Observations by Anne Bahr Thompson
Black Friday is fully under way. And, in the run-up to it over the past two weeks it seemed that Black Friday had become a holiday in and of itself. A follow on to Thanksgiving; a bit like Boxing Day is to Christmas in Britain. Will Gray Thursday and Cyber Monday soon achieve the same noteworthy status?
In a post-production, consumerism society our social stability depends on economic growth. If we didn’t know that before, we’ve learned it since 2008. Governments and the media continually emphasize that retail numbers are an indicator that we’re either still stuck in the recession or coming out of it. So personal consumption - aka shopping - is a measure not only of economic stability but of active political participation. In a consumerism world, purchasing is an act that benefits society as much as, if not more than, it does the individual. And, as a brand and marketing professional I know consumption can be - and in point of fact is - a dynamic and engaging factor of social and cultural change. It’s no wonder Black Friday has taken on the status of a Federal Holiday.
Interestingly, Black Friday seems to reflect the same sentiment Franklin Roosevelt, the (liberal) Democrat we know best for the New Deal, had when he moved Thanksgiving from November 30th to November 23rd, in 1939. And, this after he ignored the initial request from the Downtown Association of Los Angeles in 1933, when the Great Depression was at it’s worst point.
In a letter to the President on October 2, 1933, the Association noted that according to the usual custom, Thanksgiving would fall on November 30th, a date which would leave “but twenty shopping days before Christmas…and that the Thanksgiving to Christmas period is the busiest retail period of the whole year.” They further requested that Roosevelt carry out Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of 1864 “to the letter” and designate November 23rd, the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving. Roosevelt specifically reprimanded this request in his Thanksgiving Proclamation stating, “…greed and selfishness and striving for undue riches can never bring lasting happiness or good to the individual or to his neighbors.” So, what would prompt him to shift the date in 1939, 1940 and 1941? Some say it was his declining popularity. But who really knows.
Black Friday, Gray Thursday and Cyber Monday all stem from the same belief in the benefit of consumerism, and perhaps more genuinely so since they are brazen in their mission. As we teeter on the next shift in our economic evolution, from consumerism to social production, it’s no wonder that anti-Black Friday lobbies such as Buy Nothing Day or Buy Nothing Christmas keep popping up and that the Occupy movement has latched onto Black Friday (although how strongly and to what benefit is in question). We’ve historically seen consumerism - something we often define as materialism - and an ethical society as diametrically opposed. But more and more we are discovering they need not be so. That consumerism can live side-by-side with ethics and that social production can lead to ethical production and consumption. If consumerism is an act of political participation that benefits society, we also have a responsibility to find a way to make our purchases and brands work for the good.