COLUMN: Thanks, no thanks, for Black Friday midnight madness

This is my Sunday column for the Nov. 20, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Thanks, no thanks, for Black Friday midnight madness
By Aaron J. Brown

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because big shots haven’t figured out how to “monetize” the whole thing yet. Sure, it’s a big day for turkey farmers or cranberry magnates, but those are honest professions. The rest of us must simply show up to dinner on time, performing the chores prescribed by our gender or family tradition.

Thursday promises nothing more than the work and rewards of a meal. There are no expectations of gifts, specific religious beliefs, clothing or musical repertoire. It’s a big enough holiday to inspire its own television specials, but really the only plot tropes available are “getting home” and “eating your eyes shut” and you just can’t argue with the awesomeness therein.

But Thanksgiving fans have long sensed the threat looming just past the holiday. I’m speaking of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that has become the massive white hot star of American capitalism.

There are certain trends about Black Friday that we’ve all come to accept. We know that big stores stock the Christmas trees and decorations the day after Halloween now. We know that coupons, circulars and advertisements have been pumping up Black Friday enthusiasm for weeks, long before turkeys even found their way into freezers.

Each year, however, new encroachments are made. This season it would appear that near-universal “midnight specials” by major retailers are the new normal. In other words, after consuming enough food to stoke a furnace for a cold winter’s night, people are expected to drive into the fluorescent shrine of a mall or big box retailer. Why? To save $50 on a television bearing the brand name “YuNerHerdoMe.”

This has to create an interesting practical dilemma in our retail economy. Surely, these still-of-night sales will include many shoppers who only go to avoid missing out on a deal, while being staffed by many people who only work to stay employed. I am reminded of what the rat said to the trash collector Tuesday morning at dawn: “We are here by happenstance, my friend.”

Some stores even promote the fact that you can shop with the same sort of ill-advised abandon seen on Black Friday right now. This is roughly equivalent to arguing that one can eat a pound of turkey and mashed potatoes every day leading up to Thanksgiving as some sort of way to prepare oneself for the real eating yet to come. Doing that is a good way to end up fat. Doing the same thing with holiday spending is a good way to end up broke.

Make no mistake, on Friday morning you will see a national retail industry lobbyist on television and they will tell you that we are poised for the greatest Black Friday sales in history. Their smiles and pinstripes will be very convincing. Behind them you will see active shoppers, happy cattle. The truth and relativity of the retailers’ claims, however, mean little.

Where is the spokesperson telling the media how well our aunts, uncles and cousins are doing after talking to them on Thanksgiving? Where is the press release reminding us that everyone is a year older and that life is a fleeting exercise in character and endurance?

I’m thankful that this week we get to see a wonderful contrast. Thanksgiving is a holiday about reality: eating and family. Black Friday is a holiday about the appearance of reality: shopping and spending. Enjoy it how you will. I intend to enjoy a good meal Thursday and sleep in Friday. The stores aren’t going anywhere. There are better things to do at midnight than push a cart around. There are only so many shopping days left on earth.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and college instructor from the Iron Range. He is the author of the blog and host of the Great Northern Radio Show on 91.7 KAXE.


  1. Shopping at midnight: forgetaboutit. You want me to be crabby? And shopping on that Friday? Ditto. But once we did end up at the Mall of America on that Friday. I didn’t shop; I was accompanying family. The people watching was great. I was so surprised to see such a variety of people in a variety of clothing of other cultures.

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