So I received Black Friday emails titled ‘check out our great Black Friday discounts’ in early November this year.
What’s more grating, the slow creep of Black Friday becoming a month long event, or the Christmas fanatics who start counting down the days from, well, any date before the first of December? Or that shops now start punting Christmas tat in early autumn to appease them?
Clearly they’re all signs of the times and how the face of consumerism has changed. With the advent of the internet shopping in person (for most things) was always on borrowed time. That it’s taken this long for the paradigm to shift to the virtual sphere, is a testament to our weddedness to tradition and routine. But they’re no match for the combination of this peculiar time we’re living through and modernity, especially when the latter is utilised in the pursuit of profits.
I’ll concede this cascade of Black Friday emails from every company I’d consummated a transaction with is partly my fault. Buy something once and you’re on their list. Forever. It’s the new form of junk mail that you used to get pre-internet – do you remember? How on earth did we cope with such hardships? Yes most of them offer you the option to opt out of promotional offers when you sign up, but that’s semantics in the small print, lies at worst. Take opting out of promotions as a euphemism for tailored offers for you, not circulars. And just how smart are these algorithms anyway? Clearly you know I purchased a television recently, but why are you trying to sell me another one? Wait, am I meant to glean from this that there are people who buy a television every year or every other year? Is that what the market analytics say? As a bonkers Italian man once said, “are we crazy?”
Being anti consumerist is extremely futile. Its associated pathos occupies the same sphere as Veganism, it understands it’s a busted flush, hence the angry posturing of its acolytes (converts are always the worst, I find). Veganism and anti-consumerism are now surrogates for socialism, the grand-daddy failure of idealism – if we’re not having it, you shouldn’t either. I can’t take the side of the argument that says repent, don’t be taken in by the marketing, save your money for something meaningful. The word mellowed doesn’t sit well with me, but I can’t think of a better way to describe my attitude towards this. It’s your money, spend it however you please. Who am I to judge? I buy things too, so do you, and, get this, this year I’ve made a purchase during black Friday. In fact, make that several.
So, to avoid being a hypocrite, I have to renounce (some of) my previous ridicule of Black Friday. Which leads me back to a column (linked below) I wrote six years ago. I marvelled at the sheer oddity and mania of customers and the tactics that businesses had to adopt, including potentially turning away custom, just to protect the rabid Black Friday consumer from violent interactions and possible crush injuries.
What is progress? And how do we measure it? Egalitarianism? Diversity? Inclusion? These are sensible and important goals but hard to measure with absolute certainty or consensus. In regards to Black Friday, while comparatively unimportant, the roadmap is clear and here. We can measure that it has progressed past the chaotic and bewildering scenes that characterised it’s hideous height mid last decade. It’s evolved into a predominantly online operation that’s slick, efficient, less anarchistic and removes some public displays of narcissism. The imposition of Covid has not only altered the nature of materialism and capitalism for most of us – it’s shown us that life is much better when stressful face to face interactions and hassle over trivialities are removed from your day to day existence. The vast majority will be doing their discount shopping online, not because it’s safer, but because it’s easier. Instead of sprained ankles, strained muscles lugging a heavy piece of equipment, a crushed rush through sliding glass doors when they first open at an ungodly hour, a sudden release which bears an uncanny resemblance to an obese cat finally fitting through the flap after an inelegant struggle, which includes two seconds of mortal thrashing panic that it might not make it, you’ll be on the couch, on the toilet, sitting at your computer, relaxed, warm, safe from infection, injury and infecting and injuring others. Soon this will become government advice too – Stay home when shopping. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.
So, how did I do in this brave new world? I bought a pop up plug replacement for my en-suite sink for £4 (can a sentence be more bourgeoisie?), a new electric pepper grinder (USB rechargeable with a motion sensor bitches! – ohhh snazzy) and some replacement lightbulbs for a tenner (okay, this one’s practical). None of these are grand purchases, but they’re things I could live without, well, apart from the lightbulbs.
While I’m not a Black Friday bargain hunting baller smugly buying that Sony OLED for £300 less than it cost a month before, and my small purchases are frivolous, I’m also not sniping at Black Friday with Trotskyist conviction. The tilt towards online shopping has normalised Black Friday for the indifferent and made me more normal in the process. Say it aint so?