As the Christmas season comes round once more, we are reminded of the spirit of Christmas; of sharing with one another, of being grateful for the things and the people we have in our lives.
Of course, apparently in order to demonstrate how much we love our friends and families, we must battle with one another, fight over the last TV in Tesco, pull each other’s hair and elbow strangers in the face to get that last IPad or whatever it is we’re pining for this Christmas. This year, as the Black Friday boulder rolls round once more, the chaos and calamity of the day shows no signs of slowing down.
I know I may sound like I’m being intentionally over the top for dramatic effect, but unfortunately, on ‘Black Friday’ this annual physical display of greed, demand and panic does tend to portray Christmas at its worst. This year a Tesco store in Manchester had to close after a mere 36 minutes of opening due to fighting. Just what happens on this strange day of the year that makes us all forget how to be citizens and consider it ok to, sometimes literally, fight one another over the last electric toothbrush in Argos? (Ok, that’s a bit excessive – but only slightly).
Rather than Christmas being a holiday of love, Black Friday is evidence of the evolution of Christmas into a competition of love. We queue, we fight and we spend in order to buy gifts we think will make somebody else happy. I suppose, in this sense, the notion of Black Friday is quite bittersweet: the fact we are willing to go through such retail horrors in order to please somebody else on Christmas day is actually quite touching.
However, don’t get me wrong – Black Friday is still bad. We shouldn’t scramble over one another in Tesco for the last laptop, even if it is for someone else.
So who’s to blame? ASDA’s social media campaign ‘asdablackfriday’ is a dire example of the way in which retail stores seek to encourage a mood of panic. If people panic, they buy. Whilst the #asdablackfriday advertising campaign may be clever and effective, it is still morally questionable, unnecessary and manipulative. On the days leading up to ‘Black Friday’, the date is projected everywhere, on all forms of social media, in order to prepare ourselves for this supposed day of retail chaos and carnage. Calm down ASDA. It’s not the apocalypse. It’s just a Friday.
However, not only does the whole advertising ploy pressurise people into panic buying, but as a consequence normalises the entire process, and inadvertently justifies this extreme type of consumer behaviour. If you give anything a name or a concept, it immediately sounds more acceptable. ‘Everyone calls it Black Friday…everyone goes crazy and shops like mad…I must do the same.’ Yes, this may be very over oversimplified and over exaggerated but you get my point.
Of course the motivations behind Black Friday lie in finding the best deals and saving the most money that we possibly can. In a society where Christmas is a financial burden many are struggling to keep up with, facing the Black Friday retail storm becomes the only option for those wishing to please their family and friends without breaking the bank. Is it right that retail outlets exploit the vulnerability of those who can’t afford to disappoint their relatives but similarly can’t afford to buy them Christmas presents, by making them fight through crowds to save a bit of money? (Short answer: no)
So how can Black Friday ever end? Essentially, we should all just stop panicking! Christmas is not a competition. There are other ways to demonstrate how much you appreciate someone other than how big a present you’ve bought them, or how much money you’re willing to spend. People aren’t going to love you any less if you didn’t manage to get them that new watch they were hoping for.
Similarly, if we don’t want to be pressured into buying, we shouldn’t demand it of others. It is a collective duty to wake up and realise that if we don’t expect the world this Christmas, we also don’t have to get to ASDA at six in the morning to try and buy it for someone else.
Just imagine what if…just what if…nobody went? If on the morning on Black Friday there were no queues; no fighting; no security guards patrolling the Barbie aisle. I know this is far too idealistic and will never happen. However, what we should remember is that Black Friday needn’t exist. It’s just a term created from the demand and panic to consume and buy and spend. If that panic disappears, so does Black Friday. This may not be an original criticism of contemporary Christmas, but it is nevertheless and important one.
So maybe next year when Black Friday comes around, just stay at home. Put your feet up. If you don’t buy a new laptop for £50 off the original retail price, it’s not the end of the world.
Photograph: Jones The Camera