One of the few things that makes me embarrassed to be an American is the chaotic mob scenes and feeding frenzy that surround Black Friday. Forget the mass consumerism aspect of what the holidays have become; it is the actual shopping madness that turns me off the most. While most of the world was waking up, heading to work for the last day of the week, and going about their everyday business, millions of Americans were standing in line, braving crowds, and in some cases storming stores in order to score what they deemed was a great deal. Why does the idea of buying an item, that you probably don't need in the first place, at a reduced price, drive us to join in the feeding frenzy? From stories of young children being left alone in cold vehicles while adults shop to women engaging in fist fights and guns being pulled on fellow bargain hunters, reports of these behaviors is down right humiliating. And let us not forget the Walmart employee who was trampled to death by a crowd of over eager shoppers a few years ago. Really? For a Walmart item? What on earth does Walmart sell that is so special that it causes a stampede? Every year news reports show footage of people camping out in front of big box electronics stores so that they can get their hands on that year's "must have" item. Is a 51 inch flat screen television worth it? Is receiving a free sample size of lotion because you were one of the first one hundred people to enter the store worth staying up all night?
I love a good deal just as much as the next person (maybe more) but I just don't see the attraction of this shopping frenzy. Maybe I am jaded from my early post-college years when I worked in retail. My Thanksgivings were never spent with family since I had to work at crack 'o dawn on Friday morning. (I guess I should be grateful that this was in the days before stores decided to open on Thursday night). Perhaps it is having seen the deal seeking crowds first hand that was enough to turn me off from the shopping craze. I once had a boyfriend whose mother was a Black Friday shopping fanatic. She would go to bed early on Thanksgiving evening so she could be the first one in the stores in the morning. She developed her shopping strategy around who was giving away freebies at which hour and usually came home with a variety of useless items whose only appropriate use were the office white elephant party.
The Internet age has ushered in the online equivalent of the Friday shopping spectacle: Cyber Monday. Much like its end of the week counterpart, this is the day where great Internet deals are supposed to abound. Maybe this is a calmer, more civilized way of shopping; I have no idea since it all takes place behind closed doors with no witnesses if you get in a fist fight with your spouse over who gets control the computer. The irony of it all is that, like Black Friday's sales that actually begin on Thanksgiving evening, many of Cyber Monday's steals began on Saturday. And how many of these deals are really deals? Many of these so-called deals that keep popping up in my in-box offer no more of a savings than those that were appearing last week or even last month. My response to each new offer is to promptly click delete but I'm probably in the minority on this since 52% of shoppers are planning on completing their holiday shopping online this year. But will they all be shopping on Cyber Monday? Or will they be holding out for a better deal?
I recently had a conversation with several international friends about what it means to be American and what others think of as America. It saddened me to hear that some of the first responses involved shopping malls, miles of highways, and Oprah. Really? Italy has great food, Paris has the Eiffel Tower and the United States has Walmart? What does that say about our country and our culture? How do we break this stereo-type? Images of brawling bargain hunters buying mass quantities of cheap Chinese produced merchandise certainly isn't the answer. Maybe I need to just accept America for what it is: the land of the free and the home of the brave and mass consumerism.