Friday, November 27, 2009

The Psychology behind Black Friday: The Big Bone Theory

Okay, Thanksgiving has finally come and gone, and I had a wonderful day. I hope you found equal enjoyment in the day.

And I am more than aware of the history of imperialism and genocide subtending the holiday; if we really view the holiday with a critical eye, it is almost as if the nation takes a day off and feasts in celebration of the decimation of a people.

However, even in light of this, I choose to observe Thanksgiving. Notice I didn’t use the word celebrate. I choose to spend the day with my family and friends. Sometimes life becomes so hectic that I get to see these people, even those living only a five minute drive from me, only infrequently, and this day becomes one in which we can all get together and put aside petty internecine quarrels and just enjoy each others’ company.

But I still cannot for the life of me understand the psychology behind Black Friday. Even as Thanksgiving wound down and we worked to sweep away the remains of the day, I could hear people making plans for Black Friday.

Some of them planned not to even sleep. They had set an itinerary that included visiting Toys R Us at twelve midnight, then swinging by Old Navy at three in the morning, followed by a trip to Best Buy at five, and ending with an excursion to Walmart.

As they formulated their plans, I watched their faces twist into masks of almost sinister, diabolical anticipation. Mothers who only moments before had lovingly prepared plates of food for their children and had gently swept the crumbs from their laps and wiped their cherubic little faces were suddenly given to masterminding hostile shopping forays into various locales throughout the city.

And as I looked on not knowing whether or not I should also be afraid, I wondered what drove them, what motivated them. What could transform mild mannered mothers and grandmothers into marauding shopping soldiers? Then I glanced across the room at my children’s dog, and I began to formulate a theory.

Sometime following Thanksgiving dinner, someone thought it would be hilarious to give my children’s nine pound rat terrier a huge ham bone. The bone was so big, almost as big as he is, that he could only move it inches at a time, but to the delight of the crowd, he doggedly (pun unintended) pushed and pulled that bone until he got it right where he wanted it, and then set to stripping it of whatever meat that remained.

Now he and his bare bone are ensconced in a corner where he vigilantly stands guard over it; however, the children are using his big bone ambitions to manipulate him. If they want him to go into another room, they simply grab his bone and protesting all the while, he follows behind. They are using the bone to force him to do all kind of tricks that I didn’t even know he knew how to do. Evidently, this dog is some kind of canine savant who has kept his talents hidden all this time.

And also I am seeing a side of him that I have never seen before. In his pre-big bone life he was a mild manner, playful little pup, but suddenly, when you get near his big bone, he turns absolutely viscous. This animal is suddenly exhibiting traits I never knew him to have, and it took the big bone to bring them out.

I may be oversimplifying this whole Black Friday thing a bit, but based on my empirical data, Black Friday is the simply the equivalent of my children’s little dog’s big bone. The department stores and other retail outlets offer us a big bone in the form of fantastic deals on merchandise that has been steeply marked up in the first place, and we lose our collective minds. We rush from store to store in the wee hours of the morning spending, and in most cases overspending, obscene amounts of money, and then we go home to sleep, consoled by the thought of how much stuff we managed to amass and how much we saved in the process of doing so.

Then a week later, the same stores run the same sales all over again. And as we get closer and closer to Christmas, and the stores get more determined and desperate to move as much merchandise as possible, the deals get even better, so we go out and spend even more money.

Come New Year’s when the spell wears off, reality sets in, and we begin to receive those credit card statements, we’ll all probably be cursing our collective selves. But I am not trying to chastise or criticize anyone. I just got way too much time on my hands today just to sit around and come up with stupid theories and philosophize about nothing.

Plus my wife and mother-in-law are out there somewhere in that barbarian horde of shoppers. When they left here, I could not even recognize them as the people I have grown to love over all these years. It was almost as if they were in some kind of trance. Their eyes were glazed over, and they moved methodically, robotically like cyborgs. So please don’t even tell her I wrote this, or she’ll probably return home and in her frenzied, out-of-mind state, hit me upside the head with that same big bone that inspired this post.

Recommended reading: “A Brief History of Black Friday


Anna Renee said...

See, Soulbrother, that's why I cant go out like that! Spending money I dont have for things I dont need! Instead, Imma stay home and eat some mo! ;-) I love your writing! Very witty!

River Glorious said...

:D Max, honestly, years ago I came to the realization that God doesn't want us to celebrate the birth of His Son in this manner. I do not choose to either. I will buy a few small gifts for my family, crochet a pretty dishcloth for Beloved Mother and mother-in-law, and give them what they want more: My Time. And to celebrate His Gift to us, I will see how can I serve Him better.

I might even go to the beach!

ProfGeo said...

Max, my immediate family broke the Black Friday curse several years ago. However, we now have a Thanksgiving ritual in which we talk smack at all the folks on TV getting ready for it! (Never mind they can't hear us...) It is best done when out-of-town family arrives. Starting as early as Monday, whenever the tube is on we shake our heads and laugh at the folly on the screen. The people you know have no money talking about what they're gonna buy... the Barbie/Ken news anchors of all races and creeds shilling for the major store chains... Like ex-smokers, we sit and gloat at those who still have the addiction.

BTW we have also found Black Friday to be a great travel day whether by car or air.

md20737 said...

Thats a correct description a trance or spell are what you are in. Its like that word sale on that day is the equivalent to the trigger word in mind controlled people. I am guilty of being controlled that day. When I cant get up at 7am to get to work early I got up and 4am to make it to target on time. Only to find that by 430 hundreds of people were there already.

Methodically is another great description to shop effectively on this date you MUST HAVE A PLAN. There is no leisurely shopping, there is strategic if you are trying to get that "sale". I see most going with a group so they can hit seperate aisles at the same time to get everything they wanted.

I aslo think the weak economy brought out more shoppers than usual. People who usually couldnt afford it, felt that they had to have this sale they couldnt afford either because of what they saved.

The origins of the holiday and what they tell us it is now is far from the truth, but our family rarely gets together so its become a day that we can spend with each other and relax. The kids can play, adults can reminince about life.

Anywho great post...

Max Reddick said...

@Anna Renee

Thank you for the generous compliment! And I got you blog rolled.

@River Glorious

I truly believe we introduce an unnecessary level of anxiety in our lives during this season. We should be relaxing and enjoying our families, but we are running around trying to buy stuff and create more bills and headaches for ourselves.

@Prof Geo

Well, I have divorced myself from the whole X-mas buying ritual; however, I can't get my wife to buy into the program. But on the bright side of it, I get a day of peace and quiet and a little alone time while she and the kids are out doing battle with the crowds.


And I do have a plan. My plan is to sit back and watch this whole thing unfold. I do look forward to spending time with my family though.

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