The Virtues and Vices of Shopping on Black Friday or Consumerism, The Left, and the Middle Class

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149 Responses

  1. Avatar North says:

    I’m pretty much in your boat re: anti-consumerism; it leaves me generally unmoved. If people can afford to buy stuff then I don’t give a rip if they buy it. As for black friday I don’t buy then because I’ve found that the prices (and the crowds) are lower later on in the year. Also Amazon.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      There are probably issues with overproduction from an environmental standpoint and possibly a moral/ethical standpoint. We do produce a lot of stuff and possibly too much without figuring out how to get rid of the excess.

      I’ve talked to the owners of several fancy boutiques and their purchasing philosophy is only to buy one of an item in each size. This seems better than when stores have multiples of each item in each size generally. Also I know that many stores will destroy excessive clothing items that are unsold at the end of each season. This is partially done to keep supply lower than demand. Other demand problems include creating monoforrests. I read an article about rainforrests being chopped down and just replaced with palm trees to meet demand for palm oil. This strikes me as problematic.

      Though I do think we should be developing much more broad recycling programs including for old clothing. I don’t mean goodwill. I mean finding ways to completely reduce landfill trash.

      Something like this strikes me as a brilliant idea:

      • Avatar North says:

        Isn’t destroying unsold clothing only a factor of higher end fashion? The majority of products aren’t destroyed when they’re unsold; they’re just sold at lower prices.

        Environmental problems, of course, are perennial balancing concerns against economic development. The irony, of course, being that human beings need to achieve certain thresholds of economic prosperity before they give two damns about the environment.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Planned obsolescence can be evil.
        Then again, do you really want a forever home in San Francisco?Report

      • Avatar Plinko says:

        Destruction of clothing excess for mass market apparel occurs, but not in any grand scale. It mostly happens when brands have something made and they decide they don’t want it in the market place at all – a safety, quality or branding issue.
        Every mass company worth their salt has run rates where they estimate the revenue from selling vs. various dumping options – clearance sale, selling to a discounter (TJ Maxx, Ross, Big Lots, etc), donating to charity or destroying. They pick the least bad one of those and move on. It’s rare that destroying returns less revenue than selling, but you can get duty drawbacks from customs if you destroy stuff, which can occasionally return more money than a sale on high cost items (again, mostly going to happen at the high end only).Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Plinko! I’ve been thinking about you because I’m putting together my globalization course for next term. Would you mind emailing me at, and maybe we can talk about having you talk to my class?Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Plinko, your sharing your expertise in this area is deeply appreciated.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        What is especially infuriating about environmentalism is that it seems to depend on both a national and personal level of wealth most of the time.

        On a personal level, you have the battles between loggers and environmentalists that took place in the 1980s and variants that still continue to this day. The recent election in Australia had labor repealled partially because of their pushing through a carbon tax.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I disagree. Most people care about the environment. The level of caring about water pollution isn’t going to vary much over wealth (though their level of knowledge/ability to fix it, might).

        Diarrhea still kills even the most indigent of populations.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        ND, quite so, I agree and it’s an awful conundrum for environmentalists.

        Kimmie, sure people will care about environmental issues that directly, perceptibly and immediately affect them but if you blur any one of those three descriptors and people tune out almost entirely until they achieve a significant level of affluence.Report

  2. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I suspect that there’s some class signalling involved here. These are likely people who do a lot of their shopping on the Internet and spend their discretionary budgets on eating out, travel, and other things that don’t get cheaper on Black Friday. So it doesn’t cost them anything to sit it out, and they can thus signal that they’re not like those people.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      My understanding, BB, is that very little is -actually- cheaper on black friday. Stores have a few big publicity items marked down to get you in the door and then the prices overall are normal. If anything it’s cheaper to wait until after Christmas or right upon Christmas to get better prices.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        My experience has been that a lot is actually cheaper on Black Friday, but only a few items are radically cheaper. The sales for most items are just ordinary sales, the sorts of price reductions that you see several times throughout the year.

        Hell, Penny’s has a sale like that every othe rweek.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        According to Slate, Walmarts biggest seller on Black Friday was towels. People might be more practical in their Black Friday shopping than the anti-Consumerists believe.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Right. The really good deals happen during January and this is fine because it is still cold out and will be for some time. I’ve gotten stuff I wanted by being patient and waiting until the end of January. There were 70 percent discounts.Report

      • Avatar Rod says:

        Plus, I get my quarterly bonus the second Tuesday in January.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      Similarly, folks like myself can say, “It’s not worth it to me to camp out for 12 hours to save $200.” Not all people can say that.

      I recognize that just how much is actually saved can wildly fluctuate, but it is easier for people to disregard sales if they are not dependent on them.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      For some people possibly but I also think that there are other signals as well. Showing yourself to be a thinkgeek person signals that you are not in the thralls of keeping up with fashion and that aesthetic concerns are not for serious people or something like that.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        *yawn* any fashion that isn’t “I am stinky and don’t brush my hair, ever” is fashion.
        If you want to be /different/ create your own damn fashion.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        As usual you make no sense.

        I leave things to experts. I lack the skills to be a good clothing maker. I can probably be a decent cook/baker but others do it much better. I’d rather concentrate on what I am good at, make money, and then support others who are the superior artists or craftspeople.

        This shirt is brilliant. I would never think to make it or know how to construct it but I knew I liked it aesthetically as soon as I saw it.

        The world is brilliant for having people who can come up with ideas and designs like this shirt. I don’t understand your point about calling these people whores for the rich which you have done in the past.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        When I was saying “create your own fashion” it is a comment on the ability of people to pull off pretty much any look with enough confidence and panache.
        (Case in point: with a yellow top).

        I am saying that you don’t need to listen to the marketing drones who just copy off each other all fucking day long. They’re bloody boring. Do you know what the color of the year is? Have you stopped to think why there is a color of the year?

        ND, all due respect, but you completely misunderstood my comment. I was saying that I preferred commercial art — which this absolutely is! (It may not be my speed, but… meh. For something more my speed: Patrick does a good job with light and shadow).Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        holy hell that shirt is ugly.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        and currently sold out.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        no kidding, it’s woot. they do limited runs.
        Here’s one that’s actually still being printed.

        And it’s christmastime, so they’re doing
        “ugly holiday sweaters”
        Weak. Last years was better.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        not woot, the mr. porter shirt. woot is just an argument for government licensure of photoshop users masquerading as a shirt selling service. it’s sort of like a theatre for the absurd for people with no sense of either.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “not woot, the mr. porter shirt”

        Um, those are pants? (or more like board shorts)Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Eh. for $6.66 for an American Apparel T-shirt, I’m pretty pleased with the bargain.
        (most of the time. occasionally a shirt has actually been unwearable.)Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        This shirt is brilliant. I would never think to make it or know how to construct it but I knew I liked it aesthetically as soon as I saw it.”

        actually i’m lookin’ at this thing again even though it hurts my pants and i’m trying to figure out what 2004 joanna newsom boyfriend collection it was yanked from. plus it’s a tad racist.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        I feel like you are just arguing to make points in your I can’t like “white person NPR things” mode.

        Why is the shirt a tad racist? It is just a depiction of a 19th century (or earlier) Native American scene? It is done in a highly naturalistic style and the company is Japanese. Are all naturalistic depictions a tad racist? It might be overly romantic but not racist unless one considers all depictions of groups/cultures/societies that are not your own as racist.

        These are also brilliant and something I could not create on my own and respect for craftmanship from initial design to construction.

        Perhaps you would care to point to something that you feel similarly about?Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        i mean first of of course it’s japanese it’s a 400 dollar shirt being sold to ridiculous people. the children of bape are many.

        second off, imagine if the shirt was instead a buncha pastoral-lookin’ eastern european jews dancing a hora circa the mid 19th century, and some lanky gentile is walkin’ around sporting it and you just know he’s making eyes at young ms. silverstein over there.

        the context matters, and making appeals to some rousseau-ist stone cold nonsense on top of a work shirt makes it worse. it’s like “ha ha oh man get it i’m chillin’ like these subsistence wanderers whose entire world is now dust. also can you loan me 400?”

        it’s an ugly walmart shirt that took off its glasses and shook out its hair and suddenly the jocks are like whoa check out the light brown checking on that one.

        you’ll note i skipped all the class stuff wrapped into the shirt because flannel’s returned (yet again) anyway and that whole thing was dead back before i could spell deleuzoguattarian.

        as for green shoes you are on your own. i appreciate the crazy things we can do to leather these days but it is a field too far for my simple self.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        anyway, these are beautiful shoes

        they’re also probably a tad racist, outside of having been made in perfidious albion.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        The shirt is not flannel, it is corduroy and that is part of the brilliance of design. Flannel is just a soft woven fabric. It does not need to be in a tartan/plaid design but Americans often use flannel to refer to plaid/tartan shirts. Corduroy refers to a textile of twisted fibers that when woven and lie parallel form the cord pattern.

        Part of the interesting nature of the shirt is taking a tartan/plaid and turning it into a corduroy. Most cord shirts are single color. It gives the shirt a unique look and texture, up close.

        I have a shirt like that:

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        What makes someone a ridiculous person except for the fact that you don’t seem to be one of them?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @newdealer – I like the green shoes. I’d wear them in a heartbeat (not at that price though).

        But I am afraid @dhex is right about that shirt – I don’t know about the “racist” aspect of it, but it is 100% hideous. If I encountered it IRL, I would assume I had been surreptitiously dosed. Did they have to place the big teepee right above the crotch?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        With perifidious Albion, I need to assume that this is just all an elaborate performance piece.


        I wouldn’t buy them at full retail but if I saw them at 60-70 percent off and they fit well, I’d consider it.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        “What makes someone a ridiculous person except for the fact that you don’t seem to be one of them?”

        400 dollars for a 1.99 franklin mint plate graphic on a shirt regardless of how it’s weave may be woven – across the torso mind you! it’s like a billboard asking people to call you out on your privilege presuming anyone ever actually did stuff like that in real life.

        the torsoooooooooo!

        i left that part out because i figured my critical (theory) beatdown was rough enough. but seriously, i can’t even express how ugly that shirt is without resorting to slurs not yet synthesized.

        we all like ugly things sometimes. i like those “most seriously injured drunk people” videos a lot. there’s something about people jumping off of a roof into a parked car hood that cracks me up.

        but seriously though “othering” via fashion flannel is pretty bad.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        ND, does the phrase “pitching a tent” mean anything to you? Even considering the artistic appeal of the design, I think the experience of actually wearing this shirt would exceed the limits of what you currently imagine.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        “With perifidious Albion, I need to assume that this is just all an elaborate performance piece. ”

        i’m part oirish – i use that as shorthand for england all the time. the lobbs are beautiful shoes though.

        anyway, i was serious about my example. would you be ok with people using aspects of judaism – particularly pre-ww2 – as some kind of one-dimensional indicator of an imagined bucolic mode of life? if not, why not?

        if i saw a white dude wearing that shirt i’d probably make fun of it due to the torso placement but if one of my friends were wearing it i’d definitely ask them “what’s up general custard”? as an icebreaker for “that shirt makes you look like a moron”.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        ND, that shirt is hideous. The design at the transition between the top and bottom half of the shirt is horrible.

        Whether or not its racist is questionable. If it was designed by North American whites than I’d say its racist because its a bit of cultural appropriation. The Japanese have no contact with Native American history, so I’m more inclined to give them a pass but not that much of one.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        In addition to echoing dhex’s first response, I keep thinking how the Native Americans I’ve known would respond to seeing you wearing that. If you want to guarantee they keep their distance so you never get to know any of them personally, that shirt’ll do it.

        But really now, $400 for a shirt? That’s not paying for quality; that’s deep into conspicuous consumption territory, it seems to me. If I’m going to spend that much on a shirt it’d better clean itself and cause beautiful women to ask me out, with them paying for dinner. But I don’t think that shirt’s going to do either of those things.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Its a good article but as somebody who has to deal with the federal courts and government a lot, I would like to point out that they are only technically open on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Most Federal judges make sure that they have a clean docket on that day so they can take it off. If they accidentally schedule a case for that day, it will get adjourned so they can take a day off. A lot of Federal employees also take the day off if they can and most get away with it.Report

  4. Avatar clawback says:

    I suppose it’s a supply side complaint. An economy focused on producing useless crap is one without sufficient production capacity to provide universal health care, adequate education, and other things liberals like. Now, you can say we should be able to have all of the above; but apparently not, since of the above list we only have the useless crap.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I will point out that Europe manages to produce consumerist and even luxury products and also have universal healthcare and a welfare state.

      I think the reasons for the US not having universal healthcare are deeply cultural with our right-wing being largely against such programs and the left has not quite figured out how to conquer them on the issue yet.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        I would argue that our reason for not having universal health care is institutional. It’s a lot easier to push through a big policy change like that in a parliamentary system than in our system. Culture isn’t irrelevant, of course. In the absence of folks who culturally oppose such social welfare programs the institutional constraints would probably not matter. But there was cultural opposition in some of these other countries, too; it just didn’t have an institutional mechanism to play effective defense. I think were the U.S. a parliamentary system we’d have had universal healthcare before the end of the Truman presidency.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        Good point.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        In addition to @jm3z-aitch’s point about institutions, I would imagine the size of your warfare state acts as a limiter to your welfare state.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        James, its true that our political system has a lot of veto points and that this allows opponents of practically everything to destroy any legislation if they are determined to do so. At the same time, I’m not sure if merely having a parliamentary system would be enough to give America universal healthcare and a more European type welfare state. A lot of the opposition to the welfare state in the United States was more of a result of racism against African-Americans than any meaningful ideological opposition to such programs. To get Social Security through Congress, it had to be written in order to exclude as many African-Americans as possible without explicitly doing so. Its why agricultural workers and domestic servants were not originally covered. Two job categories that included a disproportionate number of African-Americans.

        If America had a parliamentary system that gave disproportionate seats to rural areas or the South than welfare state measures could still be defeated just on lack of votes.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      18% of our GDP spent on health care?
      WTF, clawback?
      Universal health care would SAVE us money. (15% of that 18% is wasted on medical billing expenses)Report

  5. Avatar Chris says:

    As an anti-consumerist, I disagree with your basic position (and my anti-consumerism extends well beyond $3,000 purses and $200 jeans), and I’d argue that middle class consumerism is an effect rather than a cause (the merchant class arose long before consumerism), but I find people who say “Look how much I’m not spending,” not because they’re proud of saving money, but because they think not spending money on certain days or in certain ways separates them from the hoi polloi, really, really annoying.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      How would you define anti-consumerism? What is an anti-consumerist lifestyle? I think that most people would agree that material goods in and of themselves do not provide happiness, although there is room for debate about this. However, people like their creature comforts to, people like beauty and part of beauty is having good-looking clothes to wear and good looking accessories to cary around. Given a choice between the bourgeoisie life and the simple life, people tend to pick the bourgeoisie life.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I suppose I’m more of an anti-materialist than an anti-consumerist, but I’d define anti-consumerism in terms of excess, not only in the sense that it is harmful to the environment, but also that it is harmful to culture, and in terms of fetishization, manipulation, and created “need.” Most of the stuff we buy we don’t need in any sense, and they go from being objects with a function to status symbols to ends in and of themselves.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Or more practically, my anti-consumerism doesn’t say we need to get rid of stuff, period, but get rid of the excess and the unnecessary, the stuff that we think we need because the need was created, but don’t really need. And sure, get rid of it because the excess is unsustainable, but also because filling artificial needs can help mask problems in the system that they help create in the first place (inequality, financial instability, etc.).Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Chris, the issue is what is necessary and what is unnecessary. Most people like music because it gives them pleasure. For most of human history, people could only listen to music if it was performed by themselves, by people in the community, or by any travelling busker that happened to come along. The invention of recorded music and the radio has given people more access to music than any time previously. With the ipod or even the humble cassette player, people can listen to music all the want for the most part. Is recorded music really necessary? One can argue that recorded music is unncessary because humans lived for tens of thousands of years with out it, that it led to decrease in the number of people with musical ability, that it makes music less special, and that it destroys people’s ability to endure and enjoy silence or the music of nature.

        The same argument goes for any sort of material good even if its a necessary one like shelter, food, and clothing. Most humans have lived on painfully little for most of human history. Our housing, clothing, and food were of poor quality and little quantitity. This was better for the earth though. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution and consumerism, more people have access to better quality and better looking clothing than ever before. Beauty can be had by more than the rich and the fortunate.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Lee, I don’t think recorded music is a created need in my sense, though the ability to carry it around with you in your pocket might be, but to fully explain why would take a looong post.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        Recorded music absolutely is a created need. Almost all of our needs are created. There’s no innate sense in which you actually need a recording of any music.

        The “created need” argument was one of the foundations of Galbraith’s critique of consumer society, and he argued we needed to increase taxes to reduce spending on these frivolities and use that money for more important things, like museums, symphonies, etc. But some years later another economist–god help me I can’t remember who, right now–pointed out that the things Galbraith wanted to spend on were every bit as much created needs as the things he objected to.

        Even trying to use functionality as a distinguishing factor doesn’t really work, I don’t think. What is the function of recorded music to you? Can you say with certainty that it’s more functional to you than that big screen TV is to someone else? And I bought a set of nail guns this year…the things didn’t even exist a few decades ago yet people have hammered nails for centuries, so are nail guns not a created need despite their undeniable functionality? (Well, in my case, incipient arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis or something has made it hard to grip a hammer, so I can feel good about justifying my own purchase of nail guns as a “real” need…or can I?)Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        What James said. For most our existence, humans lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This was enough to allow a decent number of us to live and its probably the most sustainable human lifestyle from an ecological prospective. Than we discovered agriculture and domestication and learned we didn’t need to wander around so much. We could grow our own food and raise our own meat and hides and build better shelter and clothing. All of this isn’t necessary, we lived for tens of thousands of years without it but it made our lives better. Anything beyond the need of other animals is a created need.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        James and Lee, first, if I recall Galbraith’s position was that products create demand in general, and that this was a value-neutral thing as a result. I mean, one could probably argue that tools as simple as a spade create demand, but spades certainly make things easier. When I say “created need,” I’m being perhaps unnecessarily inexact, and again, explaining what I mean would take a while. I haven’t really thought about recorded music from this perspective much, but let me try to work it out a bit. This is me thinking out loud, so to speak:

        Imagine, that we have an innate capacity and desire for music, and for sharing music with others (in a variety of ways: listening to music together, creating music and disseminating it, and sharing the music we like with others). These are basically built in needs, even if their particular manifestations can be altered socially and culturally. The invention of musical instruments helps to satisfy these needs, as does the invention of instruments capable of projecting sound further, and innovation in the accoustics of rooms/buildings to facilitate that projection, allowing musicians to reach more listeners (and allowing more listeners to partake, and to partake together). There is created demand here, proceeding with a sort of “ratchet effect” in which each innovation makes new demands possible, so that when we arrive at the ability to record performances and disseminate them on a large scale, so that one does not have to be present at a performance to hear music, we not only satisfy this need individually, but we change the social and class dynamics of music forever. Now you don’t have to be rich and famous to hear a great symphony. You just have to have a record player, or a tape player, or a CD player, or an MP3 player. Starting with tapes, and on to CDs, and now MP3s, this demand was taken in a new direction: portability. On the one hand, this facilitate the satisfaction of some desires that existed well before recorded music, like sharing music, but it also creates new ones. For most of human history, music has been something you attend to, but now it becomes background, a way to drown out other noises while you jog, or drive, or sit at work. This is something bordering on being categorically different from the initial desires (and therefore demands) met by recording music, and while we could argue that it meets other basic, productive demands, that’s a bit more difficult a case to make. What’s more, recognizing that they’ve created a categorically different demand, producers start focusing more and more on portability, building products designed to not only facilitate taking an MP3 player on a jog, say, but to make you want to do so (not only does it mean music, but those products make your MP3 player so visible that you’re essentially saying, “Hey, look what I’m doing! I’m listening to music while I jog! How non-working class am I?!”)

        Now, I’d have to think about this more, but I think there’s a pretty strong case to be made that there’s a point where the portability of music is entirely created demand, and doesn’t further any basic or productive need. It’s merely a distraction, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with distraction, when distraction becomes an end in itself something has gone awry. Similar arguments might be made about iPads/tablets, or various car audio systems, or hell, most things about cars themselves, or giant ass televisions (vs televisions period, which quickly became a social and even political necessity).

        Now, I don’t expect you to agree with this, and I’m not trying to convince you, but does this give you a sense of what I mean by “created need?”Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        Correct on Galbraith, but incomplete. He did distinguish between types of goods in what was really a pretty elitist way (today he might say “too much reality TV, not enough PBS!”).

        As to your general argument, I have a general sense of where you’re going, but I don’t think your break point works. I’m wager that as soon as relatively durable non-portable recording media became available people started using music as background. E.g., perhaps not with wax cylinders because you’d wear them out too quickly, but as soon as bakelite (I think it was) recordings became available, and certainly when people had vinyl records played on cabinet size record players music was used as background to daily in-home activities; no portability needed–portability just extended that outside the home.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        James, that may be true. Like I said, I haven’t really thought about it with music. And as someone who listens to music 10-12 hours a day, that’s probably inexcusable. But I’m glad you see where I’m going with it. I think I’ve mentioned that much of the basis for my own thinking is built on the Frankfurst School, and in particular its revision of concepts like fetishism. In a sense, what I mean by “created demand” is the fetishization of products, and the ability of producers to use fetishization to create demand. But as you can probably imagine, spelling all of that out would take a while, particularly since it doesn’t look like we have many Adornoians or Marcusians around these parts, so I’d basically be starting at the beginning (I get some of it from Deleuze and Foucault as well, and I gather there are a few folks around who appreciate those two at least).Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Chris, my ultimate problem with the Frankfurt school is that it comes across too much as trying to tell people what they should like and imposing your values on them. Anti-consumerism from an ecological perspective makes sense because consumerism can and does take a terrible toll on the environment. From a philosophical perspective, the Frankfurt school might have thought that they were helping people dispell the illusions of their life and find true happiness but so did Plato with his allegory of the cave or puritanical religious people that denounce sex, music, dancing, and a lot of fun things. I know what makes me happy and I’m really reluctant to denounce another person’s source of fun as long as it doesn’t involve directly hurting other people by beating them up or being mean to them. If people find happiness through clothing or electronics than so be it.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        I can’t speak for anyone else, but I at least would have grasped fetishization more clearly. So you can use it when you talk to me, and it can be our own private code. 😉

        Not that I’m a Frankfurt school type (I’m sure that’s a shock). I’m pretty much with Lee on that. To me it’s one of those approaches that provides a valuable critique we should keep in mind–that we should be irritatingly reminded of every once in a while–so we don’t over-reify our beliefs about how the social/economic structure works, but I don’t see it as a very useful approach for constructing an alternative world.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        my ultimate problem with the Frankfurt school is that it comes across too much as trying to tell people what they should like and imposing your values on them.

        With the possible exception of Adorno’s criticisms of jazz, on which he later backtracked pretty significantly (his experience of jazz at the time he’d made the criticisms was extremely limited, and after more exposure he recognized this), I don’t get the sense that the Frankfurt school did this any more than any other social or political philosophy. Adorno and Horkheimer argued, pretty convincingly it seems to me, that culture had become a commodity, and that this was politically and culturally harmful. Marcuse argued that the feeling of comfort and security that results from consumerism masks very real structural problems in society, and helps to stifle political dissent. Even if you disagree with their analyses, they don’t strike me as any more preachy than, say libertarianism or straight Marxism, or even American-style political liberalism.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        James, yeah, I figured you’d follow, but you’re a political scientist, so you ain’t normal.

        Also, various Frankfurt Schoolers had positive ideas about how to create social change, though Marcuse is generally interpreted as being pessimistic about the possibility of change (though a few years ago some early drafts were discovered that suggest he was more optimistic than most people think). However, their influence on me has been primarily conceptual, rather than practical. I mean, Marcuse’s analysis of work has a lot to do with my views on the necessity of work, but for the most part, my positive political ideas (e.g., my views about property, community, and the role of the state) are not derived from the Frankfurt School, at least not directly.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        But believe it or not, it wasn’t the Frankfurters who drove me away from my initial plan to do political philosophy in grad school (not that I went very far beyond Marcuse, anyway). It was that damn theories of justice class, in which I one day realized everyone’s trying to make a precise definition of something that’s wholly a social construct, so they’re all just arguing about whose social construct is better than everyone else’s, and I got up and walked out in the middle of class and never went back. One of the best decisions I ever made.

        Lab experiments demonstrating altruistic punishment and other “irrational” concerns for others, though, give me some dim hope that maybe the concept of justice can be put on a meaningful empirical footing.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        James, I agree about the empirical footing part. You know, Adorno collaborated in empirical research when he was in the states.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        Your explanation has prevented me from making a silly joke and asking whether it was the hamburgers that drew you away from political philosophy. 🙂


        What do you make of arguments that recorded music destroyed the musical/musician middle class and the art of everyone performing their own music? Elijah Wald makes both arguments seriously in his book How the Beatles Destroyed Rock n’Roll. He seems to believe that recorded music and radio led to the destruction of people being able to make good livings via music. Radio stations did not need house orchestras anymore, neither did movie theatres, etc. The rise of listening music led to the end of afternoon tea dances. I’ve known others who argued it would be better if we were all amatuer household musicians instead of listening to stuff on Pandora and Itunes. Needless to say I disagree.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        Well, that and the veggieburgers. Every grad school cookout attended by political philosophers required veggie burgers. Who wants to be part of that crowd? 😉Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        NewDealer, I think recorded music, in combination with certain cultural dynamics (read: capitalism) harmed the general quality of music, just as mass production has harmed the quality of art more generally, but at the same time (and this is not independent of the first part, but it has to be considered along side it as well), it has vastly expanded access. That is a very good thing. Up until the 19th century (at least within Western cultures), the kinds of music you could hear were largely limited by your social and economic status. Recorded music vastly reduces social and economic barriers in music.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Chris, doesn’t culture become a comodity as soon as it accessible by the masses? The only way to prevent the commodification of culture like music, art, and theater is too keep out of the reach of most people whether by making it too expensive to access, like a lot of live theater is now a days, or by making it incomprehensible to the masses, like a lot of modern art. Once most people get access to culture than commodification is almost inevitable because of the dictates of the market.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Lee, yes, though that means something different when commodities are produced for private profit. Access to good things is a good thing. It can have negative consequences. However, the difference between high and low art, or high art and folk art, prior to mass production, was not so great as it is now. Hell, folk music was the inspiration for a great deal of art music in the 18th and 19th centuries (think of the pieces by composers that are built on the melodies of folk songs). Mass production which has the goal not of producing art, but of producing profit, creates a divide between popular and high art that doesn’t have to exist even if art is a “commodity.”Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I like commidification of art. it’s far better than being some lickspittle craven “artiste” who depends on his entire living from one patron.

        Access to the ability to make art has in general improved the best art. In the 1700’s, one had to pretty much be male and wealthy (or at the very least educated) to write a novel that got any distribution. Now? Far from the case. By the numbers, we have way more writers now than earlier. Does this mean that the average quality has gone down? Maybe. But I’d rather know there are ten geniuses out there writing… than just one.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Chris, the Frankfurt school seems a bit like the Anarchist criticism of Socialism during the late 19th century. Left anarchists thought that that socialists failed to see that capitalism is completely capable of turning workers into little borugeoisie that are not interested in revolution.

        For the most part I don’t see it. Western society is about as materialistic as you could get and you still have a lot of dissent. The real reason why we don’t have revolution is that most people are not that political or ideological. They just want to get on with their lives.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Eh, we’ll have to disagree on the materialism underlying Western society, though I’ll note that it’s a materialism that underlies both capitalism and Soviet-style socialism. And I also think that dissent is pretty minimal, and highly limited in its scope and its direction. Basically, any dissent outside of a very narrow ideological window is treated as crazy or “radical” (as though that were a bad word), and easily dismissed.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Chris, could it not be that most dissent is dismissed as crazy or radical because it seems that way to most people? It might be that most people just really disagree with you. Isn’t a bit presumptious to presume that the only reason people are disagreeing with you is because of false consiousness or something like that? Your allowed to dissent all you want but nobody is obliged to take you seriously even if your points are good and sound.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        could it not be that most dissent is dismissed as crazy or radical because it seems that way to most people?

        That’s sorta the point.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Chris, I do not think that I expressed myself adequately. Holders of very firm and specific beliefs often find it shocking when they meet a person who disagrees with them. Everything is so obvious, so true that they can’t comprehend why everybody doesn’t believe the same thing that they do. Its like how Christians used to not be able to comprehend that some people don’t believet that Jesus was the Son of God who died on the Cross for their sins. That somebody would believe in another religion or no religion was incomprehensible. If you explained it all to them and if they were rational people, they would certainly become Christian.

        It works the same with secular ideologies. A lot of holders of non-mainstream beliefs seem sincerely shocked when somebody disagrees with them like vegans not quite getting that people like to eat meat and dairy becasue its tasty and really find nothing wrong with killing animals for food. Certainly, every sensible person should be able to comprehend that meat is murder and dairy is theft. No logical, ethical person can disagree with this completely common sensical opinion. Well, most people like meat and dairy and aren’t going to give it up. We understand your arguments, we simply do not agree with them.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Lee, ah, I see what you meant now. That’s undoubtedly true: we’re just not very good at putting ourselves in others’ conceptual frames. We might be good at emotional empathy, but concepts that are inconsistent with our own seem alien and obviously incorrect. Hell, a lot of liberals and conservatives feel this way about other liberals and conservatives. However, that’s not inconsistent with what Marcuse is arguing when he talks about the flattening of discourse or the range of possible ideas. It’s a nice way of explaining one of the mechanisms that get us to that point, perhaps.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @Chris, have you ever read Elijah Wald’s How the Beatles Destroyed Rock N’Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music, I think you would enjoy it. He talks a lot about how technology effected music in the book.

        Recorded music led to a decrease in musical ability among the general population. Before recorded music, if you wanted to hear it than you had to play for yourself or hope that somebody you knew how to sing or play an instrument. This meant that more people cultivated musical ability because otherwise, no music. Recorded music gave more people access to music without having to learn how to sing or play an instrument on their own.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        @leeesq, man, you and ND really are brothers. See!

        Now that you both have recommended that book in the same subthread, I guess I pretty much have to read it. So I definitely will. It sounds interesting.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Chris, the title is a bit over-provocative and Elijah Wald admits that he its a very interesting and different take an American popular music from the late 19th and early 20th century. He starts with the argument that most histories of popular music aren’t really that because they are based more on what the critics thought was important than what was actually popular, i.e. what most people listened to.* Wald argues that a history of popular music has to look what people actually listened to.

        *Wald has an interesting anecdote where he would hear his father sing a song from his youth and ask him who sung that song. Wald’s father, who was a generation older than Wald’s mother, would give him a puzzling look and say everybody sung that song thats why his popular. One of Wald’s arguments is that rock music, particularly after the Beatles, led to a closer association of a particular musician and a particular song than ever previously existed.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        He starts with the argument that most histories of popular music aren’t really that because they are based more on what the critics thought was important than what was actually popular, i.e. what most people listened to.

        That’s been my experience as well, talking to people from previous generations. The music they remember, and the music I can readily hear, have some overlap, but not it’s far from complete overlap. I assume one of the main reasons for that is that a lot of music just doesn’t have as much staying power unless you have the sort of connection to it that comes with listening to and enjoying it in its moment. Hell, some of it even has the staying power to span a generation or two, but after that it’s unlistenable. My son laughs when he hears “Innagadadavida,” but I dug it as a teenager even though it’s from my parents’ generation.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I suspect that anti-consumerism has more to do with a lingering spirit of the Counter Culture than anything else. A revolt against the post-War lifestyle, say the idealized middle class life of 1945 to 1965, was an important part of the Counter Culture and the post-War lifestyle was very consumeristic. Its more of an anti-bourgeoisie sentiment made by intellectuals, who may or may not be bourgeoisie themselves than anything else. There is a strong environemental message in the anti-Consumerism movement and consumerism poorly implemented can do a lot of harm to the earth.

    Personally, I’m not really sure what to make of the anti-consumerist movement. They make many good points but they also forget a lot of human nature and what most people actually want. Most people don’t want to live very spiritual and simple lives. What people seem to want on average, as much as you can determine what seven billion people want as a whole, is to have the necesities of life leisure time and discretionary spending money; that is the lower middle class or middle class lifestyle.Report

  7. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I read about consumerism run rampant here, then I read the guy who didn’t just volunteer an idea but pushed hard for it for years for no compensation, resulting in a massive added value to a couple of big companies. The permeation of consumerism into this culture is such that for love of a taco shell dusted with cheese powder colored a shade of orange not found in nature, a man dying of cancer will devote hundreds of hours to a product, and not even demand compensation. Is this a waste of effort? If he were still alive, he’d say it wasn’t really much effort or it was a fun thing to do with friends and family. And that illustrates how products are linked with happiness in contemporary culture.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      I’m not sure that I can entirely support Mills demurring compensation for his idea. He might not have been the first person to think of it but he was the one that brought the idea into fruition and should receive compensation of some type for that. People being compensated for their work is an important part of the system. The other issue is that he had two young daughters and even if he wanted nothing more himself, the compensation he would have received could be used to support his children. If Mills was single and childless that would be one thing but as a person with dependents, its another.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I tend to think so too. And we won’t be the only ones who feel that way.

        But note how a gloss of moralism spreads into the rejection of the rewards consumerism places on offer.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        When a person has dependents, that person needs to support them. It is a legal and moral obligation. By rejecting compensation, especially since he was dying of cancer, Mills has failed in his obligation to support his wife and daughters to the best of his ability. Even if Mills could not himself benefit from the compensation he received, it could have been used to help his wife raise their daughters. I really can’t find anything moral or moving in a person with dependents rejecting legal and rightly owed compensation.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        I rather did not expect to find a defense for inherited wealth in this comment stream.Report

      • I’m not at all certain that he would be entitled to compensation if he were to have demanded it, frankly. It’s pretty clearly an “idea” rather than an “expression,” so he’d only have an intellectual property right in it if he either patented it or found a way of turning it into a trade secret. In other words, as a mere “idea,” it’s not something that would be protected by copyright or trademark law.

        I’m not at all certain it would be patentable, but even if it were, the patent process is hardly easy to navigate, and presumably fairly expensive with no certain payoff. And I have a hard time envisioning a scenario where he invested the capital and effort necessary to make it a trade secret, which would have required a ton of forethought.

        At best, he’d have been able to convince the company to pay him a very nominal fee to ensure against nuisance litigation.Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      He didn’t refuse the money, @leeesq – he says in so many words that if Taco Bell wanted to send him a check, he would take it – he just refused to lawyer up and demand money. Do you not see a difference? If my spouse were dying of cancer, the last thing I’d want him to do is engage in a protracted legal battle over something that used to be a source of joy.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Maybe it’s like being a fan of a professional sports team. For instance, I follow the Green Bay Packers. Doing so is not a rational decision; I get no tangible benefit from it, only the pleasures of fandom. Even “owning stock” in the Packers is not a tangible benefit; the stock pays no dividends and the privileges associated with holding the certificate are so minimal as to be safely disregarded. Indeed, I spend money on fandom, quite a lot of which goes to a lot of big, faceless corporations. I get my friends to do the same, whether directly (“Hey, let’s meet up at the sports bar to watch the game”) and indirectly (“Burt would really like this Clay Matthews jersey, I’ll buy it for him as a gift”). If the Green Bay Packer organization were to offer me money, I would certainly accept it gladly. But I don’t expect “the ball club” to do any such thing and it doesn’t make either logical or emotional sense that I would hire a lawyer to pursue it for money. If that’s how this fellow felt about Dorito-shell tacos, I can understand it.

        My point is to illustrate the degree to which consumer behavior, products, and our relationship with corporate entities has been married to seemingly immanent concepts like happiness, personal identity, fulfillment, and achievement. It is difficult for many of us to even express what it is to be happy without reference to some form of consumerism, because the overridingly dominant lens through which our culture teaches us to view the world is economics.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Maribou, Mr. Mills actions disturb me in this case because he was the father of young dependent children and he was dying. If he had no children or wasn’t dying, his action would be moral. In this case, he could have provided a decent bit of material support for his widow and daughters if asked for compensation and did something to get it. Its a situation thing for me.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Maybe he already had life insurance? Maybe he had a trust from his own inheritance?

        I find it a bit disgusting, really, to heap moral opprobrium on a dead man whose circumstances are mostly unknown and, really, none of your business.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        I mean, do I need to have an argument with a liberal over the decisions a person makes regarding their time and money on how to raise their kids? Are you just too young to remember the whole Graeme Frost affair?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        From a psychological prospective, people seem to have a “I want it both ways” attitude on inherited wealth for the most part. Of course this is usually true of human nature for most things.*

        An example, Comic Books are big property now. It is no secret that many early comic book artists like Jack Kirby are not getting profit from their creations. I know a lot of comic book fans who are fighting hard for the creators and/or their descendants to get some of the share. One friend posted something along the lines of “Oh Jack Kirby wanted the money to help support his family.”

        Part of me felt like being cheeky and posting “What if his grandchildren was a ner’do’well playboy who was the epitome of a rich kid on Instagram?”

        This is cognitive bias at work. Comic book fans like Jack Kirby and think his kids and grandkids will be a okay and not misuse or be lazy with the money. They will not be kids ordering 5 bottles of champagne a night at clubs like Paris Hilton or Wall Street traders.

        *I know one person who argued for a 100 percent inheritance tax and that is rather extreme in my mind. Most families have heirlooms with high sentimental value and these might be worth something or nothing. It seems silly to hand over a portrait of my grandfather to the government.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        the real problem with a 100% inheritance tax is the farmers.
        One can be making under the poverty line, yet still be a millionaire.

        I’d be okay with a decent threshhold and then a 100% tax. Enough to support your kids until they die (~6 million, maybe?). And that’s it.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Maybe we can condemn Mr. Mills for not demanding a settlement that could have been confiscated by the government and gone on to provide health care for people with cancer?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        The family farm is largely dead. You are talking about a very small portion of the American population. As we learned from the recent debate over food stamps and farms subsidies, farmers are wealthier than the average American because of said subisdies or because they are major corporations like Driscolls or Cal-Maine.

        You are using an outdated view of farming or being Kim and knowing the exceptions against the rule.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        wealth is not income. you know that, right?
        2% of Americans. Just slightly less than the number of Jews.
        Farms exist a lot of places, but they’re far more likely to be
        small ranches or dairies. I drive by tons of them when I’m
        in the country.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I’d like to point out that even the Bolsheviks could not get away with 100% inheritence tax and had to allow people the right to pass down their possessions.Report

  8. Avatar j r says:

    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.

    I have my own name for this: hipster ethics. Hipster ethics is ostensibly about doing the right thing, but it’s really more about being seen by other as someone who does the right thing. It’s a form of status competition among those for whom more obvious forms of status competition are considered passé.

    The Yuppies of the 80s had their conspicuous consumption, asserting their status by purchasing fancy brands and shiny gadgets. The Yuppies of the 90s have a form of conspicuous non-consumption. They still buy gadgets though, they just have an Apple logo on them.

    All that being said, we can hope that hipster ethics and yuppie consumption habits can have some of the same positive effects that other forms of luxury consumption have had. I don’t know if our economy can survive without consumerism and that’s in part because I’m not quite sure how to define that word; however, our economy can certainly survive with a much lower level of household and public debt. In fact, I’ll go even further and say that our economy will not survive unless households and governments deleverage some of this debt.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      Hipster Ethics is a great term and you are on to something here.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Hipster is a term used far more as a criticism then any actual instances of hipsters existing in the world. Is there any vaguely defined group more acceptable to slam then hipsters. I guess terrorists, but that is about it.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        It’s the age in which we live. It isn’t so much that we are all hipsters, but rather that we all have hipster-like qualities.

        Also, I’m pretty sure that douchebags get more hate than hipsters.Report

  9. Avatar dhex says:

    “…as a arts and humanities person…”

    this actually works real good in a lawn guyland accent

    “as wunna dem aaahts an humaaniteees guyz”

    it’s largely social posturing. consumerism means “stuff the other buys” not “art objects i curate”. it’s always television that’s mindless entertainment, not some opera propped up by public dollars but enjoyed by a rich few in their particular social context.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I don’t necessarily think that anti-consumerism comes the way you describe it.

      There is plenty of anti-consumerism in geek culture. I’ve seen plenty of people blast the fashion industry for being consumerist. So an expensive pair of Paul Smith or Guidi shoes is consumerist but a new videogame system or other electronic wonder toy is not.

      The world with nothing but thinkgeek t-shirts and chucks, how depressing…Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        you have your own jihad against the “geek” whatever zeitgeist thing but, like, thinkgeek is about as consumerist as you can get. dr who panties! 2 for 1 on something about spaceships!

        for someone who doesn’t care about dr. who or whatever, money spent on that could be as offensive as spending 800 bucks on shoes or what have you. it’s just that someone has to be the kind of invasive prat who cares about the lives of others in that way in the first place.

        the general thrust is heavily informed by a need to publicly tag other-ness – it’s basically small chunks of npr white people of generally upward-trending means pointing at other npr white people as being “part of the problem” (in buying high fashion/high price point goods, which can then be recontextualized as “conspicuous”) or at less prosaic lower middle and working class folk buying low cost, low quality goods due to something something false consciousness or some variation on kkkorporate mind kkkontrol.

        tldr: the church of stop shopping guy, who i appreciated as being both amusing and incredibly detrimental to his own point. the one time i saw him in person (back when there was a kmart near astor place, many years ago) he was pretty good.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I happen to really like Dr. Who and have fond memories of watching it on PBS as a kid and the new version. I also really like Star Trek especially Deep Space Nine. Though I’ve never read the novels. And my old comic books are still in mom’s attic.
        Though I should probably try to sell those.

        I agree with you that thinkgeek is consumerist and so is money on video game systems. My point as I wrote to Tod is that there seemingly a large number of people who can call thinkgeek and video games ethical shopping while denouncing things they dislike otherwise as consumerist.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Some people buy stuff to … umm… have more Stuff!
        Other people buy stuff to…. umm… have Sex!

        Who’s morally better?
        Does this have anything to do with world overpopulation?Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        “My point as I wrote to Tod is that there seemingly a large number of people who can call thinkgeek and video games ethical shopping while denouncing things they dislike otherwise as consumerist.”

        right, because they’re prats. or maybe they can’t find a better way to say “i don’t like what you like”. or maybe they just enjoy tweaking you? perhaps they’re uncomfortable with questions of class and how the npr white people divide acceptable and conspicuous categories of consumption.

        bold proposal: the term consumerist is a meaningless pejorative.Report

  10. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I suspect a lot of the Black Friday backlash has to do with what Jaybird would call matters of taste.

    I am pretty sure most of the people who get upset about BF don’t really have anything against going out and buying things the day after Thanksgiving. I bet if you told one of those FB linkers that you went a picked up a copy of the new Michael Pollan at the local indie bookstore, for example, you’d get a positive response.

    I think when most people rail against BF, they are really just announcing that they hate malls and big-box stores. (Which, FTR, I do as well.)Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      This. I’m not one for Black Friday. Not because of any broader philosophy on consumerism, workers’ rights, or anything else of much profound importance. Nor because of feelings about one type of store or another. Rather, I’m not a huge shopper to begin with and the idea of making shopping more unpleasant than I typically find it does not appeal to me. I get that some people feel the rush of beating the crowd or getting a deal or being a part of the madness. I’m not one of those people. I get a rush from being in a crowded bar and watching a huge sporting event. Potato, tomato.

      I am bothered by the apparent disregard for their fellow man that seems to consume Black Friday shoppers as they literally trample one another in pursuit of a deal. I’m not sure if this is anything unique to Black Friday or 21st century America or just another manifestation of mob mentality.

      The extent to which I complain about Black Friday is practical. I live just a few minutes from a major factory outlet center plus several other large shopping plaza housing major big box stores (Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Home Depot, etc.) This all occurs right off our exit on the NY Thruway, which can create traffic disasters. If we are driving up from the south (as we would be returning from my mom’s house), we can avoid it. If we are driving down from the north (as we more commonly are returning from Zazzy’s family’s house), we can’t. But this isn’t much different than what happens during other major sales events like Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day.Report

      • Last paragraph excepted (since I don’t have to worry about that problem), this is pretty much where I’m at. I’ve got no problem with the idea of Black Friday in principle; I have a problem with those who have contributed to a mob mentality with it and as I’ve stated elsewhere, I find it depressing that the obsession with deals has lead to it intruding on Thanksgiving dinner itself, but I get why a lot of people enjoy shopping on Black Friday. It’s just not for me – I hate the process of shopping for anything to begin with, and the prospect of waiting in hour-long lines to complete that process is extremely unappealing to me.

        My neighbor this morning was telling me about his Black Friday experience the last couple of years and raving about how respectful people were being – holding places in the checkout line for strangers who needed to use the restroom, etc., etc. I suspect for the majority of folks, this is how Black Friday is experienced.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I indeed made a semi-joking update about buying stuff on Black Friday but at local merchants (one of who appeared to be going out of business, they were selling their clothing racks and furniture). One friend did comment that any shopping at local businesses is virtuous (FTR, I generally agree).

      I think there are two ideas in my post that are conflated and possibly not well. One is the anti-Black Friday that does seem largely aimed at Big Box stores and malls.

      The other is how certain items get aimed at consumerist or anti-consumerist. I have friends who would make snide comments about how expensive handbags or the shirt I posted above are consumerist purchases but geek out on a new videogame system or high 5 someone who spent 500 dollars on an old X-Men comic to complete their collection.* This is interestingly psychological to me and pseudo-populist. Video games and comic books are considered for the masses and acceptable but expensive clothing is not. If someone chooses to buy a 400 dollar new XBOX when it comes out, they can equally choose to buy an expensive shirt. I don’t see why one is more ethically acceptable than the other. Yet I’ve known people who stomped until they were blue in the face insisting that geek stuff was more ethical than said shirt or a nice pair of shoes.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Provided the shirt isn’t one of those “wear me twice” ones…

        If we’re going to apply the same “buy it when it’s less expensive”
        methodology to clothes as video games, that’s fair, I think.
        Who cares if you’re wearing last year’s fashions?
        Or playing 10 year old games?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Okay, one could make an argument that a game is a better form of interacting with ones fellows than wearing clothing (conspicuous collecting of comics is worse than spending money on fashion, imnsho)Report

  11. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    One other thing I’ve been thinking about with all these Thanksgiving/Black Friday posts this past week: It occurs to me how complicit both the media and the backlash crowd are in perpetuating all of this crap.

    If there’s no potential backlash controversy, does the media really spend weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Black Friday talking incessantly about all of it? If the media isn’t talking incessantly about all of it for weeks, is there really that much of a buzz? If there isn’t a buzz, do so many people really get excited days in advance about leaving their homes and families when they’ve eaten so much the can barely walk to go stand in line to have a crowded mall and big-box experience?

    I kind of suspect that if your local TV news station just quietly said, “And Best Buy says it will be open Thanksgiving evening this year” and then no one bothered to rail against it, no one would leave their home that night to shop at Best Buy.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      That’s some multidimensional chess thinking going on there, Mr. Kelly. You don’t suppose there’s intent rather than happenstance at play, do you?Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      It occurs to me how complicit both the media and the backlash crowd are in perpetuating all of this crap.
      If there’s no potential backlash controversy, does the media really spend weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Black Friday talking incessantly about all of it?

      They certainly started talking about it before there was any controversy, though I’m sure the controversy has only fueled more coverage. However, does this suggest the people who find Black Friday problematic should be quiet, in the hopes that it will go away or at least become something lesser? Because that doesn’t usually work.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Well, I think it’s part of the whole “infotainment” that local news has going on.

      You write a story about, oh, abortion? You will get letters and lose advertisers. You write a story about, oh, immigration? You will get letters and lose advertisers. Who needs the headache?

      You write a story about Black Friday and show headless bodies of fat people walking? YOU WILL OWN THE RATINGS FOR THE SEGMENT.Report

  12. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

    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.

    Anti-consumerism is very easy for the things a person does not care about.

    An excellent essay, ND, and these two lines stuck out for me as points on which I am very much in agreement with you.

    I’m somewhat anti-consumerist myself. I tend to buy things because I have a need, or at least a practical purpose, for them. Material well-being matters, of course, and anti-consumerists who denigrate that are very off-base. But if wealth is the ability to command the goods and services we want, then it seems to me wealth can come from either having lots of money and lots of wants or not as much money but also not as many wants. And maybe it’s the old anabaptist in me, but I think there’s some type of value, or at least something admirable, in not having many wants.

    And, perhaps oddly, I often buy cheaper quality goods because that way I don’t care much what happens to them. E.g., part of me would love to have a high quality woolen overcoat, but a bigger part of me says, “then you’d be worried about what happens to it and you’d be distressed if it got damaged, whereas you don’t give a crap about the cheap jacket you got on sale for $20 five years ago.” I just don’t like being emotionally attached to objects.

    But that’s my own preference in life, and I don’t see trying to impose that on others, either by force or by moral suasion.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      “And, perhaps oddly, I often buy cheaper quality goods because that way I don’t care much what happens to them. E.g., part of me would love to have a high quality woolen overcoat, but a bigger part of me says, “then you’d be worried about what happens to it and you’d be distressed if it got damaged, whereas you don’t give a crap about the cheap jacket you got on sale for $20 five years ago.” I just don’t like being emotionally attached to objects.”

      If you managed to make it last that long, I am impressed. Someone I knew in law school bought a cheap suit from H&M and it was busting at the seams within a year and not because he gained an excessive amount of weight.

      This is where I wish American tastes would change from an environmental standpoint.

      From anecdotal evidence, I have heard a lot of people say they would rather be able to buy a lot of clothing for low prices and constantly change their wardrobes. This leads me to see people bring what looks like metric tons of clothing to Goodwill or used clothing stores. Much of it probably not worn very often.

      I’d rather see people go for fewer well-made items and from what I hear this is a European way of shopping.

      We also need much easier and widespread electronic recycling centers. And probably recycling centers for furniture and the like.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Well, I don’t wear it often. Unless the temperature is below freezing or it’s particularly damp, I often don’t bother with a coat.

        As to the used clothing going to Goodwill, etc., an awful lot of that stuff ends up in developing countries at very cheap prices. From Globaloney 2.0 by Michael Veseth (the book is better than one might expect from the silly title):

        Worn clothing is an important first-world commodity export…the United States exported more than 350 million kilograms (about 385,000 tons) of used clothing in 2003. Total U.S. earnings were almost $240 million, or about 30 cents per pound…The top ten markets for U.S. used clothing exports are Canada (which imports them mainly for re-export), Chile, Mexico, Guatemala, Tanzania, Angola, India, Honduras, Kenya, and Japan (which is a market for high-end “vintage” apparel).

        Who buys our worn clothing? the people who are otherwise mostly left out of globalization–those in sub-Saharan Africa–are the largest market for used U.S. clothing…

        I suspect that most unsold clothing, rather than being destroyed, is also sold into this market, because at least there’s some revenue from it, as opposed to simply destroying it with provides no revenue at all. I would guess–and it’s just a guess–that the exception would be in couture, where having impoverished sub-Saharan Africans cooking over dung fires in a Givenchy (sp?) dress wouldn’t enhance the brand name when the picture shows up in National Geographic.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        James, I think there have been cases of anthropologists being floored by seeing Native Americans in the Amazon rainforest wearing t-shirts from no discernable source.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Europeans are also a lot poorer than we are.
        Women’s clothing in particular is designed to self destruct
        (look at those yoga pants), therefore women pretty much
        have to buy more, regardless of stylings.Report

      • Avatar Plinko says:

        When I mention the charity donations above in my comment, a lot of those items are donated to to organizations that either in turn donate or sell the clothing in those third-world markets (supposedly using the raised funds from sale to finance other development/charitable work).
        The donating company can use those as a tax deduction- functioning as a sort of revenue that might not be that far off of selling at a steep discount.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        Good point but another way to look at it is that excessive donations can hurt or suppress local industries.

        NPR’s Planet Money did a show on how rice donations damage the Haitian rice industry and farmers.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        Food donations have been particularly problematic, because every country has an indigenous agricultural industry. Indigenous clothing industries are not so common and integral to local economies, though (or at least I don’t think they are). In large part cheap used clothing frees up women from the domestic work of producing clothes for their own family.

        To take this to a more certain example, I find it hard to imagine that donating Ipads to sub-Saharan Africa is going to upset local computer production industries in any significant way. So the problem is really sector-specific, rather than general.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        it seems to me that anything that mucks with food, be it baby formula at bargain prices or NAFTA’s effect on mexican corn production, is problematic from a national security standpoint.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      “And maybe it’s the old anabaptist in me, but I think there’s some type of value, or at least something admirable, in not having many wants.”

      Maybe this is because I have no anabaptist/protestant background and am basically a very non-spiritual, non-religious, and certainly not country oriented but why.

      I agree with a general idea that too much desire causes suffering and that too much consumption and waste is bad for the environment and a person.

      But wants can also cause us to strive, work hard, and achieve great things.

      A few years ago, NPR’s Planet Money interviewed a woman who seemed to practice ultra-thrift. She said that a person (she used the word you) did not need to buy new clothes, eat out at restaurants, buy new furniture, buy new anything. I can’t remember if she went further. I think she is a country/rural woman.

      My only thought was that if everyone took her advice, the economy would explode and life would be very boring. I am not sure if there is an afterlife or not but I generally lean towards no. The Earth is 6 billion years old and evolution and all that. So why not make our time on life as pleasurable and easy for as many people as possible? Why be Spartan and encourage privation? Obviously being a glutton is too much and people should be mindful of their health but I don’t think that there is anything virtuous about being a puritan and Malvolio either.

      Why shouldn’t people strive or want to eat in a restaurant like The French Laundry?

      I do not mean these questions to sound too angry.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Or angry at all. It is just not a philosophy I grew up with in Reform Judaism. We talk about doing good but there were never many sermons about wanting less or the virtues of a spartan/thrifty lifestyle. At least that I remember.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Romanticizing poverty and wanting less isn’t a Jewish value at all. The Talmud certainly doesn’t have many good things to say about poverty. Rambam, in his work on the Eight Types of Charity said that highest form of charity is to eliminate the need for it by making sure there was no poverty to begin with.Report

  13. Avatar Damon says:

    I actively avoid shopping on BF, but I also actively avoid shopping, unless I do it on the web. I grow weary of walking around malls looking for things, dealing with the crowds, etc. People are just as bad walking as they drive: wandering back and forth, talking on phones, not paying attention, walking slow, causing bottlenecks. Sadly, I must venture to the mall on occasion. But then I actively avoid malls during the holiday season unless it’s critical….Report

  14. Avatar Kazzy says:

    My philosophy is relatively simple: If I need or want something and can afford it, I’ll buy it. For whatever reason, I’m generally short on needs and wants beyond the most basic.Report

  15. Avatar Philip H says:

    I didn’t post anything on Facebook about Black Friday shopping – other then lamenting the low wage workers actually trampled to death in the rush to buy “cheap” consumer goods. But, consistent with my comments in other threads, I did post about NOT buying on Thanksgiving, since I have fairly strong beliefs that no one except firefighters, doctors, clergy, and police officers ought to be working that day.

    As to my Liberal/Anti consumerist/Hipster Ethics – I was raised a Protestant Christian, politically Liberal, inquisitive evidence finding way. I’ve never needed much of anything to be happy – give ma fishing rod, some sun and an old boat and I am at real discernible peace. I also still darn my socks and tend to sew, then cut off jeans for years of use. I live in a nearly 100 year old house that I spend my own time rehabbing – and I do all this because it makes sense to me, not because I NEED anyone to SEE me do it. I won two month of underwear because my wife refuses to let me do laundry and she doesn’t like to do a lot of laundry (she has 3 months worth), but other then that I ma not really driven to own a lot of possessions. so yeah, in that sense I’m anti-consumer.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I am not Protestant Christian and much of the world is not either. I see no reason why the world or individuals should be ruled by Protestant Christian ethics if such individuals or cultures decide it is not for them.

      I happen to like old houses from aesthetic standpoints. I think they have more charm than newer houses usually and this includes non-McMansion new houses. Plus the history is nice. I liked the idea of a lived in place.

      As to work around the house, I’d rather leave to experts.Report

  16. Avatar Kim says:

    comment in moderation. plz fix.Report

  17. Avatar RichardS says:

    There’s certainly been lots of bloggage about the whole BF thing… a lot of it snarky, and I’ve been trying to figure out for myself what it is that sticks in my craw so much about the whole phenomenon.

    There are several things that unsettle me about this. A large part is the marketing of BF as a celebration of wholesale consumer gluttony, and the competitiveness that it encourages, line up or be a loser. It’s also the religious fervor with which consumption is pushed… it is your duty to go out and buy. Then there’s also what it is people are lining up for… status symbols… fashion, the latest new shiny gadget.

    Is it a sin to not want to feel compelled to join into a shopping bacchanalia? Or to comment about it? Because that’s the sense I’m getting here….Report

  18. Avatar NewDealer says:


    Re: Judaism on Fashion

    If someone managed to incorporate a painting like this:

    I would be impressed and not offended. Again, it might be romanticizied but it is generally realistic/naturalistic as a scene.Report

  19. Avatar LWA says:

    Re: Consumerism-
    A lot of good points made here, esp. the angle of class signaling.

    But in the end, anti-consumerism isn’t remotely new. Jeremiads have been around since Jeremiah. And we know that Jesus chased the moneychangers from the Temple, but what were they doing there in the first place? What sort of commentary on culture was being made by the writer of the Gospel, when that story was written?

    Maybe waving a hand across a culture marked by wildly disparate fortunes and levels of wealth isn’t helpful, especially when the target is working class people at Wal Mart.

    But isn’there a sneaking suspicion that we live in a culture devoid of a larger sense of meaning, where there is a gasping void at the center of what exactly we are doing all this shopping for?Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      Jesus chased the moneychangers from the Temple, but what were they doing there in the first place?

      Making it possible for people to buy the sacrifices their god required. I suppose god’s dead sheep fetish is consumerism of a sort, except the bastard never bothered to pay for his pleasures.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      Why does anyone care about “class signaling”? Is it anymore important than anti consumerism, or don’t buy gas day, or any other similiar human behavior? Other than the social scientests, why should anyone pay attention to someone else’s behavior in this regard?Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I find it objectionable to focus on Jesus when many people in the United States are not Christian and this is a secular government. Why am I required to take lessons from Jesus and submit to Christianity as a natural hierarchy?

      Anyway James made a good point, The moneychangers were providing a valuable service that many Christians seem to ignore. Leeesq also pointed this out. The commandments required tithe/donations in a specific coin called a shekel. The diaspora caused many Jews to be shekel free and the money changers were providing shekels.

      Christianity did a lot of distorting of perfectly valid Jewish philosophies and movements for the sake of asserting ideological supremacy and these distortions continue to this day.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        ND, you are completely correct, in that the Christian theology has been unfairly distorting Jewish thought and culture.

        But even within the Old Testament, there is a constant theme of cultural critics accusing their contemporaries of indulging too much in material pleasure, and ignoring their moral obligations.

        No one can deny that material needs are important and must be met. But what happens when any purpose of celebration is lost?

        Isn’t there a crisis of meaning in modern society, where the institutions and organizations that used to provide meaning in people’s lives have crumbled, leaving people feeling adrift, without a cultural narrative?

        Is there any meaning in any of our holidays, deeper than the momentary pleasure of a consumer purchase?

        As I asked in the other thread, what is the cultural norm for our secular holidays, like Independence Day? Is there a shared meaning in it, that we can all experience? When the flag is raised and the national anthem sung, is this something powerful and meaningful that we can all bond with?

        Is there anything- an idea, a belief, a value-anything at all- that binds us together in something that can be called “community”?Report

  20. Avatar Ethan Gach says:

    So many interesting things being posted at OT right now I’m overwhelmed. Wish I’d seen this sooner.Report