…for now. I feel like the “C” in my middle name should stand for Cassandra. My dismay at being ignored may at some point be outweighed by the grim pleasure of being able to say, “I told you so!” Yet if I only get to do so around the embers of a trash fire in a resource-depleted, dystopian future, it won’t be nearly as satisfying.
Last year at this time, I went on at some length about Black Friday, consumerism, and the Occupy movement. I proposed that since money was becoming the de facto substitute for speech in this nation, we tell the marketers and vendors how we feel about the encroachment of shameless commerce upon our national holiday in the language they understand: stay home and ignore the rascals.
So much for my bright ideas. consumers spoke, all right, and what they said was roughly the equivalent of “Welcome, our alien robot overlords!” Not only did consumers camp out earlier than ever this year, retailers upped the ante too, performing a diabolical but clever hack on the holiday weekend. Under the guise of relieving the pressure off of Black Friday, they backed their “door-buster” deals into Thanksgiving Day itself! All for the customer’s benefit, mind you. Less frantic activity on Friday morning should yield a more pleasant shopping experience for everyone, right? Oh, and never mind having even part of that “holiday” off with friends and family, you poor little retail schlubs. You might get an hour or two off to scarf down a deli turkey sandwich, some cran-apple juice, and tater-tots while you catch some of the game, but don’t bet your rent money on it. Even though a few brave souls dared stand up to protest this latest incursion upon once-sacred space, it amounted to little than what my late father would call “a pee-hole in a snowbank.” He talked like that.
Then, as if to prove what a bunch of mindless saps we are, they repeated the so-called “door-buster” deals at various intervals throughout the day. And we went for it; hook, line, and sinker. Now, by “we” I don’t mean myself and my immediate family. We stayed home both days, and have purchased nothing over that time (unless you count the 99-cent office suite app I got for my tablet, but I’ll get to that part of the story later.) I mean the larger “we” of “We the People,” who repeatedly claim to want one thing while pursuing another.
The irony of this juxtaposition, especially at this time of year, is disturbing. Thanksgiving used to be a day set aside for the appreciation of what we did have; family, friends, faith, and fellowship. There was turkey and football, the Macy’s parade, and a restful sense of both peace with the recent past and readiness for the near future. Now it seems more of a staging area for yet another round of conspicuous consumption, to get what we don’t have yet but really really want or what we think our loved ones want, complete with turkey dinners being schlepped to impromptu campsites in front of big-box stores. Last year’s big-screen TVs aren’t big enough; last year’s tablets and laptops aren’t fast or shiny enough; last year’s Big New Thing is…so…last…year.
I saw first-hand evidence of this in a university parking lot, of all places. My wife and I took a stroll around town on Thanksgiving afternoon, making a point to traverse the WSU campus so we could gaze in wonder at the tailgaters camped out for The Big Game the next day. Among the marvels we observed- families sitting around portable fire pits on folding chairs, turkeys getting boiled in pots of oil- was one that seemed to sum up the whole sad spectacle.
We saw a large fifth-wheel travel trailer, parked cheek-by-jowl with a host of others, with one of its side cargo panels open. Nestled within was a sizable flat-screen TV tuned to one of the games being played that day, clear enough for us to watch from the sidewalk. Arranged around this was a semi-circle of plastic deck chairs, and seated in those chairs was…absolutely no one at all. Do you, dear reader, understand the implications of this tableau? There they were, several major technological marvels, set up just so purely for the entertainment and enjoyment of the owner: a lightweight modern, motor home, a high-quality flat screen TV, and a generator both powerful enough to run everything and quiet enough to enjoy it, and nobody was paying a damn bit of attention to it WHATSOEVER.
What does that say, then, about people who can take such things for granted?