Well, it’s that time of the year again. Time for my annual, pointless, ineffective and likely altogether unproductive attempt to discourage insane Americans from descending upon retail stores on Thursday, November 26. You know, it’s sort of ironic that I’m even embarking on such a mission, considering I’m one of the poor underpaid and overworked saps who has spent the last 13 years working retail shifts on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. Fortunately, I’ve been out of work for the last three weeks thanks to a knee injury and physical therapy, so I’ll be missing all the godless shopping psychopathy for the first time since 2002. I’m not complaining, mind you. Well, not about missing work. I might be complaining about this knee injury. And having to hobble on crutches. And being subjected to torture by mean people who call themselves physical therapists. And not driving. And not having a paycheck. But, that’s all for a different discussion and a different day. (Lesson learned: Don’t break into a full-sprinted run to your car across slick mud in the middle of a rainstorm. It usually doesn’t work out too well.)
Anyway, I think there’s a serious issue going on in this country and it’s one worth addressing again — particularly since our nation has spent yet another year crumbling under the weight of total spiritual and moral decay. Let me first say that, yes, I am a capitalist. I believe in the American system of producing and manufacturing goods and services to be purchased by consumers in an effort to prosper the economy, encourage market growth and foster healthy corporate competition. It’s not a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination. After all, it’s a system created by flawed, and often greedy, human beings and it involves money. But, for all of it’s shortcomings, capitalism works in our society. If it weren’t for this system, I probably wouldn’t even have a job and neither would you. Granted, it’s been somewhat stagnant under Obama’s seven-year reign. (What else is new?) But, I’ve yet to hear of anyone suggesting something better, so for now, I’ll say that I’m a capitalist.
What I am not, however, is a consumerist. I hate the influence of greed and the devastating effects of materialism. Well, it’s worse than that. I despise it. I loathe it. I abhor and detest it. It’s important to point out here that capitalism and consumerism are not the same thing and are not, despite popular belief, inextricably linked to one another. There’s nothing wrong with businesses making a profit and consumers purchasing their products. But, I worry about where our society is heading when we begin to place big-screen TVs and Coach handbags above family values and timeless historical traditions. You see, that’s what modern American “capitalism” has sort of morphed into for many folks: Consumerism. Screw the system, let’s just buy stuff! Buy, buy, buy and then buy some more. Economic principles and freedom be damned. Let’s keep buying more and more stuff and maybe if we buy enough stuff, capitalism will keep working and our economy will stay afloat in the midst of worldwide financial chaos and economic collapse and, hey, that will give us an excuse to buy even more stuff after we’ve finished buying the stuff that we just bought.
That’s our economic system in a nutshell: a total reliance on people purchasing and acquiring lots and lots of stuff. The system literally survives on the assumption that you will continue to buy things that you don’t need with money that you don’t have. Buy stuff every day. Buy stuff when you’re out. Buy stuff when you’re home. Buy stuff when you’re at work. Buy stuff before you go to sleep. Buy stuff when you’re happy, sad, mad, hungry, thirsty or just bored. Buy stuff while you’re standing in line to buy stuff. And then, when you’re exhausted, bankrupt, homeless and living under a bridge, buy a little more.
I think that, if anything, shopping on Thanksgiving Day is just further proof that Americans’ priorities are horribly misplaced and that consumerism is completely out of control. If you’ve ever been shopping on Black Friday, or worked retail on Black Friday, then you know exactly what I mean by “out of control.” Let’s be honest: There’s just something wrong with grown adult human beings stampeding into stores like mindless automaton barbarians desperate to save 30 percent on a pair of Air Jordans or a coffee machine. I would try to speak some logic to these folks, but I’d say it’s pretty hard to listen to a voice of reason when you’re busy brawling with 3,000 other people over fleece jackets at Old Navy or headphones at Walmart. It’s sort of embarrassing that we live in a nation where some folks are so obsessed and consumed with a desire for cheap products that they’re willing to camp out at a Best Buy three weeks before Black Friday. These people really need a life. (And probably a shower.) But, this is America, where we trample over each other to save five dollars on video games and Santa socks. I really do believe that this generation of Americans is truly one of the most selfish, self-absorbed, egomaniacal and narcissistically greedy generations ever to walk the Earth.
Consumerism is what’s poised to swallow up holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. If we stay on this path, where businesses continue to open a little earlier and a little earlier every year, we’ll soon destroy what’s left of these timeless traditions and values. In fact, we’ve really already eliminated Thanksgiving for the most part. We’ve sacrificed it on the altar of commercialism and consumerism. We’ve taken one of the most sacred of American holidays and executed it in the name greed and profit.
Maybe it’s sort of naive for me — or anyone else — to think that Black Friday could have remained contained to a mere 24 hours. After all, this is the one day of the year that truly represents the essence of mass hysterical greed. And the nature of consumerism is to expand. To grow. To swallow and destroy everything in its path. Unfortunately, the first thing that it devoured was Thanksgiving Day — the one day on which we should be thankful for what we already have. I guess it’s really not all that surprising that a holiday created by our ancestors to thank God for their blessings has mutated into a tradition where we all burst into retail stores and shopping malls to buy stuff we don’t really need on a day when we should be with our families.
Speaking of families, consider all of the employees who will be missing out on spending time with their loved ones and relatives to ring up your $2,000 purchase or help you find that elusive pair of Levi’s. Yes, these poor souls probably knew when they signed up for a job in retail that they would likely be working some holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. But, is it really necessary? Does it really profit these million and billion dollar companies to be open a grand total of six to eight hours before midnight on Black Friday — so much so that they have to require their employees to abandon their families? Somehow I don’t think it’s necessary. Well, I know it isn’t.
At the beginning of this post, I referred to all of this frenzied shopping as ‘godless.’ That’s really what’s at the core of consumeristic greed — a complete rejection of the Christian values upon which this nation was founded. But, even if you’re not a Christian, even if you take religion or spirituality out of the picture altogether, you still have to admit that the positive message of Thanksgiving deserves far more respect than we give it. I’m not here to vilify anyone who shops on Black Friday. I might think you’re a little crazy for doing it and I’d be happy to recommend the name of a licensed therapist. But, I am here to say, unapologetically, that no business should be open before midnight on Black Friday. It’s just plain wrong. And it’s un-American.
But, I guess the new message of Thanksgiving is to be thankful for all the stuff you have and then go buy more stuff so that you can be thankful for that too.
P.S. Although I've spent a considerable amount of time lambasting shoppers, companies and businesses waging a war on Thanksgiving, let's give credit where credit is due. Here are some companies that have elected to sacrifice profits and remain closed on Thanksgiving Day: Barnes & Noble, Burlington Coat Factory, GameStop, Hobby Lobby, Home Goods, Babies 'R Us, Pet Smart, T.J. Maxx, Staples, Pep Boys, Pier 1 Imports, Nordstrom, Sam's Club, Dillard's, Publix, Bed Bath & Beyond, DSW and Costco.
Kudos to these guys for recognizing the importance of Thanksgiving. I salute you. And whenever I decide to round up all of the Thanksgiving shoppers and corporate CEOs who keep their businesses open and throw them into the world's largest insane asylum, you'll be excluded.
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