As a Brit, I never truly understood Thanksgiving. It seemed like a weird prequel to Christmas, in which you eat much of the same food we do on December 25, and is synonymous with lazy clip show episodes of TV series, where television families sit round a table and reminisce about out-of-context jokes from older episodes.
But it’s defended with such vehemence by my American friends to the point that I think I finally get it: a commercial-free day, with no gifts, in which families meet up and spend time together over some good home-cooked food and a sense of gratefulness for what they have. It’s a Norman Rockwell painting brought to life — and who can’t be charmed by that?
However, one day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday, and it’s an indefensible 24-hour period: not least because it directly follows one of the least cynical days of the year. If Thanksgiving is being grateful for what you’ve got, then Black Friday is the diametric opposite of that.
I’m sure that some readers will disagree, but here are the five reasons Black Friday fills me with an existential sense of dread.
It’s a totally made-up holiday
Okay, I get it: most of our so-called uncynical holidays were actually the work of Don Draper-esque white men in gray suits sitting around in smoky conference rooms dreaming up ways to sell us things. Santa Claus’ appearance was shaped by the Coca-Cola brand; Halloween is more about the bottom line of candy companies than anything supernatural; and … well, the less said about Valentine’s Day the better.
But at least there’s a degree of mutually-accepted pretense about those holidays. They are the holiday equivalent of convincing yourself that your one true love in the whole world happened to live in the same town as you, or your mom telling you she’s happy you’re a tech blogger. You know it’s not true, but it makes you feel better.
Black Friday tears down that veil, reduces it by 30 percent, and sells it on Amazon with a promo code. It’s proof positive that, just like The Simpsons once joked, celebratory events can be magicked out of nowhere, just because a bland marketing nerd looked at a spreadsheet and noticed that there was an earnings dip that could be translated into another big cash injection.
We accept it, of course, because we get cheaper products, but like a terrible internet search we’re ashamed of later, we never feel good about it after the fact.
It’s been overtaken by other, even worse holidays
When it comes to phony holidays created by soulless Excel-watchers, Black Friday was the scout ship sent to find out what lurked over the horizon. If we had recognized it for what it was, given it a good thrashing and sent it on its way, we might not be in our current predicament.
Instead, we gave it a hero’s welcome — and now have Cyber Monday, Amazon Prime Day, and countless other stupid sales days to thank for it. When Christmas II happens, Black Friday will be its direct ancestor.
It’s all rubbish. The products, life, all of it…
Most of us, myself included, are suckers for mindless consumerism. But Black Friday is to consumerism what a documentary about the inner workings of a slaughterhouse is to a nice steak. It’s the messy, sausage-making part, and there are only so many YouTube videos you can watch of hapless shoppers brawling over slightly-cheaper flat screen TVs before praying that the asteroid hurries up and hits us.
Besides, aren’t most of the items being “reduced” for Black Friday the product equivalents of the last kid to be picked in gym class? They usually aren’t particularly hot products. On top of that, outside of a select few items, we’re pretty sure Black Friday is not actually the cheapest time of year to buy things.
It’s invading other countries
America is the cultural arbiter of the world. Argue all you want about the recent boom in Scandinavian crime fiction or the Afrocentric roots of modern music, nothing changes the fact that the United States dictates the direction of western culture right now. Sure, you can rail against this if you want (as us Brits are prone to do), but the truth is that America does a lot of things pretty well from this perspective.
You have superior dental hygiene, a confidence around women that doesn’t cause you to begin every sentence with “sorry,” and the ability to say phrases like “kick your ass” without sounding like, well, an arse. Your movies are world class, you make good music, we enjoy your sitcoms, and you commit to building things like theme parks on a scale that seems impressive to the rest of the world.
But with great power comes great responsibility — and the arrival of Black Friday on other less-sunny shores ranks up there with the Selfie Stick as the reason that pear-eating European guy is whispering about you in the airport queue.
It’s not you, it’s us
This one is, essentially, the Kurt Cobain paradox — although we’re certainly making no claim to be one-tenth as cool as the dearly-departed grunge icon. The paradox is essentially this: Kurt Cobain was a rock star who was painfully aware of all the rock star cliches. By being aware of this, he fell into the rock star cliches. Even being aware he was a aware made him a cliche.
What does this have to do with us? That by complaining about Black Friday, you’re automatically “one of those folks who complain about Black Friday.” It delves into all kinds of weird non sequiturs in our own personalities — like believing that shopping at other times of year makes us somehow superior, that we’re not a corporate sucker by paying because we pay more for non-reduced items, and that we’ve unknowingly become the old men yelling at clouds.
Basically, Black Friday probably isn’t as bad as we’re making out. And, somehow, that makes it even worse.