Retail. It may not be a four letter word, but sometimes it comes out like one. I have worked in the realm of the retail and food service industry pretty much since I was legally able. I accept that as my lot in life, and I don’t complain (much) about the fact I have always had to work in very un-glamorous positions.
However, being in New Zealand has made me really examine the culture of retail in the United States compared to that of other countries, and there is one big thing that stands out to me: Black Friday. Never has a day been so aptly named, and so completely loathed. For my new Kiwi friends, let me give you a brief overview of what Black Friday means to every retail employee in the United States.
Black Friday is the name given to the day after Thanksgiving, which is always a friday, because, well, Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday. The short explanation of this day is that it is known as the biggest day for blowout sales in all major retailers all over the United States. It officially marks the beginning of the “Christmas Shopping Season,” and there are some retail giants (Wal Mart, Macy’s, Gap, Best Buy, what have you) who like to celebrate by offering absurd sales.
As a little kid, I had a vague notion of the day as being when my aunts would all wake up “early”–I say “early” in sarcastic quotation marks because now, as a world-weary ex-Best Buy employee, I now no longer consider 7AM on Black Friday early–and hit the mall. We cousins were never invited because A) they were probably buying heaps of Christmas gifts we weren’t meant to see and B) This wasn’t strolling through the mall drinking an orange Julius shopping. This was serious Running of the Brides style shopping.
There are many things that are sick and disturbing about Black Friday. I will try to hit on them all without descending into a blubbering mass of rage spit, but I can’t really make any promises. The first thing that is wrong with Black Friday is that people camp our for it. They train for this shit like it is an olympic event. Shoppers go to their chosen store days before BF-Day and set up tents, grills, and lawn chairs. It’s like the bastard love child of a refugee camp and the worst kind of tailgaters at a football game.
This is a person who was camped out in front of my friendly neighborhood Best Buy on Monday. Let me remind you that Thanksgiving takes place on Thursday and Black Friday, obviously, is not until Friday. As I was leaving work that night, I actually was really tempted to throw heavy bricks at this person’s tent. First of all, I hail from Bean Town, also known as Freeze-Your-Beans-Off Town. On 2011, November 21 (the Monday before Thanksgiving), it was 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit or for my kiwi friends, a brisk 2 degrees Celsius, a mere hair’s breadth above the temperature that is cold enough for water to transform into ice. What on God’s Green earth could possibly be important enough for you to buy at a slightly lower cost that is worth the risk of dangerous hypothermia, death by exposure, or frostbite? And if any of you say an Apple iPad, I’ll break your nose. The correct answer is NOTHING. If your loved ones demand this of you during gift buying season, you need some new loved ones.
Speaking of loved ones, it’s about time I leave temperature behind (because hey, maybe you have just enough of that good, all-American, McDonald’s induced blubber to keep you nice and toasty) and discuss something much more important. Thanksgiving is a holiday unique to America in a way that no other Holiday is. And I know the puritans were actually the worst and took advantage of their friendly Native American hosts by spreading blood and disease and claiming their land for themselves, blah blah blah, but for the purposes of this post, I don’t care about the gross, colonial, terrible roots of Thanksgiving. It has actually done the opposite of nearly every holiday: it has turned something terrible into something beautiful (unlike christmas and valentines day and every other commercial holiday): families. Families that normally fight or don’t talk or get wrapped up in petty interpersonal drama bullshit sit down, share a beautiful meal, and appreciate the good things in life. Since my parents are divorced, for me, Thanksgiving weekend always represented a magical four day slumber party with my cousins on my dad’s side, whom I grew up with and love like siblings. No matter where all the cousins were in stages of their lives, we all reunited for four days to not sleep, play video games, watch Mulan (still), play Risk, drink unhealthy amounts of coca cola and laugh endlessly. This brings me to the main reason I hate Black Friday. It eclipses the magic of Thanksgiving with its greedy corporate awfulness. The people camping out days before are forgoing one of the most beautiful days known to man. You may be saying, “But Ali, not everyone has such a fabulous family life! Some people are alone in the world!” It’s a paradox; if any of those people don’t have anyone to spend thanksgiving with, then who the fuck are they buying all this shit for? Is getting 250$ off a 1400$ DSLR camera really worth forgoing a relaxing day spent eating and laughing and reminiscing with your extended family, or sometimes very close friends? No. It’s not. I would accept Black Friday if it was only “celebrated” by immigrants to the US who don’t give a rat’s patoot about Thanksgiving–much like jewish families flocking to the cinemas on Christmas day–but it’s not. Blue blooded ‘murricans forgoe spending time with their loved ones to huddle on curbs for days on end. It’s so backwards and kind of shows what’s wrong with our culture. It’s like, “I’d rather spend my money on my family to show how much I care than actually sit down and spend time with them.” I would like to call shenanigans on this nonsense. Any person who buys me a gift on black friday should just save their money and come hang out with me for a beautiful meal instead.
Now, in case it isn’t clear by the fact that I’ve spent 1000 words on this already, but I fucking love Thanksgiving. I love it. I love the food, I love the atmosphere, I love hanging around the kitchen all day. I love the motherfucking shit out of this holiday. That being said, I come to my final point on my “why Black Friday should be completely abolished” tirade. Shoppers really don’t think at all about the effect that their (literally) buying in to this ridiculousness has on all of the store employees. In my three black fridays working with Best Buy, I sacrificed my long Thanksgiving weekend with my family because if you work retail, you cannot ask for that shit off. It is all hands on deck, motherfuckers, and don’t you forget it. I still got to eat Thanksgiving Dinner with them, but I always had to skip out right after dinner and go to bed by 8pm at the latest. And why is that you ask? Because to be on time for my shift on Black Friday I had to wake up somewhere in the vicinity of 3AM. I then went to work in the dark, before Dunkin Donuts was even open. That’s seriously early as. I then proceeded to work for 12 hours essentially non stop, ringing out countless people whose sense of satisfaction at cashing in their “tickets” (we handed out tickets before the doors open for items we had limited quanities of that were sure to be big sellers, or tickets for especially good bundle deals that we were only offering a limited quantity of) was nearly sickening. This past year, the first person i rang out (at 4 AM) was buying nothing but an xBox kinect THAT WASN’T EVEN ON SALE. It also had been released two weeks previously. And I was so tempted to ask, “Why are you here? Not just in Best Buy at 4AM, but seriously, like why are you even on this earth? How can you possibly be a real person that walks among decent people?” My boyfriend worked about 18 hours this year. On one day. He was at Best Buy counting down the safe until well past 1AM after the doors had finally closed. This makes me feel ill. In no universe should this poor guy, who has been up since the ass crack of dawn, been yelled at constantly about stuff being out of stock, or stuff being the wrong price, or by people who feel the need to come in and do errands like returns and sending their computers out for repair ON BLACK FUCKING FRIDAY, then have to stay in the office, alone, and count dirty smelly money until almost two in the morning.
Not only that, but since Black Friday is, quite obviously, the single most profitable day for retail stores of the entire year, stores are changing their strategies to maximize sales potential. Last year, Wal-Mart stores in MA defied labor laws by trying to open at midnight (meaning employees actually had to be at work on a day that is technically still Thanksgiving). Thanksgiving is a national holiday. SHIT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE OPEN ON THIS DAY. Best Buy opened at 1AM, meaning employees were not required to arrive until it was technically not Thanksgiving any more. However, a quick look at wikipedia tells me that stores are further pushing the limits of labor laws by trying to remain open for 24 hours, or open at 8PM on thanksgiving. THIS IS NOT RIGHT. It makes me so goddamn furious that I can’t even handle it. I started this post in a half joking tone and by this point in typing it I’m actually quite worked up. The fact that all these shoppers are actually making it seem like requiring employees to forgo Thanksgiving with their families as a viable business strategy is actually nauseating.
Don’t any of them care? The answer is a resounding “FUCK NO!” If these people can’t be bothered to care about their own families enough to spend thanksgiving with them, how can they be expected to care about lowly walmart, macy’s, and best buy employees? (And by employees I OF COURSE mean “iPad dispensers,” because lets be real, many of these people don’t even see retail workers as human, it’s very obvious by the way they often treat us)
If I were less emotional about this I would actually crunch some rough numbers based on money saved on gifts vs money spent on camping equipment, gas burned up driving around parking lots for hours trying to find a space or trying to fight your way out once your shopping is done, and the priceless (and I know that word is heavy handed and cheesey, but just go with it) cost of missing moments with loved ones.
The bottom line is, it’s not worth it, and if you think it is, you really need to examine your priorities, morals and personal values. I would like to challenge everyone I know not to buy into this Black Friday nonsense. Show up at stores at a leisurely 10AM, and make these retail giants hemorrhage money on labor staffing stores at midnight so that the following year, we can all sit down, tuck into some turkey, and do what we’re meant to do afterwards: go out and get drunk, just like the Pilgrims.