December 13, 2014

With month-long deals, Black Friday dilutes in intensity but becomes even more egocentric and materialistic

Black Friday, as a one-day-only concentrated spectacle, seems to be winding down. By all indicators — sales figures, advertising hype, live-tweeting the most fucked-up incidents around the country — the day was much more quiet, tame, and boring this year.

If that meant that people had been spending more time with family on Thanksgiving weekend, or had not been so fixated on DEALS, this would have been a welcome change. Instead, shoppers have desecrated "family time" even more by spreading the deal-hunting into Thanksgiving day (AKA Black Friday Eve), or spending more and more time glued to a glowing screen in search of killer deals online.

This marks the passing of yet another holiday ritual from a concentrated and intense manner of celebration (if you can call it that in this case), into a drawn-out and diluted manner. This keeps it from feeling like a memorable experience, and therefore weakens the power of the holiday to bond folks together.

In 2014, there was an entire week or month of Black Friday deals in advance of the day itself, both in stores and online.

It's the same as Christmas songs, decorations, food, etc. going into mass circulation the day after Halloween. Or Thanksgiving decorations and food hitting the shelves at the beginning of October. Or Halloween costumes and candy being put out with the start of the school year.

In each case, the intensity that used to come from celebrating these holidays on a single day — or at most a weekend — has been diluted into a minuscule level of awareness and celebration for a full month ahead of time. By the time the proper day arrives, we're already so habituated to its rituals that there's nothing special left for the holiday itself. It passes without notice, and without missing a beat we're on to the next stream of pre-pre-pre celebration for a holiday that's a month away. We remember nothing of the holiday, and its utterly mundane atmosphere prevents us from bonding more closely with our social circles.

In cocooning times, intensity of rituals is replaced not by moderation but by minimization. Rituals are a group-bonding affair, and connecting with others — especially ones we don't even know, like our distant neighbors or our fellow Christians — strikes cocooners as, well, a little creepy. If we can somehow nominally celebrate those rituals in the most toe-dipping way possible, we won't be overwhelmed by how awkward true social connection feels.

Black Friday was already a disgusting debasement of Thanksgiving rituals, but at least it tried to preserve the manner of concentrated group celebration. Hard to pull off when it's a melee of every shopper for themselves, but it was still common for families to go shopping as a group (perhaps even camp out in line as a group), and to feel the excitement of sharing the same heart-racing experience as the other deal-grabbers, albeit the thrill shared among self-centered looters rather than other-centered worshipers.

The dilution of Black Friday into an entire week or month of deal hunting has done nothing to counteract the self-centeredness and materialism of the holiday's one-day-only period. Someone glued to their screen comparing prices across dozens of websites over several weeks of bargain-hunting, could not be more removed from their family or community. "Can't talk now, busy on Amazon, save some turkey for me later though."

It also exacerbates the trend toward staring down at individual screens before and after the meal, when people used to either be part of a single large conversation or tuned into the same TV show, movie, or football game. "No, I'm not being anti-social — I'm busy bargain-hunting on Amazon," rationalizes the internet junkie to his put-off brothers and sisters.

"But what if I'm not with my family for Thanksgiving? I'm not bothering anyone then." If you're alone for Thanksgiving, or at most with a spouse, it means you don't have any family nearby. Here we see how strongly the transplant phenomenon has driven the trend toward normlessness in urban and suburban areas where migration from outsiders has been heavy.

Without your family members there to give you those annoyed stares, you feel less shame in browsing Amazon all day long, rather than at least try to make the holiday about something other than buying more stuff for yourself, and inflating your ego over the sense of achievement from scoring such an epic deal — "Not gonna lie, I'm actually kind of amazing at hunting for deals online."

I can't believe we've sunken so low that I'm feeling a loss, however qualified and tepid, over the dilution of Black Friday, which was already so corrosive to our traditions. But the holiday has only become further atomized with the retreat into ransacking the shelves of some internet outlet instead.


  1. Nothing beats the excitement of a brand-new second-hand Chevy. See your Chevrolet dealer in 1958 today!

  2. Off topic: Do you have any idea why your blog would be blocked in the UAE? Mostly the UAE blocks porn and sensitive religious & political sites. Any particular posts you can think of that might've offended them?

  3. there is an advertising company based in the UAE called "Face to Face". not sure if that has anything to do with it.

  4. The Vermifuge12/14/14, 1:52 PM

    Five years ago, when I first noticed the ascendence of online deals, there was a novelness to the idea, but, since then, any savings have been diluted in a mound of Chinese-made junk that stores are trying to liquidate. And, of course, most of Amazon’s deals are directed at women’s natures to conspicuously consume. There is a “12 Days of Deals” promotion right now, too; so, I assume nothing is a real deal, and everything has been marked down after a mark-up and extended in perpetuity.

    Also, this post reminded me of another interesting phenomenon in the striver class. Record Store Day began in 2008 to get customers into independent record stores. The first one went by without much fanfare, but the excess has become worse and worse. Now, instead of going into the store to search through its selection, the day has become about the special releases, which the hordes—whether Ebay poachers or fans of the band—will want to claim for almost any price. Record labels, then, have to love pressing a limited release of 45s, most of the time without new content, and reissuing LPs as anniversary editions or remastered ones. When the lines began to go out the door in 2010, I stopped going. It was no longer worth the effort to try to turn the day into a regular Saturday trip to the bins.

    While I have the thought, too, I would like to draw your attention to another aspect of the cocooning period. Space exploration has become about robots rather than men; and, instead of building moon-bases, NASA can no longer get into low-earth orbit. Deep space, now, is more distant than at any time before 1972. Some people, I suppose, seek to expand the frontier; others try to destroy the adventure. (Perhaps, though, there’s no one to replace Wernher von Braun.)

  5. interesting observations, the vermisuge. space exploration, and exploration in general, seems to be something associated with rising equality and probably rising crime as well. during rising equality, people seek out new lands to settle. I'm willing to bet that much of the colonial settlement of America happened during a period of rising equality within England - I'll have to read up on Turchin. same probably goes for much of the exploration and settlement of the American West.

  6. Settlement of the American West was a rising-inequality thing, during the long Gilded Age. Status-seeking has both a pull and a push effect on migration toward less charted places.

    When competition is heating up where everybody already lives, it pays to move elsewhere and try to set up shop as a big fish in a small pond.

    And even in the absence of competition at home, those uncolonized niches attract outsiders in search of a get-rich-quick scheme. The various gold rushes in California and Alaska during the Gilded Age are perfect examples.

    (Not surprisingly, there's a fascination these days with Alaska -- at least two reality shows set there, including one about modern-day gold miners. And all those Republicans who were drooling over Sarah Palin.)

  7. I don't think it has anything to do with the ad firm. The blog was blocked even back when it was called akinokure.

  8. " Record labels, then, have to love pressing a limited release of 45s, most of the time without new content, and reissuing LPs as anniversary editions or remastered ones."

    Most 1980's/early 90's CDs sound better than a great deal of post 1995 remasters (released on any format) which frequently are plauged by ugly loud compression and clueless equalization.

    There has been such a decline in sensible, careful workmanship since the mid 90's that most products and services these days (including overpriced designer/hipster nonsense) is not crafted to the level of quality that was expected in the 1920's-1980's.

    This is a great website if you want to know how shitty post 1995 music sounds:
    Just look up any band that started before the 90's and compare the dynamic range of their pre 1990 releases VS post 1995 releases.

    There's definitely a correlation between quality/care and equality levels. As inequality soars workmanship nosedives. Just search for snake oil on this blog.

  9. On the bright side, at least they didn't fuck with Born in the U.S.A when it was re-released in the 2000s. That's a miracle. Only the 2014 release shows crappy DR according to that database.

  10. With regard to Born in the USA, at least the 2000 release preserved the proper dynamics but it's possible that the EQ was botched. For you laymen that means that the bass and/or treble is so poorly controlled that it fails to reproduce the intended sound of the recording.

    Unfortunately, the modern crass consumer thinks that buying junky Mp3's for one dollar a pop is a wonderful improvement over owning and appreciating a full fledged work.


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