The Virtues and Vices of Shopping on Black Friday or Consumerism, The Left, and the Middle Class
by New Dealer
Every November, my facebook profile has featured the same message from many of my liberal friends. The message is about the virtues of not shopping on Black Friday. These usually end with mock receipts that show said posters spent zero dollars on the day after Thanksgiving.
As far as I can tell, the no shopping on Black Friday movement does not have anything to do with worker solidarity. The Friday after Thanksgiving has not necessarily been a traditional day off, I know many people with office jobs and/or government jobs that need to work on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Federal Courts are open on Black Friday and trials are possible. Mail and packages are delivered on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Rather, the movement not to shop on Thanksgiving appears (at least to me) to be about anti-consumerism and the general left or liberal idea that purchases do not buy happiness and well-being and that consumerist goods and purchases only indebt people to corporations.
As a left-liberal, I have several problems with anti-consumerism as a philosophy.
There is probably a problem that people are buying too much stuff. There are times when I think I buy more than I need but something comes along and I really want it and feel a bit guilty about purchasing it and these are not things that break the bank, I have been so far generally good about living in my means. I should also add that I am not a very religious or spiritual person and this has never really bothered me. I don’t know if I have ever had a spiritual thought or yearning. At least a spiritualism that seems to be practiced by my religious and/or hippie friends has never come to me. Nor am I pastoralist who believes in a pre-Industrial Utopia of simple agricultural communal towns.
Rather I think that human prosperity has been created by two factors. The first is government action in laws and policy for things like non-discrimination for religious, ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities. No conservative or libertarian will ever be able to convince me that non-discrimination laws are unnecessary. Other governmental laws and action include Universal Health Care, I will always be a socialist on this regard and potentially other key industries like energy and transportation. FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights is still largely appealing to me. So is the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act.
However, the second part of creating a middle class is consumerism especially Industrialization. I think that the vast middle class was also created by people who thought of ways of mass producing luxury products into affordable items. In the Victorian era, this started with products like Tea, Chocolate, and Soap. Now it includes electronic goods like Iphones and Flat Screen TVs. I am not sure what a vast middle-class would look like without this consumerist angle and I have never heard anyone give an adequate definition of what a non-consumerist society would look like with a vast middle class. Keep in mind my non-spiritualism probably comes into this factor. I’m all for a life of the mind but more in a Western academic sense than a yoga-meditation, pseudo-Eastern sense. Basically reading books and thinking about them/discussing them interests me a lot more than meditation retreats.
The other issue is that I think anti-consumerism is an area where there will always be vast differences in theory than practice. Anti-consumerism is very easy for the things a person does not care about. Clothing/Shoes/Handbags seem to be the prime target of the anti-consumerist movement. So I’ve seen people go against Louis Vuitton or Prada or Gucci or whoever but then geek out about their new video game system or expensive tattoo. People claim that the fashion industry is too closed, too elitist, and too forgiving of the bigotries of people that they consider to be geniuses. I think these problems exist in all industries but it is hard for insiders or likers of an industry to see. People criticize the fashion industry for indulging and forgiving John Galliano after his anti-Semitic rants. I have not heard any geek/techie go against Peter Thiel and his rants against democracy and sexism.
Likewise many people who are against Black Friday can squee about the midnight release of the latest special effects/superhero Blockbuster. These are hardly non-corporate products.
The last issue is that Black Friday is not the only time people line up early to get items. There is a sneaker shop in my neighborhood. It seems that every Saturday morning, I can see a small line of young men waiting to get the latest limited release from Nike or whoever. Now I’ve heard that these items might be purchased and resold on ebay to people in rural areas or abroad but I don’t see anyone ranting against these lines. People also line up for the latest releases of video-game systems, hot video games, and other new electronics. Again, there does not seem to be a movement to say “Wait until after the initial release” for these products.
I will end questions: Why do you think Black Friday is signaled out as a day for non-shopping? I understand if people don’t want to deal with the crowds, they can be dreadful but it does not strike me as virtuous to spend zero dollars on Black Friday. Do you think a vast middle class can exist without consumerism? If yes, what would that society look like. Bonus points for non-pastoral answers. Is it more virtuous to be a Thinkgeek t-shirt, jeans, hoddie, and chucks kind of person over a Rag & Bone, Paul Smith, Engineered Garments, Billy Reid, or other higher end/expensive clothes type of person? Why or why not?
 I admit to not being the target audience for thinkgeek t-shirts as a arts and humanities person and the idea that a world with only Thinkgeek t-shirts and jeans leaves me shuddering.