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Consumerism Week

Friday, November 30, 2012

Twenty years of Black Friday at Walmart, as told by my aunt

Posted By on 11.30.12 at 06:49 AM

Happy because theyre not at Walmart?
  • Brian Davies/AP
  • Happy because they're not at Walmart?
My aunt Emily has soldiered through nearly two decades of Black Friday at Walmart. Every year, on the morning after Thanksgiving, she wakes up before the sun even begins to peek over the horizon and descends the hill from my grandmother's house in the old-school southern coal-mining city of Harlan, Kentucky—where she and my mom grew up and my grandmother still lives. She parks her car near the back of a lot the size of Delaware and huddles with the masses, not itching for it, but dreading the opening of the doors. Dreading a scene like this. I got her on the phone for a few minutes to tell me about her Black Friday experiences over the years:

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The last word (in movies, anyway) on consumerism

Posted By on 11.29.12 at 06:52 AM

This was an important place in their lives.
  • "This was an important place in their lives."
First released in 1979, George Romero's Dawn of the Dead remains the definitive filmic statement about American consumerism. Little needs to be said about the visual motif of brain-dead zombies swarming around a shopping mall; it's a perfect metaphor for consumer culture at its worst. In the recurring image, shopping has been internalized to the level of base impulse, no longer attached to material need or even want—it's simply what people do when they no longer have the power to think. No matter how many times I see the movie, I'm overcome with bitter laughter when David Emge's newsman comments gravely on the horde that's trying to break into the shopping center he and his friends have transformed into a fortress. "[They're driven by] memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives."

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Products you definitely need (maybe)

Posted By on 11.28.12 at 06:45 AM

True job satisfaction
  • This bear has found a truly fulfilling job
For Consumerism Week, I was going to write about Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping, an ongoing performance art project that encourages people to, yes, stop shopping. I figured I could also work in a reference to Whet Moser's excellent Chicago magazine post on the history of Black Friday, not to mention my colleague Kate Schmidt's imagining of other holiday-branded days. Then I realized that I don't have much to add on any of those topics—so I started surfing the Web to find the most useless products in existence. (In other offices they'd probably call that "wasting time." I call it "research.")

Right off the bat, I came across a couple products that made me rethink my anticonsumerist attitude. Not that I want to buy them, but some things are just so ridiculous I'm happy they exist so that people can make fun of them, like pens marketed to women or Sex and the City 2. A single Huffington Post roundup introduced me to both the Tiddy Bear seat belt protector and the Kush support. The image on the Kush home page is pretty self-explanatory (and somewhat NSFW, unless you work in my office), but to understand why the Tiddy Bear is funny it helps to watch the infomercial, featuring a little stuffed bear snuggling into the model's cleavage.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Christmas countdown

Posted By on 11.27.12 at 06:45 AM

Cyber Monday is a marketing term for the Monday after Black Friday, the Friday following Thanksgiving in the United States, created by companies to persuade people to shop online. The term made its debut on November 28, 2005 in a press release entitled "'Cyber Monday' Quickly Becoming One of the Biggest Online Shopping Days of the Year".

From: Eldritch Hassenpfeffer, Marketing Manager, U.S. Department of Consumer Enforcement
Subject: Holiday Branding


Just a reminder of the new holiday calendar, courtesy of our friends at Keep forwarding this to all your media contacts, making use of social networks wherever possible. Note that with the exception of November 24, Small Business Saturday, weekend days are reserved for corporate sponsors.

November 22 Gray Thursday
November 23 Black Friday

November 26 Cyber Monday
November 27 Giving Tuesday
November 28 Half-Off Hump Day
November 29 Thirsty Thursday
November 30 Son of Black Friday

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Monday, November 26, 2012

All this week, writing about consumerism

Posted By on 11.26.12 at 09:24 AM

The black board in the New York Gold Room, September 24, 1869.
The occasion for this week's Variations on a Theme is Black Friday, last Friday's shopping frenzy, in which stores cut prices (often to the items' lowest price points of the year) in order to get people to buy products. Incidentally, Black Friday reminds me most of the Steely Dan song of the same name, which refers to an event not all that unrelated to the current iteration of the term. The Dan's song concerns the Black Friday of 1869, when speculators James Fisk and Jay Gould attempted to corner the gold market. Fisk and Gould hatched a scheme to get close to the president (at that time, Ulysses S. Grant) so as to give other financiers the impression that they had inside knowledge of the government's actions. When they started buying gold at a low price, others took notice, and it sparked a rise in the gold market. Gould and Fisk were just waiting for the right time to unload the gold they bought cheap, but actions taken by Grant and the treasury secretary prevented the two financiers from cornering the market, which could have caused financial panic, as gold was the means of exchange in foreign trade. The Steely Dan song refers to the panic caused by financial fallout ("I'll stand down by the door/And catch the grey men when they dive from the fourteenth floor"), but more directly to the financier's escape. In my mind, Steely Dan's "Black Friday" is about how a financier isn't all that different from a bank robber or common criminal, even though they are accorded a different stature. Steely Dan's recordings are some of the most immaculate and notoriously expensive in pop music history, so whether or not the irony of the recording's extravagance is lost on the duo I'm not sure—I'd like to believe they're in on the joke.

Basically, little's changed. Black Friday in both contexts refers to a small group of people taking advantage of the populace: on one hand, financiers taking advantage of financial markets; on the other, businesses marketing an event to take advantage of consumers. Encourage people to buy things and fleece them unawares is, a century-and-a-half later, the Black Friday motto. In light of that, break out your copies of Das Kapital and tune in all this week on the Bleader for Consumerism Week, in which Reader staff drop words about other people dropping money on the counter. In case you missed it, check out Turkey Week, last week's Variations on a Theme, wherein we wrote about duds, flops, and zeros. And check out a YouTube clip of Steely Dan's "Black Sunday" below.

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