I’ve never been much for Black Friday shopping. First of all, I hate mornings. I can barely be bothered to get up in the morning to go to work, and they actually pay me to be there. Get up before the buttcrack of dawn to stand in line in the cold outside of a store for a chance to maybe get an insane price on the season’s latest gadget…or perhaps get gunned down or trampled by the meth-addled rednecks who wants it just a little bit more than I do? No thanks.
A couple of years ago, my bestie Angie and I decided to go to Target’s midnight opening. I wanted a $5 orange toaster, and I wanted to be able to say that I had done the Black Friday madness at least once in my life. It took approximately an hour and 15 minutes to buy the toaster and 2 small crock pots from the same collection. Actually finding and selecting the product was approximately 8 minutes of that experience; the rest was standing in line (in a cattle corral, no less) to get into the store or standing in a seemingly motionless line waiting to check out. That’s an experience I only have to have once. I looked closer at the ad when I got home and saw that the regular retail price on the toaster and crock pots was only $8 each. I hope I really enjoyed that extra 9 fucking dollars I had in my wallet; that hour and 15 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
The last couple of years there has been a lot of hubbub about “Gray Thursday” – stores that are pushing back their Black Friday openings earlier and earlier so that now many major retailers are open part if not all of Thanksgiving Day. This has become something of a controversy: what is our greed doing to the poor retail workers who have to leave their families and their turkey dinners to go schlep boxes and restock shelves to feed our culture’s endless desire for more stuff?
I sympathize, really I do. Let’s not forget that I worked at the mall for a decade, albeit before this whole “Gray Thursday” phenomenon. I totally get that retail workers sometimes end up stuck in some pretty shitty situations. Dealing with idiot shoppers on Black Friday is one of the shittiest; dealing with Canadian idiot shoppers on Black Friday should qualify a person for hazard pay on top of any holiday wages. Although my current job isn’t strictly retail, we are open on most major holidays and I have worked most of the holidays over the last year and a half (last year I had turkey dinner with my team at work). I’m not completely divorced from this whole debate.
But while I can be sympathetic to the less-than-ideal situation of retail workers being forced to work on Thanksgiving, I also find myself critical of the arguments against being open on Thanksgiving.
People say that it’s just another example of our worship of consumerism. And it totally is…but that’s what retail is. Retail is consumerism. Retail is about selling shit to people so that the company makes some money to buy more shit to put on the shelves to sell to more people. That’s how the system works. If people who work in retail do not understand that they are an integral part of the consumer system in this country, then they better Wikipedia some shit and get themselves edumacated. And yes, you can make the argument about feeding corporate greed and our obsession with materialism, but in case you haven’t read the financial section of the interwebs in the past 7 years or so, things aren’t the fast money and good times of the 80s. Consumer spending is up and down, and a lot of those “anchor store” chains that push shopping malls into earlier and earlier openings aren’t doing so hot. Many retailers are closing stores. Someone could have all of the family time they wanted if they were unemployed. But that’s also not the ideal situation.
I also think that a lot of the criticism of Gray Thursday is easy to make because the people making it aren’t impacted by it. Most of the people I know who don’t shop on Thursday of Thanksgiving weekend also don’t shop on Black Friday (HERE is a post by a blogger criticizing Gray Thursday – she opens by saying outright that she’s not a fan of Black Friday shopping either). And although I hear a lot of sympathy for the retail workers, I don’t hear much sympathy for the people who have to work at gas stations. Because the people who are complaining still want to be able to pop in at the last moment and get gas for their trip to the family celebration they are so interested in protecting. I mean, sure, most gas stations now have 24-hour card readers at the pump…but what would we do if we couldn’t get our latte and Doritos for the trip?! And I also don’t hear a lot of sympathy for the people who work at restaurants and have to serve food to the people whose families don’t cook, or who don’t have big festive celebrations to go to. Or sympathy for the hotel staff that have to work so that holiday travelers who can’t or don’t want to bunk in with the fam can have a soft bed and a hot shower. Or for the grocery store staff who usually have to work through the early afternoon so that those people with their big parties can pick up last minute items they forgot on their earlier shopping trips.
Call me cynical, but it seems like all of this criticism of Gray Thursday is pretty convenient; we all know (or should know) that except for a couple of the big “door-buster” deals (of which there are almost always miniscule quantities and obviously no waiting lists or rainchecks) there are deals in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and in the weeks after that are just as good if not better. Most of us can, and do, manage to find fantastic bargains for our holiday shopping without setting foot outside our doors. So criticizing retailers for Gray Thursday openings is easy – there is no impact to us if things were to change. But as I mentioned before, we don’t focus a lot of attention on those workers whose jobs we are more likely to benefit from on Turkey Day. If we forget to fuel up the night before and there isn’t a gas station open, then our family time might be ruined, and we certainly can’t have that. So those people have to miss out on family time for our convenience, and no one says anything. It’s hypocritical, but it’s just how our money-grubbing capitalist society works.
Did I go shopping on Gray Thursday? Sure did. Michaels had 60% off beading supplies, and that’s not a sale that comes around very often. 40% or 50% maybe, but rarely 60%. One of the nice things about Gray Thursday is that it spreads out the chaos a little bit…everything isn’t packed into a tiny window of a couple of hours early Friday morning. Hopefully there will be fewer accidents and injuries from people acting like idiots. Would it have broken my heart if I’d had to stay home and not shop on Thanksgiving Day? Not in the least. I would have had a very pleasant turkey-induced coma courtesy of my gourmand girlfriend, Nikki. She makes a mean homemade stuffing!
And that decision – to shop or not to shop – is at the heart of this whole discussion. If there weren’t people lined up outside these stores, they wouldn’t be opening in the first place. These greedy corporate fat cats that people like to direct their bile towards are not hiring ruffians to rouse innocent citizens from their homes at gunpoint and forcing them to shop. Remember Field of Dreams? “If you build it, they will come.” And they did: first the phantom baseball team and then the public. If Kevin Costner had carved a baseball diamond out of his corn crop and nobody had shown up, the movie would have just ended right there. He would have either kept on farming, or lost the farm and moved into town to work at Menards. But they did come, because what he was doing filled some sort of demand. Trim away all of the nostalgia for an earlier time and the Hallmark-y message about fathers and sons mending the mistakes of the past, that movie was very simply about supply and demand.
If businesses opened on Thanksgiving Day and no one showed up, they would never do it again. We as consumers are just as responsible for this new Gray Thursday as any boardroom CEO. We are constantly complaining to retailers that we want more products, more convenience, more options…and we want them NOW. And they’re giving them to us! If we want to have a conversation about family time and holidays and all of that, we need to be willing to talk about it in the larger sense, not just for those whose jobs may not affect us on that holiday, but for everyone who is impacted. Maybe once that conversation starts, I’ll be more likely to do my part and refuse to shop on Thanksgiving.
Unless Michael’s has another 60% off sale. You know this bitch can’t resist a good bargain.
Tags: Black Friday, Black Friday Sales, Consumerism, Family Time, Gray Thursday, holidays, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Michaels, Miss Jaye, Retail, Retail Workers, Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Day Sales, World of Champagne