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Black magic

Bridget Galassini | Monday, December 3, 2012

Black Friday is a prime example of the power of American consumerism. Stores gradually start to go from the red to the black, hence the name Black Friday. And because of the importance of this spending season to the stores, they want to ensure that they have a huge consumer base, regardless of the implications.

For example, in the past couple of years, stores have expanded their hours into Thanksgiving Day. In 2010 and 2011, Toys ‘R’ Us and Walmart opened Thursday at 10 p.m. This year, many major stores followed their lead, and others opened even earlier. Thanks to our consumption-focused society, this day, previously reserved exclusively for thanks and family time, has now been given the name “Gray Thursday.”

Stores do not respect Thanksgiving enough to wait until midnight to open. The main reason is they cannot afford to, since they are competing against one another for buyers. Being among the first stores to open is critical because it can lead to drawing more customers.

However, opening early affects both employees and shoppers. Many employees have to sacrifice their relaxing Thanksgiving dinners and time with family. Some shoppers feel pressure to do the same. Pretty soon, we’ll be seeing Thanksgiving dinners set up on the sidewalks outside of Walmart because buying gifts trumps having a quality holiday dinner with family.

That is the message that the stores are sending to our society. This message – that consumerism equals happiness and materials are more important than relationships – is willingly accepted throughout the holiday season. If a person does not have the best purse, shoes, computer or phone, then they don’t have as much worth. The message that our society sends is that what someone buys is a direct result of how much money they make, and how much money they make shows how important they are.

This sometimes results in a competition to buy the best gifts for loved ones during the Christmas season. But a better gift to give would be our time, and the unspent money could be given to those who are actually in need. This idea is from the Advent Conspiracy (AC) movement. AC’s YouTube videos help us reflect on Christmas and what it is really supposed to be. They explain that Americans spend about $450 billion dollars on Christmas every year, when all it takes to make clean water available to everyone in the world is $10 billion. If we donated just 2.2 percent of what we spend on Christmas to Living Water International, an organization that AC has continually supported, more than a billion people without clean water and sanitation would be given those necessities.

But as Americans, we are often more concerned about other “crises,” like having the latest iPhone. God forbid we ever let something happen to us where we feel like a “black sheep,” a term that has been applied to BlackBerry users. We buy the latest gizmos and gadgets instead of focusing on real crises in our world, like the necessities of food, health, shelter and clean water. One of the points from the AC videos was that “right now you stand in line to buy things others don’t need, while others must stand in line because they can’t afford the things they need.” This quote is never truer than on Black Friday.  

In Mackelmore’s song “Wings,” he articulates that society has made consumption run in our veins: “My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it.” But in the end, the consumption just consumes us. We end up focusing on insignificant material things, when really we could be giving the gift of our time instead of shopping for the “perfect” material gift. The memories will last longer than any gift.

So, instead of leaving Thanksgiving dinner early to buy that flat screen, spend the holiday with your family and donate the money you saved to a family in need. If this doesn’t sound appealing to you, you can check out Target’s 2013 Black Friday – it’s already up on their website, of course.

Bridget Galassini can be reached at bgalassi@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.