Monday, December 1, 2014

Week of 12/01/2014

Has The Bloom Finally Fallen Off The Black Friday Rose?
I had a rather strange experience this weekend; one that I know other people experienced as well.
This past weekend was the dreaded Thanksgiving Weekend.  The weekend of “Black Friday”, where people mob the local stores for Holiday sales, and the stores are all-too-eager to take their money.
A time of chaos and cacophony.  A time when parking spaces are at a premium and thieves are everywhere.  A time when you don’t want to be there unless you really have to, and then you have to get out of there as fast as you can.
That’s the way it’s always been, right?  That all comes with the “magic” of Black Friday, where the almighty dollar rules with an iron fist and the almighty ever-precious business world can make their money for the year.
But… a funny thing happened this year.
I had to go to the local Super-Wal-Mart for groceries.  I had a simple plan of attack.  Go in, get a space as close to the store as possible, get just what we needed to get, and then get out of there quickly as possible.
But when I showed up, I was able to get a regular parking spot very close to the entranceway.  I was able to get a cart.  My mom was able to get a powered scooter.  And we walked in to find it… quiet!
No, really, it was quiet!
There was no cacophony.  No screaming children.  No crying children.  No temper tantrums.  No whiny ads for birth control with their incessant mantra of “I want a toy!”  No sleigh bells.  Everything was… quiet.
I had to check my watch.  Yes, it was still the middle of the afternoon on the day after “Black Friday”.
Oh, there were plenty of deals in the isles.   Overstocked Blu-Ray movies at severely discounted rates.  Seasonal items for sale.  Food, and plenty of it.  The shelves were stocked.  The checkout isles were open.
What was missing were the overflowing throngs of people.
I talk to some other folks and find that this wasn’t just a fluke.  That the store had plenty of parking spaces on Black Friday as well.  And it wasn’t just this store.  Other stores also had lackluster attendance.
Now, folks, I realize that this is far from scientific.  This is just my observation and the random observations of others that I’ve picked up.  And I would suspect that any “official” numbers would “magically” tell a different story.  But I have to wonder….
Has it finally happened?  Has the bloom finally fallen off the financial rose we call “Black Friday”?
I’m not saying that people aren’t showing up on Thanksgiving night like the idiots they are, waiting for those infamous and sometimes literal “door-buster sales”.  They are.  Oh, they are. 
But let’s get brutally honest here… I suspect, and I dare hope, that the rest of us are slowly wising up and defying the almighty script that says that we have to rush to the store and spend like maniacs after we’ve stuffed ourselves with turkey and… well, stuffing.  That we “have” to go into debt to buy as much stuff as we can for the almighty ever-commercialized Christmas so Big Corporate and the ever-precious “small businesses” can make their money for the year.  That is, after all, how the term “Black Friday” came about in the first place.  It’s the time when businesses supposedly go from being in red-letter debt to black-letter profit.
If what I suspect and hope is true, then there are several reasons why this is happening.  I really don’t think that it’s just a matter of us simply “wising up”.  That would require a level of comprehension that we haven’t displayed anyplace else that would really matter.  Like, you know, at the ballot box.  Or even when it comes to our cellphones.
I strongly suspect the first reason would be the creep of the start of “Black Friday” into being “Black Thursday”.  I remember back when the start of the holiday sales would be the normal start of the business day.  Then it became 6am.  Then 4am, 2am, and then midnight.  Then it crossed over into Thanksgiving evening, and now even Thanksgiving Day!
Yes, a lot of people are seriously questioning the “logic” of the decision to bleed the cult of commercialism into Thanksgiving itself.  But… not too loudly, right?  After all, the almighty script demands compliance, even if it’s under protest.  But even without debate, just forcing people to show up on Thursday for some stores means that they pretty much blow their financial wad then and not on the other days.
And, by the way, it should be noted that the almighty script has counter-attacked on the debate by accusing critics of “Black Friday” and “Black Thursday” of engaging in “classism”.  No joke.  To borrow from Inigo Montoya: “I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Here’s another possible reason why “Black Friday” has gotten lighter… because the so-called “big deals” are really no big deals at all.
I was in that aforementioned Super-Wal-Mart the week previously and I noticed that they were selling Sony’s PlayStation 4 game system for $399.  Then a few days later, I open up their “Super-Deluxe Oversized Three-Tiered Black Friday Sales Spectacular Extravaganza” and saw that they had the PS4 system for the “low-low-insanely-low sale” of… $399.  A difference of absolutely nothing!  Nothing!  And this was just the game system itself!  Nothing else bundled in.
Speaking of… the reason why I was in that Super-Wal-Mart that week was because I was purchasing a laptop bundle that I saw in the store for $298.  It was the best deal that I had ever come across for a laptop, and I could not match it anywhere else either online or in another store.  There was no fanfare for that deal either.  They simply had it on the shelf with all of the other laptops for sale.  I bought it, took it home, and even cobbled this article together using it.
So, just out of laughs, I checked in online to see if that same bundled deal was any sweeter for Black Friday.  Not only was it not any sweeter, they didn’t even have it available anymore.  Good thing I decided to not wait for Thanksgiving, huh?  And that was just one practical example.
Yes, Big Corporate is playing con-games on the great unwashed, offering so-called “sales” that really aren’t and expecting us to simply lap them up and pat ourselves on the back for our supposed “hunter-gathering” skills.
The Internet is another big factor.  Not only do we have “Black Thursday” to go along with “Black Friday”, but we also have “Cyber Monday”, where people supposedly get great sales online.  It’s really not a new concept.  It’s been around for over a decade now.  But unlike the brick-and-mortar stores, the online shopper isn’t pressured to leap at any old sale.  They can (and do) shop around before hitting that “Cashier” button.  And the more stupidity we see on TV about “Black Friday” and now “Black Thursday”, the more reason we have to enjoy the weekend and wait until Monday when we can shop in our sweats instead of sweating it out in a mob.
And then there’s the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.  And, no, I don’t mean the fascistic GOP. 
I’m talking about the economy.
No, the economy is still not doing too well.  Historically-speaking, it took America over a decade and one world war to get us out of the Great Depression, and that was with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.  We’re still struggling to get out of the Great Recession of just a few years ago, and that is with Barack Obama’s Raw Deal shoved down our gullets.  He and his Washington Elite friends gave the 1% the gold and the 99% got the shaft. 
We can tell ourselves that things are getting better over and over again, and we can have the goddamned script tell us that things are getting better over and over again, but that doesn’t mean that things really are getting better.  We’re just having to make do with less and less and lying to ourselves about it.  And that doesn’t bode well for the almighty world of corporate consumerism, which still demands more and more with little in return, especially at this time of the year.
And in case you have any doubts about that, all you have to do is look at the recent plummeting price of oil to see that concern whispered about in the not-so-hallowed halls of Wall Street.  We can only lie to ourselves for so long.
All of these things do not bode well for the almighty Big Business, but that is actually a good thing.  If they can’t count on our mindless consumerism at this time of the year for them to make their money, then they will have to resort to the honest approach.  To treat us as an essential part of the financial equation instead of the one that they take for granted.  That means better prices, better quality, better deals, and fewer games and scams.
Or at least one could wish for it to happen like that.  This is, after all, the Holiday Season; a time of wishes and dreams and people who sometimes try to make those things come true.

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