it in their interests to make something that lasts.

I remember hearing somewhere (probably from a comedian) that ‘it’s possible to make a toaster that lasts 20 years but nobody will make it’ because of the sudden loss of a market once everyone has it. There seems to me this fundamental tension, of having things that have amazing utility but in order to live in that economic zeitgeist, we must support the production chain of its production by buying it. I would wish there was an alternative to having to re-buy things every 3 years. I am bemoaning of a situation that I am very much contributing to and consciously so. I have so much electronic waste.

In praise of BoJack Horseman

In a recent post I wrote about Nostalgia television. I recently discovered a bit of advertising about a Netflix-only tv show called BoJack Horseman, which rings quite poignantly to what I wrote. Bojack Horseman is a show about a fictional television show in the 1990s which had the status of a long running and popular show, yet its stars had careers of differing success afterwards, and the director (spoiler ahead) suffered a career death after his sexuality was discovered and professional associations with him became toxic.

 

The protagonist, BoJack Horseman (whom I have a passing physical resemblance to), is a character who relives his life through continuously watching his show. There’s a certain amount of social commentary in the show, which interestingly reflects the  marketing of the show.

 

The show explores life in Hollywood as well as the very trend-setting nature of trying to find the next best thing. At one point in the season, the ‘D’ letter in the Hollywood sign is stolen and henceforth is referred to as Hollywoo. Likewise we see certain ridiculous trends mentioned and discussed and eventually become part of the furniture of life in LA.

 

The show was advertised heavily on Netflix (which I’m using to watch a lot of Highlander, much like Bojack watches his own ‘Horsin around’), and I am very impressed at how the whole season was released at once. I watched it in about 4-5 days and I quite like the model of releasing television (is it called television if I saw it mostly on my computer and tablet?) shows. It is kind of like the zeitgeist that Bojack Horseman captures as a show.

 

In one episode the ghostwriter character’s biography project is compared to a ‘journalist’ writing an article for Buzzfeed, and Buzzfeed is thoroughly trashed. There was much comparison between the 1990s and 2010s implicit in the show, and I love how television shows try to have their finger on the button of what it is to be in the 2010s.

 

When I was watching BoJack in between episodes of Highlander, I thought to myself, Bojack Horseman is a character reminiscent of his past career, the common phrase of the show is an onlooker saying ‘weren’t you on that show Horsin’ around??’, which often leads to a one night stand or confrontation, or both! In an age obsessed with both disposable trends and celebrities we are bound to leave characters as scarred as Bojack around.

 

Although perhaps unfair to say he is anything like BoJack. When I watch those 1990s episodes of Highlander I think of how some of the zeitgeist is captured of that time. In one episode an author is looking for an actor for an 18th century highland Scotsman, to which, Duncan Mcleod replies: why don’t you try Mel Gibson? It took me a moment to realise why that was funny as it was around 1995 when the film Braveheart came out.

 

I do sometimes wonder, as I love the Highlander show so much, what has happened to the actors. I know that Adrian Paul has had a lot of love from fans since the show ended and has continued to be known as Duncan McLeod from Highlander, even when the Highlander Francise did not have such a positive enduring reputation. One of the consequences of having nostalgia TV is that actors can be so heavily defined by their past work that their appearance has a certain kind of aura (in the Benjamin sense) as we cherish more of our memnories of that past show. A similar example of such fame comes from Matt LeBlanc’s character in Episodes, who plays a version of himself after his success as ‘Joey from Friends’.

 

Bojack is a character haunted by his success and as the show progresses, displays a sense of depth and redemption that the celebrity culture that made and destroyed him would not allow him to have on their terms. I loved the honesty of the show as well as the confrontation of his own demons. Here’s to you Bojack, you fictional anthropomorphic horse.