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.