Friday, 28 November 2014

Bleak Friday

We import plenty of American culture into Britain. Most of it is fairly harmless, and plenty of it - some of the films, some of the TV, many of their writers, for example - is positively beneficial. Then there's the stuff that's just pointless, Americanising our versions of things that weren't American in the first place - Halloween being a perfect example. And then there's the stuff that's simply inexplicable as to why we need or want it, because it's negative. Damaging even.

The media today has been full of the evidence for the latest such thing that we've taken, for no good reason I can discern, from the States. Black Friday has suddenly become a huge retail event, with pretty much everybody who's got something to sell falling over themselves to persuade you to buy it. Not that, it seems, we need much persuading. Sales law is simple enough - the item only has to have been on sale at the higher price for 28 consecutive days before the commencement of the sale, and can't remain at the sale price for longer than the higher price period. So what do retailers do? Jack up the price of an item in the quiet period preceding a sale, for 28 days or so. Then, for just a few days, or some such giant event, drop it back down to a supposedly greatly reduced cost that is in fact only slightly lower than it could have been purchased at some weeks before. Then, when the sale is over, revert to the original price. Usually, with a bit of shopping around, a bit of internet research and not minding buying stuff that's end of season or end of line, you can pay substantially less than these so-called bargain prices pretty much all the time.

Yet people blindly swarm to the shops at these events, believing they're getting a bargain. What you end up with is scenes like these, with fighting, desperate scrambles, swarms of shoppers descending on harassed, under-secured retail staff, police in attendance even. What the hell has happened to us? Watching the footage on that BBC web page, looking at any of the countless number of photos of desperate faces, arms outstretched, forcing their way into shops, there is an unavoidable analogy to be drawn with another piece of that American culture I mentioned. The great George Romero chose a shopping centre as the setting for much of his classic zombie flick Dawn of the Dead for a very good reason, and did so long before the consumer excesses of Black Friday had reached the levels they're at now. Just look at the shot below the first paragraph of this excellent piece on exactly what I'm talking about - the man was absolutely on the money.

I'd understand this if we were living in a society coming apart at the seems, with shortages - people fighting over food or medicine for themselves or their children. But for most of us, that's simply not the case. We've seen this for real in places that seem a long way from our comfortable, wealthy lives in Britain, and it's very difficult to imagine how everyday life must be for people for whom fighting for basics is a reality. But, pretty much exclusively, Black Friday brings us people scrambling for TVs. Coffee machines. Big-brand, top-label clothing. Computers or MP3 players. Hardly stuff you'll die without.

I am not, of course, blaming America for this. This is all us. We've become so blinded by consumerism that we sacrifice our dignity for a '% off' sign. Black Friday? It's about the most aptly name shopping 'event' on the calendar.

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