By Thomas Barlow
Like many people I am only just getting over my horror and disgust at the scenes that we witnessed this Black Friday.
Instead of people working together to provide for each other, have a nice time and a jolly festive season, our consumerist system has managed to bring us to its’ desired conclusion.
We are not to feel sense or rationale any longer ,we are to fight like dogs for pieces of trash that will never fill the emotional void in our lives – or ease the suffering of our ever diminishing bank accounts.
We punch and kick each other to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, for a festival we’ve long forgotten the meaning of.
Funnily enough up until the Victorian era Christmas had little to do with presents, and was deemed too pagan and Catholic to celebrate for centuries after the reformation.
Cynics are not far wrong to suggest that it was a holiday that was built up in the Victorian era to sell pictured cards, though it’s stated purpose was far more charitable thanks to Dickens.
Dickens was the most moral proponent of the spirit of Christmas, and re-introduced the ideas of festivity, gift giving and charity.
So Christmas is a weird hotch potch festival, of northern European paganism, Catholic Christianity and Victorian charity and revivalism.
The antecedents of Black Friday are definitely not charitable. It was named by police officers in the US to describe the the misery of what they were going to have to face, coupled with the smog and dirt produced by the mass movement of shoppers.
Consumerism and inequality has always been at the heart of the modern Christmas as well, though.
Christmas trees were introduced by the German/British Royal Family and copied by the pilent populaces of the US and Europe and St Nicholas (Father Christmas) had his coat changed from green to red by Coca Cola.
For many of us, though, the modern consumerism is too much.
It has loomed large over all of us for a long time already.
Like the Christmas gifts I found in the local garage in August, it is never too early to start worrying about what you are going to spend your money on.
Black Friday, in this context, is peak abhorrent behaviour,then.
We look on with a mixture of disgust and voyeuristic excitement at the ‘dregs’ of society battling it out for a pointless bargain.
However a shop steward friend of mine pointed out the hypocrisy of the middle class judging the scrums from their armchairs (like myself).
“Question for those who were disgusted by peoples’ actions yesterday: What’s a more blatant example of rank consumerism – cramming into a supermarket in the middle of the night to get 70% of a vacuum OR cramming into a German Xmas Market stall on a Saturday morning to pay £8 for a hotdog and £50 for an ornament your three year old could make at school for a fiver?”
It is true, there are Gladiatorial elements to this, the rich watch on and tut and giggle as poor people fight for them, like Cambodian pauper children paid to beat the hell out of each other.
This does not explain or excuse the rotteness of Black Friday though.
The scenes we have witnessed across the UK show signs of a society that is sinking far past the ability to make any common emotional connection on the basis of anything other than competition and ownership of objects.
Unlike the middle class arbiters of tasteful behaviour, I actually don’t have two pennies to rub together.
My Dad, a big Beatles fan, recognising the financial state the whole family is in, sent us the following text:
“No presents for Christmas. All you need is Love!”
Idealistic as the tone may sound, the relief my brother and I feel is tangible.
Up to our eyes in debt, and unaware of what on Earth our parents might need any longer, the thought of just relaxing with my family, eating well, drinking and staying warm actually sounds like a holiday.
For many people it won’t be a holiday.
Most of us have to force ourselves through a scrum of family politics, present ranking and a constant eye on our bank account. For others it will be a lot worse, old people freezing through the winter, struggling to heat or eat, women in shelters, children in homes, homeless people trying to find a place to live.
The preceding two months (at least) of this situation is non stop push to buy, buy, buy, a it in someway is going to fill the gap that genuine connection to other human beings might actually fill.
It is an old trope, and we have heard it before, but whether we are buying our German hotdog, or our ASDA widescreens, we don’t seem to be any happier. And we certainly are no better off.
I leave it to my Salfordian friend to point out the obvious again;
“I don’t like the concept of Black Friday. I think it’s a shame that it’s a thing over here now. However, I wish the middle class left would stop moralising. People are poor. When things are cheap (especially before Xmas), they buy them. Yes it’s a shame that we live in a society where we are defined by what we own, but people with money sitting around tutting and casting scorn from their high horses is hardly going to change that, is it?”
It is easy and enjoyable to feel superior, but let’s actually try and challenge the conditions that create the need and desire for cheap goods in a world of plenty.
We need to organise, not moralise.
I hear that there will be a push to organise for an austerity Christmas next year – buy nothing, support rolling blockades, strike for the living wage, spread love. Now that’s a Christmas I could enjoy!
In the US workers and Ferguson solidarity protesters have dropped Black Friday sales by 11%.
I leave you with a man who seems to have a good idea for what we should and shouldn’t be doing.