[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