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From Olga's Lens: The Bad Rep of Black Friday

An editorial opinion

Published Friday, Nov 23, 2012 

I had to tell my family our plans.

I traveled to my hometown in Minnesota for the holiday and the mood was festive. As I finished washing the dishes from Thanksgiving dinner, my sister Gretchen threw me a nervous glance. 

“We are going to the Mall of America for Black Friday,” I finally announced.  Our mother paled and raised her eyebrows.

My journalistic curiosity had drowned out my aversion to malls, even though it was Mall of America, one of the largest malls in the world, a sprawling city-within-a-city. I was willing to jump into what could be an extended nightmare of screaming kids, tourists and overpriced merchandise.  

My sister saw regret on my face.

“It will be fun,” she persuaded.  Our mother’s silence demonstrated she was not convinced. 

We knew what she was thinking. Consumerism, which had already clouded Christmas, had invaded her family’s Thanksgiving. In the past, we watched news of long lines and trampling deaths, for a toy or cheap electronics. She feared her own daughters had become victims of this decline of American culture.

Around midnight, we arrived at the mall armed with coffee and prepared for mayhem. The mall was energized. It was bustling with youthful excitement and chatter. 

“People aren’t trampling over each other?” my sister asked, with a hint of disappointment in her voice.  

I followed her eyes to the bored police officers and wondered if Black Friday’s reputation was a victim of my own field — the media.  

We entered a store and were cheerfully greeted by a woman decorated in a Santa cap.  

“I heard there was a long line at Victoria Secret —” the woman said excitedly. Her pause and wide eyes begged for more details about the rest of the mall. She hardly resembled an employee begrudged to work in the middle of the night; her energy was contagious.    

I felt an energy in my stomach that reminded me of a Christmas we spent in Jamaica. That season, following local tradition, we spent Christmas Eve at the Port Antonio midnight market, where we purchased homemade stocking stuffers and munched on jerk chicken.

The mall's food vendors tempted us with samples and compliments. 

“Do you remember the food vendor in Guatemala who lured us to buy his stuff with promises of a free smoothie?” my sister laughed, reflecting on our summer we spent together in a remote part of the country. "You ended up dancing with his brother, I slurped down two banana smoothies, and I don't think we bought anything" she reminded me with a tinge of guilt in her voice. 

We walked into the Mall of America expecting to be shocked and entertained by crazed coupon-clippers, climbing over each other to reach for the best deal.

Instead, we were pulled into some of our favorite memories. Black Friday challenged us and proved us wrong. 

The spirit of the holiday season can not be destroyed by sales or isolated stories of criminal behavior. The holidays are a secret recipe made up of memories and experiences.

In lives that are often isolated behind computer screens and smart phones, shopping with family and friends should be a welcome addition to American culture.

"Maybe we should take mom next year," I said to my sister with a wink as we headed back to the car, without a bag in our hands.

George Costanza November 29, 2013 at 12:01 PM
I think you miss the whole point behind anger towards Black Friday shopping. It isn't just Christmas music before Thanksgiving, overdone commercials, shopping madness and sad news headlines. It's that a huge number of poor people who work in retail lose one of the two days they have off to spend time with family. Its that millions of Americans like your family, run into large stores and spend $100.00s of dollars on cheaply made goods that are made in China, Bangladesh, and India. Our free market is also a democracy. Consumers vote with their wallets. You and millions of other of Americans vote for people to die in poorly made factories in Bangladesh. You vote to move millions of American jobs to China. You vote to keep millions of American workers who make minimum wage to continue earning less than a living wage. The Nytimes released a study that showed the less income a person made, the greater anxiety they had of being fired. 63% of minimum wage earners, mainly in retail, are afraid of being fired. No wonder they are desperate to show their loyalty by working on holidays when they would rather be home with friends and family. Black Friday isn't just a sad illustrating how people would rather buy meaningless crap then spend time with loved ones, its also a sad illustration of American decline. Keep shopping, keep buying from China, we'll all die a slow death.
Hairsonfire December 02, 2013 at 08:37 AM
Nice story, Olga. Depressing commentary there, George.
George Costanza December 02, 2013 at 09:45 AM
Also, don't forget almost 50% of minimum wage workers rely on State and Federal assistance in order to get by, mainly: food stamps, medicaid, Section 8 housing assistance, child care subsidies, and temporary cash assistance. The really depressing part is that middle class taxpayers foot the bill for these social services (almost 28% of our national spending) so that these companies can have a large workforce of individuals. The best thing to do would be to make anyone who works part time/full time, ineligible for any government assistance.
George Costanza December 02, 2013 at 11:37 AM
Also, there are 180,000 food stamp recipients in RI (almost 1 in 5). The average benefit in RI is $139.00/wk, or $7,228.00 a year. That illustrates just the beginning of the difference in pay that needs to be made by retail/fast food employers in the Ocean State.

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