Elle Lindsay takes a critical look at the contagious consumerism from
There is no denying that we have a lot to thank America for: TV shows such as Friends, franchises such as Marvel, coffee from Starbucks, Coca-Cola and rock ‘n’ roll to name but a few. There is also no denying that America has offered the rest of the world some questionable choices, including Paris Hilton, Crocs, TV “commercials” and one or two presidential candidates who shall remain nameless. What about Americanisms with which we might have more of a love-hate relationship, or at the very least may result in differing opinions?
It took no more than 12 hours after the final trick-or-treaters leaving my door to be bombarded by the first Christmas TV advert. November 1: time to start thinking about preparing for Christmas, of course. In America however, there is a stepping stone between autumn and the festive period: Thanksgiving, occurring annually on the fourth Thursday in November. In general, stores across America avoid Christmas advertising before Thanksgiving: the country holds its breath until the finales of the Thanksgiving Day Parades that are inevitably concluded with a giant inflatable Santa Claus. This unsubtly announces that the Christmas preparations may commence, officially marking the beginning of the shopping season. Though the term “Black Friday” has been coined comparatively recently, the commencement of America’s Christmas shopping season on this day is much more historic: since the 1950s, immediately following Thanksgiving Thursday, a day in which America gives thanks for what it has, people are encouraged to spend a fortune on material goods.
Since 2014, there has been an increase in UK retailers trying their hand at Black Friday. Although we have no Thanksgiving-equivalent national event to keep Christmas advertising at bay once Halloween is over, some companies still use the Black Friday concept to entice shoppers with promises of heavily discounted goods nonetheless. Whilst the day arguably holds less meaning and is certainly less steeped in tradition than that across America, many UK shops now seize the opportunity and increase their opening hours, whilst decreasing their prices for one day only.
Though we are all aware of living in a consumerist society, never does this become more apparent than in the lead up to Christmas, but our adoption of the Black Friday tradition further demonstrates this. By threatening that the available deals will be “too good to miss” and limiting their existence to a single day, companies cleverly instil ‘fear of missing out’ within the population. Instinct takes over and people begin to partake even if they don’t really know why. For companies, Black Friday has the potential to turn huge profits and increase their profile, placing themselves at the forefront of people’s minds for Christmas shopping opportunities. If planned successfully, shops can generate increased custom not only during Black Friday, but also during the subsequent lead up to 25 December. On struggling high streets up and down the country, an absence of shoppers in an internet-savvy world is impacting businesses throughout the vast majority of the year. The number of empty lots on Sauchiehall Street continues to grow as people shop from the comfort of their own phones, dressed down in sweats and able to find the best deals across different stores without the effort of leaving the couch. As such, Black Friday has the potential to benefit these shops by encouraging people through the doors. A struggling economy would certainly benefit from shopping locally and giving retailers a reason to stay. Could Black Friday be part of the answer?
Whilst the origin of the term “Black Friday” is known to have mixed origins, one explanation is thought to be that it marked the point of the year at which retailers were finally able to turn a profit, thus moving from being in debt “in the red” to being “in the black”. Though it would be agreeable to optimistically assume that the sales associated with Black Friday might aid our struggling economy, this only represents one part of the picture. In reality, most deals occurring on this day are also available online, leaving the high street largely unaffected, especially given that some retailers existing solely online also take part in Black Friday. When it comes to saving a diminishing high street, the biggest aid would come by way of shopping in smaller, independent shops offering local merchandise; however, these are the businesses unable to compete with the deals offered by larger companies, and therefore are the ones that do not benefit from this consumerist craze.
Setting aside thoughts of our post-Brexit economy woes, attention must also be paid to the more global environmental impact of our commercial lifestyles: climate change is occurring at an unprecedented rate, landfills are filling faster than they can be formed and China no longer takes all of our recycling waste. Whilst no easy answers exist to any of these problems, the chances are no solutions lie in further mass-production or encouragement of a materialistic lifestyle. From an environmental perspective, we are being encouraged to reuse, recycle and only buy what we need. Never is this more poignant than in the lead-up to Christmas, because a period promoting “good will on Earth” resonates not only with how we treat others, but also with how we interact with the planet. When considering how best to show loved-ones you care, will that be done by the 7th generic gift-set they’ll open on Christmas morning (bought at 30 per cent RRP) or by something that required more thought and attention? Some of the most memorable presents we receive can be unique, home-made or take the form of an experience or event.
If you type the search term “Black Friday” into YouTube, it doesn’t take more than 4 or 5 results before you’re greeted by “fails” and “disasters” associated with the unmanageable crowds resulting from the pull of major discounts. The day is not without controversy purely due to associations with violence. Throughout both America and the UK, shops have been criticised for making unreasonable demands on staff due to opening hours and people management, as they are forced to work long hours under unusually challenging circumstances. Often, health and safety issues are not taken into account, leading to many occasions in which the emergency services have had to attend to situations in which cut-throat consumers have caused chaos. There have been multiple accounts of injuries and arrests associated with Black Friday, giving pause to the thought that perhaps the name “Black Friday” is purely reminiscent of the number of bruises shoppers acquire on the day.
Unfortunately, the comparison of costs and benefits is not clear-cut. With economic and environmental effects unquantified, we can only speculate at whether the inclusion of the event within the UK can truly be classified as “good” or “bad” – unlike its namesake, the answer is neither black nor white. When it comes to embracing Americanisms, the UK has experienced varying levels of success. Often, we simply do not do “American” as well as America: customer service remains less shiny, ASDA is no Walmart and even our best sitcoms have half the number of episodes in a series than a US equivalent. Following suit, the Black Friday discounts offered by UK retailers often fall short of those of their American counterparts and whether we like it or not, our Christmas preparation period begins November 1, removing the true motive for Black Friday in the UK. If the deals aren’t as enticing and the true reason behind the day is lost, why put up with the stress of the crowds and the angst of the fights? Some truly great American things shine bright over on our little island: the popularity of the NFL games in London being a prime example. Nonetheless, not everything can survive the trip across the Atlantic and not everything retains its meaning even if it does. What’s next, Thanksgiving? Let them keep their traditions.