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December 1, 2013 · Posted in Commentary 
Black Fridays take aim at replacing Thanksgiving Dinner”

By Bob Vickrey

The Black Friday spectacle of the huddled and frantic masses lining the sidewalks outside front doors of big- box retailers sent an uncomfortable shiver down my spine as I observed this annual ritual on television news reports from the comfort of my easy chair at home.

Thanksgiving night has long represented the unofficial commencement of Christmas shopping for frenzied customers impatiently awaiting the midnight rush for what they perceive to be the best deals for items on their gift list. In recent years, the ante has been upped and the clock moved forward by retailers—all hoping to cash in on consumers who will push and shove their way toward that coveted 60-inch big-screen television.

I find that as I watch this exhibition of consumerism madness unfold each year, the scene invariably turns into the proverbial “train wreck,” in which it’s impossible to take your eyes off the coverage. I must admit with each succeeding year, the event has taken on a quality of eerie surrealism for me.

My skeptical “Scrooge-like” attitude possibly reflects a spoiled sport that simply has no desire to participate in what has become nothing less than a greedy blood-sport in the shameless grab for the newest electronic toys. I feel like some disconnected anthropologist trying to comprehend this phenomenon, if perhaps, just for my own understanding.

I’m not quite sure this annual spend-fest should ever be confused with any evidence of a noble American generosity of spirit. Recent national surveys have revealed that more than 60% of Black Friday shoppers admitted they are buying merchandise for themselves—not their children or other family members.

Not surprisingly, electronic products once again took center stage during the Thanksgiving weekend, as consumers fought their way through the crowds to get their hands on discounted big-screen televisions, laptops, tablet computers, and smart phones.

Shopping “combatants” stormed the doors at the opening bell with all the grace of those feverish settlers of the great Oklahoma Land Rush of the 1880s. Those with quick feet and sharp elbows generally fared better in the crazed onslaught of the first opening moments—probably in both instances.

Controversy has arisen this season over the advancement of retail opening times, which many people felt was an infringement upon their Thanksgiving family holiday. Many retail workers were required to cut their holiday short and report to work early to accommodate their employers’ desire to get the jump on competitors for the very first dollar of Christmas spending. Kmart and Sears stores were open all night on Thanksgiving. Kmart opened at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning and kept the lights on for 41 straight hours.

Last year, the giant clothing retailer Nordstrom, offered a modest gesture in its attempt to restore some sense of holiday civility when executives announced their stores would not begin to promote the Christmas selling season until the final observance of Thanksgiving day was completed. While it was not a terribly sacrificial move store officials had made, it certainly garnered some positive publicity on Nordstrom’s behalf with many American shoppers who have quietly become appalled by the frenzied tone set by their retail competitors.

If I’m guilty here of dousing cold water on shoppers’ innocent fun, it was not my ultimate intent. Historically, during periods of less than prosperous times, there has always been a trend in this country for Americans to escape the reality of their lives and find comfort in diversion. This might explain some of the euphoric behavior in the long lines I observed last week outside a Best Buy store in my neighborhood.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, movie attendance hit an all-time high as Americans used any distraction possible to take their minds off the tough times they were enduring. Nowadays, it appears a larger television screen or a slick new Macintosh laptop might offer some relief from the daily grind.

I’m hoping Black Friday does not indeed represent a culture of greed and narcissism at the very core of our society, but instead, has simply provided a moment of escape for an economically hard-pressed population.

However, while the whole scenario that played out Thursday night still makes me cringe more than I care to admit, I’m sincerely hoping a measure of shopping sanity will be restored and the true spirit of the season will not be forgotten.

Bob Vickrey’s columns have appeared in the Houston Chronicle and Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California.


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