Monday, November 22, 2010

Black Friday's too-appropriate name

       My waning sense of incredulousness was gnawing on a TV commercial for a brand of artificial hip — you don't just get those off the rack, so "ask your doctor" — when the news guy came on and told us about Black Friday.

       The story: Many will shop. All the news that's fit.

       What passes for information in the information age: Reporters dispatched en masse to report what everyone expects, and it'll be "breaking news." Just watch the bottom of the screen. It will say so.

        Someone will trot out numbers. They'll interview the guy running the toy train shop. How's it going?

        It's going to be obscene.

        Bad economy? Just watch us. Train that insta-cam on the action. Someone will say the day's haul is disappointing, but that someone is living in a surreal world. In most of the rest of the world, what Americans do on a day like this is cause for gasps, not unlike what we do when cable news shows what a tidal wave does to a village near the equator.

         More power to us. Buying power, that is. Consumption is next to godliness, if we are to understand the analyses of most business pages and politicians (at least the ones who most recently won).

         I won't be joining them, and don't think for a second it's because I'm  a holiday hater. For the adult life of me, I can't shake the anticipation and general appreciation of the holidays, emotions that colored so much of my youth — the kind that had me wrestling with my brothers for a Sears Christmas catalog fresh from the mail box.

         No, I insist on loving Christmas. But Black Friday is one of the saddest developments ever relative thereto.

        Wait, you say. People have always rushed to the stores on the day after Thanksgiving. That's the day for all those bargains, the start of the Christmas rush. True. 

Ever since the pilgrims started getting their provisions at big-box superstores, it's been America's biggest shopping day.

      Fact is, nothing is new about Black Friday except for the name, and it offends me.

      It does not convey holiday cheer. It conveys cutthroat consumption. More than that, it carries the notion that getting the gifts that make people happy is a mission, and not joyful in the slightest.

       You're saying that the "black" part isn't about the absence of mirth. It's about business. Profit. Feel better?

        Hardly. This sense that we are duty-bound to consume on this day because, well, because the news guy says it, should offend everyone.

        When did it become "Black Friday"? In the annals of pop culture, nothing has ever emerged from nothing like the capitalistically cold moniker. One day it was just the big shopping day after Thanksgiving. The next day it was Black Friday and on everyone's lips, like "war on terror," except in this case we hadn't been attacked. We'd just put down our forks.

          Jumping on this were the bored media. Nice headline fodder: Black Friday. Built for bold letters.

          Because of those bold letters, we stand in long lines, press at plate glass and throw elbows for 10 percent off on a robot dancing Mickey — at a price that, even with the discount, approximates what Granddad used to pay off on his house one month at a time.

          I won't be in the mob. I'll continue to think highly of the holidays, however, because they generally make me think of soft lights, quiet times with people who reinforce my notion of goodness, and a connection to times of innocence.

          Black Friday isn't my idea of that. If you are hell-bent for that artificial hip of your dreams, however, go for it.

           Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. 

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