CHICAGO — Godspeed and good luck to the Wal-Mart workers who are protesting the inexorable “Black Friday” creep — in the form of 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day store openings. It’s just a pity that their efforts are for naught.
These employees — as well as workers at Target, Sears and other retailers — believe that their crusade to save a sliver of holiday family time is a stand against heartless corporate behemoths who care more about profits than about their workforce.
Unfortunately, it’s not. The grand foe of workers who are putting their family’s financial well-being on the line by participating in pre-Thanksgiving walk-outs or Black Friday strikes is not corporate greed. It’s the ravenous desire of consumers for stuff.
These cravings are the same ones that result in news headlines such as those from Thanksgiving night last year when a California woman, with her two children in tow, used pepper spray to attack her way to the front of the line at a Wal-Mart in order to grab a super-discounted Xbox 360 video game console.
Twenty customers were injured just in that one incident on the first night retailers opened before midnight — as were others reported across the nation in the early hours of Black Friday last year and in previous years — and for what? To get a good deal? To bring joy to children’s Christmas morning festivities? Nothing as noble as that, in my view. Simply mere bargain-hunting blood lust, a gluttony that is hyped ever-earlier by retailers trying to cash in on consumers’ worldly desires.
And those desires are not overwhelmingly of the giving variety. Though it’s comforting to imagine that the post-Thanksgiving throngs are populated by kind, modest souls who really are relying on their competitive shopping wiles to affordably make a loved one’s holiday special, such thinking is probably a stretch.
When Consumer Reports surveyed holiday buyer motivations in 2009, a full 66 percent of Americans who had said they planned to shop in stores or online over the Black Friday weekend reported that they would be shopping for themselves.
“More consumers want a tablet for the holidays than want even money or world peace, according to this year’s Consumer Electronics Association holiday survey,” reads the introduction to one Consumer Reports retail forecast for Black Friday. Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?
This fits in with the general “me-me-me, I am the very center of the universe” attitude that has infected our society. It posits that spending time with family — not all of whom are necessarily a pleasure to visit with — is a chore that deserves to be rewarded with a trip out to score a discounted indulgence.
Last year Consumer Reports magazine’s “Holiday Jeer” survey found that “35 million Americans actually despise ‘having to be nice’ during the holidays.” One in four said they dreaded traveling to attend holiday parties or visit loved ones.
Wal-Mart, Target and the rest of the retailers who are demanding that their employees rush their turkey and cranberries aren’t exactly the bad guys — they’re corporations out to make money. If those workers want to be angry at anyone for cutting into their holiday respite, they should get mad at the boors who happily ditch their own families in order to lock in some deals.
I hope when these workers are out there in front of their respective stores, they have the good sense to shame consumers on their way in to shop. Here are just two suggestions for picket signs: “You’re happy leaving your in-laws at home, but I ACTUALLY wanted to spend the evening with my family” and “Dear shoppers: Thanks a lot for taking me away from my children on our only national family holiday.”
Yet even the idea of publicly shaming the hordes of deal-seekers seems like over-optimism. We’re talking about people who think nothing of stepping over the dying bodies of those trampled in the crush of shoppers — as happened to an employee at a Valley Stream, N.Y., Wal-Mart in 2008 and a Target shopper in Buffalo in 2010 — in order to snag discounted merchandise.
It’s all terribly sad. Let us give thanks that this spectacle only comes once a year.