An overnight stock clerk trying to hold back the 5 a.m. masses at a Long Island Wal-Mart was knocked down and trampled to death this morning, reports the NY Daily News. Says a coworker, "He was bum-rushed by 200 people...They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too...I literally had to fight people off my back." In the same stampede, a young woman miscarried her baby. As one shopper puts it, "They're savages."
What is it that's so horrifying about this story — besides the stark senseless shock of an innocent person's death? Is it the thought of someone who worked through Thanksgiving night being callously destroyed by a mob in search of cheap electronics? Is it the horror of the mob mentality? Is it the fact that people are so in need of bargains that they descend to this kind of frenzy? It's all of it, of course — and it's the complete fabrication that is Black Friday in the first place, a bizarre manipulation that the New York Times terms "a quintessentially American ritual of self-sacrifice at the altar of consumerism." But when that sacrifice becomes human, things have gone much, much too far.
The weird part is, apparently this was a subdued Black Friday: smaller crowds with smaller budgets, and smaller bargains than shoppers had expected. Black Friday's a day when a lot of stores make a profit: the frenzy of promotions and door-busting sales are no mere nod to consumerist tradition. Although it doesn't take a Lifetime "true spirit od Christmas" television movie to see that there might be something misplaced about making a family tradition of dawn-breaking bargain shopping — or the need for a treeful of expensive gifts — however offensive it might be to some sensibilities, it is not wrong. The people seeking bargains were not cold-blooded killers; question consumerism all you want, but anyone storming an already affordable Wal-Mart for bargain-basement prices is probably not flying private jets in his spare time. Doubtless anyone involved in this carnage, when they realized what had happened and the bargain-induced bloodlust had died down, was appalled and sickened. It is so easy to reduce tragedy to metaphor, but it feels horribly fitting here. It is a person's death, tragedy enough. And yet, why is there something of "The Lottery" about this horrible story, something that feels deeper and more disturbing than the sum of its parts?
Worker Dies At Long Island Wal-Mart After Being Trampled In Black Friday Stampede [New York Daily News]
Holiday Shopping At A Subdued Pace [New York Times]