What the Hell Is Black Friday For?

Long, long ago, in a time known as the '80s, Black Friday sales started on a day called "Friday," at an actual hour that an actual store might actually have been open—say, 8 or 9 or 10 am. Over the years, the kick-off hours have been slowly rolling back—to 3 am, 4 am, midnight. And this year, stores such as Target, Wal Mart, and Toys R Us plan to start their Black Friday sales at 7 or 8 pm on Thursday, smack in the middle of the Thanksgiving dinner hour. Because fuck your turkey, MEN'S POLAR FLEECE MOCK-TURTLE HALF-ZIPS ARE 60% OFF. Get ready for Black Friday Part Deux: Black Thursday: The Legend of Curly's Pulverized Ribcage. I am not following any of this. Can someone explain it to me, slowly and using small, nonthreatening words? Please?

Now that Black Friday isn't even on Friday anymore—now that it's Black Thursday Night and Black Fuck Your Thanksgiving and Black Ha Ha Pitiful Wal Mart Slaves You Have No Family!—what is the point of it, really? I mean, hey, I have an idea! Why not just start Black Friday 2013 on the day after Black Friday 2012 and we'll call it Black The -Entire-Year and everyone will get so many savings that Santa Claus will rise from the dead and do everyone's taxes!!!!! Thanks, capitalism!

Though I rankle at hand-wringing laments about the "deaths" of entirely voluntary made-up holidays (you know you can Mass your Christ however you want to in the sanctity of your own homes, right, olds?), the thought of Black Friday sinking its stinking carrion-talons into my Turkey party is upsetting. And so I can't say I disagree much with this CNN editorial:

The store employees around the country who are upset that the schedules will deprive them of a big part of their holiday Thursday (many of them will have to arrive hours before the customers) and the citizens who fret that the lure of the deeply discounted sales will empty out their home-for-the-holidays family gatherings are probably fighting a losing battle. Black Friday appears to be triumphant, and it has taken on the characteristics of the holidays it mimics.

Like real holidays, it occurs on a predesignated day each year. People anticipate it and mark the date. Across the breadth of the nation they are absent from work to observe it. And when the day arrives, they congregate like...well, like congregations.

Because what IS Black Friday, anyway? What is the point of it? Why do we need it? Who would EVER go to it??? Why can we not do our shopping on Beige Saturday? Or Internet No-Pants Tuesday? Say what you want about the internet, but it never trampled anyone's uncle.

Here's the thing. I genuinely do not know who attends Black Friday sales. Do you go? Do you know people who go? I am genuinely asking, because I don't think I know anyone who does (and I know like 100 people!). Personally, I will go to almost any lengths to avoid inconvenience and discomfort, so Black Friday is my idea of where hell sends Satan when he needs a time-out. I hate hassle. If my favorite restaurant is even slightly crowded, I will go home and eat Top Ramen, even if the walk home takes longer than the wait at the restaurant would have been. If I got 7 hours of sleep last night instead of 8, I will justify taking a cab from the airport instead of the bus (because waaahhh!). I can think of a couple things in my life that are worth a certain amount of discomfort—work, sex, forcing strangers to love me—but "Xbox accoutrements" are nowhere on that list.

I literally cannot imagine any discount deep enough to entice me to put on clothes, leave the house, stand in the dark in a frightening, sweaty mob, and risk being crushed to death for the sake of the latest digital camera—and on top of that, considering the 2012 Black Friday schedule, to ESCHEW PIE. Not fucking happening.

That's easy for me to say, though. I can afford convenience. I am not rich, but I have enough disposable income to buy my loved ones the presents they want at full price or (at least) at an ordinary, non-Black sale price. I also have enough free time to do precious shit like knit handmade scarves for people (HAHAHAHAH, like I know how to do stuff), because I have the luxury of working one single job that pays me a living wage. I do not, for instance, have to work at Wal Mart on Thanksgiving night.

So is Black Friday purely a money thing? Are the throngs outside of Wal Mart really drawn there by the promise of indispensable savings in lean economic times? If so, there's something incredibly dehumanizing and degrading about luring people in with irresistible savings and making it worth it to them to prostrate themselves before the doors of K-Mart and literally stampede in herd-form to acquire pieces of plastic garbage that will be forgotten by the following Christmas. REALLY. UPSETTING.

But then, that construction doesn't seem quite accurate, since Black Friday has been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2003 (and an official shopping "holiday" for years before that), well before our current financial doldrums. For some people it can't be just about saving money—it must be about being part of this THING. Black Friday is a thing we do. It's a ritual. Like pie.

There's also a built-in desire for a very specific type of stuff. Stuff that seems non-essential. Toys R Us stuff. The correct Barbie. I know plenty of people who don't have much money, but they're not gearing up for Black Friday. But, on the other hand, none of my broke friends also have nine saucer-eyed kids who still write letters to Santa. It's easy to be piously anti-materialism as long as you're a single twentysomething who doesn't have to explain to your child why they got a handmade apple-head pioneer doll and some notebook paper when literally everyone else at school has a backpack full of Bratz dolls. I don't get to complain about other people's personal brands of materialism until I stop buying polka-dotted iPhone cases and high heels I wear one time and then give away because they make my feet look "loaflike."

Whatever's at the root of Black Friday—whether it's economic desperation, familiar ritual, costly signaling, the thrill of the hunt—I can't escape the feeling that some part of this system is broken. And we should fix it...by, uhhh...overhauling our entire nation, I guess. I mean, look. We'd only have to restructure the economy that allows people to work themselves to death while never catching a single breath above the poverty line, and simultaneously smack some sense into the culture that teaches children that having the right shit is the most significant indicator of a valuable person. That's it!!! Just everything. So can somebody get on that? Fixing literally everything so that people can go shopping like human beings instead of rampaging caribou? Thx. LMK when ur done.

I suppose I personally don't care how people want to do their holiday shopping, as long as they are not dying in the process. I know that getting a great deal can be exhilarating for some folks and completely necessary for others. And maybe in 10 years I'll be one of those people too. But for now, if you need me this Friday, I will be at home eating breakfast pie and buying myself the gift of a braless SVU marathon. Ho ho ho.