Sunday, November 30, 2008

Black Friday - A Historical Perspective


Just based on the reaction to my holiday rant, I must confess to being guilty of something I try never to do. That would be making a sweeping generalization of an entire a group of people based on the actions of a relatively small percentage. And for that, I am compelled to apologize. I'm usually pretty careful about such things, this time... not so much.

Because intellectually I know that the unruly mobs do not represent the bulk of Black Friday shoppers any more than, say, terrorists represent the majority of Muslims. And as someone for whom I have a lot of respect pointed out, there were probably a lot of people in that Long Island Wal-Mart that simply got in front of more torque than they expected. Or could handle.

I also didn't intend to start the virtual version of a riot with this post, so I'm really hoping for some deep breaths and cool heads here. Getting people's attention by saying controversial things is fine -- I can go for that. But it kinda defeats the purpose if all it does is start a shootin' war. 'Cos y'all know I'm all about peace and shit.

That said, I still won't be venturing out to the mall. But that's true almost any time of year. Because personally I think malls suck. YMMV.

And I still don't understand the motivation behind waiting outside the local Megastore all night, to join in the chaos that will erupt when the doors open. Maybe it's the same thing that motivates people to run with the bulls or swim with the sharks or do any number of other things that make me shake my head and mutter.

Most of all, I still wonder why the marketing geniuses who coined the term "Black Friday" or at least applied it to a shopping frenzy thought I'd find that name appealing. because of my reading and studies over the last couple of years, I connect the term "Black Friday" to the 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai. A connection reinforced by the terrorist attacks in that same city just this past week (including the day after Thanksgiving). And someone really smart pointed out that the day after Thanksgiving was called "Black Friday" long before the 2007 Bollywood film about the 1993 bombings came out. Truth is, I'm not sure when the current usage came into vogue, but let's consider for just a moment the historical events referred to by that name.

My old friend Wikipedia yielded up these for consideration:

September 24 1869 - New York: The Fisk-Gould Scandal, a financial panic in the United States caused by two speculators' efforts to corner the gold market on the New York Gold Exchange.

May 4, 1886 (which was actually a Tuesday, so wtf?) - Chicago: The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket riot or Haymarket massacre) in Chicago.

November 18, 1910 - London: approximately 300 suffragettes campaigned outside the British House of Commons when the Liberal government of Herbert Asquith failed to pass a Conciliation Bill which would allow some women to vote in General Elections for the first time.

January 31, 1919 - Glasgow, Scotland: The Battle of George Square, also known as Bloody Friday, one of the worst riots on the streets of Glasgow, Scotland.

April 15, 1921 - England: The leaders of transport and rail unions announced a decision not to call for strike action in support of the miners. The epithet 'black' derives from a widespread feeling that the decision amounted to a breach of solidarity and a betrayal of the miners.

January 13, 1939 - Victoria, Australia: The Black Friday fires, considered one of the worst natural wildfires in world history, and most certainly the single worst in Australian history.

October 13, 1944 - near Hoogerheide, Belgium: The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) World War II's Battle of the Scheldt in Belgium near Hoogerheide. One company of 90 men was reduced to just four survivors.

February 9, 1945 - Norway: The largest aerial clash over Norway during World War II.

October 5, 1945 - Hollywood: A six month strike by the set decorators represented by the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) boiled over into a bloody riot at the gates of Warner Brothers' studios in Burbank, California.

September 8, 1978 - Tehran, Iran: The shooting of protestors by security forces in Zhaleh (or Jaleh) Square in Tehran, Iran.

April 2 , 1982 - the Falkland Islands: Argentine forces mounted amphibious landings of the Falkland Islands, following the civilian occupation of South Georgia on March 19, before the Falklands War began.

May 31, 1985 - Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario: Forty-one tornadoes were counted including 13 in Ontario. It is the largest and most intense tornado outbreak ever to hit this region.

July 31, 1987 - Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: The Edmonton Tornado a devastating tornado ripped through the eastern part of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and parts of neighbouring Strathcona County killing 27 and injuring 300 more.

August 13, 2004 - Malé, Maldives: A crackdown by the Maldivian National Security Service (NSS) (later Maldivian National Defence Force) on a peaceful protest in the capital city. Several people were severely injured as NSS personnel used riot batons and teargas on unarmed civilians.

Oddly, Wiki doesn't make mention of the '93 Mumbai bombings so perhaps the "Black Friday" label was hung on that event by Bollywood. (It does, however, mention the 1977 choke of the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS. Apparently Philly blew a two-run lead with two outs and nobody on to the Dodgers in Game 3 of the series.)

Put beside all those events, a shopping day seems just a little frivolous to me. But perhaps in light of recent events, the name isn't so very inappropriate after all.

Maybe it's just me.

Yeah, that must be it.

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4 comments:

smarmoofus said...

"Black Friday" is so-called because that is the day of the year when many retailers officially are "in the black" (showing a profit for the year). It has no value connotations implied, except monetary. And it has nothing to do with the feeding-frenzy mob scenes that you associate with the day.

Which brings me to my next point. In all of the Black Friday "door-buster" sales that I've been to, there has been absolutely NO chaos. People literally wait in line, and enter in an orderly and peaceable fashion. As you may recall, I am a relatively small person and not-the-most-healthy person. Do you honestly think I would subject myself to the kind of scene you describe that only occasionally crops up? No. If it's that sort of crowd, or if the store doesn't offer a system, such as the tickets/coupons I described in my intial post, I do not participate.

And, finally, you poo-poo Black Friday and use it to justify your dislike of all things Christmas. I think you are the one guilty of commercializing the holiday. I view Black Friday shopping as an opportunity to get something I could not normally afford (or justify purchasing), not a "Christmas tradition." Christmas may not hold the same meaning for me as it does for 90% of Americans, but it does mean a time of togetherness and peace. Shopping is just shopping.

And, finally, I've not mentioned a single shopping mall. I only go to those to visit food courts for my Chick-fil-A nugget fix.

smarmoofus said...

Oh, and for me the allure of sitting outside waiting for a store to open is exactly the opposite of what you think Black Friday represents. I have experienced an incredible sense of humanity in the three times I've gone out and waited for the stores to begin. You might not understand it, watching the news and seeing the mob scenes, but I go and I see people coming together and talking to strangers, sharing laughs--sometimes sharing warm beverages and extra blankets, regaling one another with their prior experiences, and chatting about any number of things. Total strangers coming together. The hours before the shopping begins are something unique.

But, yes, the primary purpose for being there is to consume. But, at least in my case, it's one of a very few days in the year that I do actually consume. So I bought a power tool on Black Friday and I enjoyed the experience while you bought one online on some random day in the year. Does that make you better than me? I'd like to know why/how.

Mojo said...

I'm glad your experiences have always been good ones. I hope they always are.

tiff said...

The fiscal connotations of "black" make more sense than some doom and gloom proposition, especially for one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Hard to resist all those 60% off specials!

That said, I'm not one to visit the stores on the day after T-day...I'm normally still in a turkey hangover!

Perhaps with this series of posts you've tipped yourself right into that 'charming curmudgen' thing you've been sneaking up on? :)