I’m a capitalist. It’s not my religion, I won’t bow before its altar, I won’t kiss its ring, but I believe in capitalism. It’s an invention of man and it involves money, so it’s not perfect, but I’ve never heard anyone suggest a better system. So I’m a capitalist.
I am not, however, a consumerist. I like the freedom and innovation of capitalism; I loath the materialism and gluttony of consumerism. There’s a popular misconception that capitalism and consumerism are inextricably linked; that one naturally involves and requires the other. But this is a fallacy. Certainly the “stimulus” programs a few years ago ought to have dispelled this notion entirely. The government perverted the free market and elected to hand free money to millions of people, hoping that they’d go out and buy a bunch of stuff with it. This was consumerism at the expense of capitalism, and it revealed our priorities: forget freedom, forget principle — just buy stuff.
That’s our entire economic system: buy things. Everybody buy. It doesn’t matter what you buy. Just buy. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money. Just buy. Our entire civilization now rests on the assumption that, no matter what else happens, we will all continue to buy lots and lots of things. Buy, buy, buy, buy, buy. And then buy a little more. Don’t create, or produce, or discover — just buy. Never save, never invest, never cut back — just buy. Buy what you don’t need with money you don’t have. Buy when you’re happy. Buy when you’re sad. Buy when you’re hungry. Buy when you want to lose weight. Buy an iPhone. Six months have passed, here, buy another iPhone. Go online and buy things. Go to the mall and buy things. On your way, stop and buy some more things. Buy things for every occasion. Buy things to celebrate. Buy things to mourn. Buy things to keep up with the trends. Buy things while you’re buying things, and then buy a couple more things after you’re done buying things. If you want it — buy it. If you don’t want it — buy it. Don’t make it — buy it. Don’t grow it — buy it. Don’t cultivate it — buy it. We need you to buy. We don’t need you to be a human, we don’t need you to be a citizen, we don’t need you to be a capitalist, we just need you to be a consumer, a buyer. If you are alive you must buy. Buy like you breathe, only more frequently.
How appropriate, then, that a holiday created by our ancestors as an occasion to give thanks for what they had, now morphs into a frenzied consumerist ritual where we descend upon shopping malls to accumulate more things we don’t need. Our great grandparents enjoyed a meal and praised the Lord for the food on the table and the friends and family gathered around it. We, having slightly altered the tradition, instead elect to bum-rush elderly women and trample over children to get our hands on cheap TVs.
For a while, Black Friday and Thanksgiving coexisted. We thanked God for His blessings on Thursday, and then jumped into the consumer mosh pit at Best Buy on Friday. But this Black Friday-Thanksgiving marriage was tenuous and rocky from the start. It was doomed to fail. Thanksgiving offers tradition, family and contentment; Black Friday offers smart phones at drastically reduced prices. In America, we all know who wins that battle. So Black Friday, like a black hole, violently expanded; it absorbed the light that surrounded it and sucked everything into its terrifying abyss, where all substance is torn to shreds and obliterated. Black Friday could not be contained to a mere 24 hours. It is Consumerism. It wants more. It always wants more. Nothing is sacred to it; nothing is valuable. So, now, Black Friday has eaten Thanksgiving alive. Thanksgiving let out a desperate cry as Black Friday devoured its soul, but we barely noticed. It’s hard to hear anything when you’re wrestling 4,000 other people for buy one get one free cargo shorts at Old Navy.
Many of the big chain retailers will be opening during, or before, dinner time on Thanksgiving. Walmart, Kmart, Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s — all among the many electing to cannibalize Thanksgiving. Kmart will be open starting at 6 AM on Thanksgiving morning, offering great Black Friday deals for 41 straight hours. This is fortunate because I often walk into Kmart and think, “you know, the stuff in here just isn’t cheap enough.”
Will the Black Thanksgiving shopper carve a moment or two out of their busy bargain hunting schedule to break bread with their family and friends? Will they make it all the way through grace before dashing out the door, trading in tradition and merriment for cheap electronics and kitchen appliances? “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts yadda yadda — gotta go, Walmart opens in ten minutes!”
I’m willing to bet that the hoarding hordes descending upon shopping malls and retail outlets at 6pm on Thanksgiving, would, in a different context, likely speak quite solemnly about the dreaded “commercialization” of our national holidays.
Here’s a true story: a few days ago I had a conversation with a friend where we both lamented about the meaning and message of our important holidays being lost in a commercialized haze. Yesterday, this same friend posted on his Facebook page, excitedly announcing Best Buy’s earlier Thanksgiving opening time.
Yes, the man who hates the commercialization of holidays decided to become a commercial for the commercialization of holidays.
I admit, it’s easy for me to forgo Black Thanksgiving. Stay home, eat food, and drink beer, or wait in long lines at dreary shopping malls, fighting with strangers over half priced Blu-ray players? Not exactly a tough decision in my book. But even if I stumbled into some demented parallel dimension where the prospect of shuffling like a dead-eyed zombie through Target on Thanksgiving suddenly seemed appealing to me, I’d still pass. If for no other reason, this reason is reason enough: I’m not going to force some single mom to ring up my worthless purchases instead of enjoying Thanksgiving with her children.
These employees will be there, in their name tags and their vests, waiting on impatient mobs of customers while their families eat without them. They will be there with or without me. But I personally can’t be among the reasons why they will be there. I understand profit margins and competition, but I think these places ought to respect their workers enough not to rip them away from their kids during one of America’s most beloved holidays. And if I think that, I could not possibly go to one of these establishments and make them serve me.
Capitalism is great, but some things are greater. Family is greater. Yes, these folks choose to work at these stores. Yes, they likely knew when they signed up that they’d be sacrificing their Thanksgivings. Yes, at least they have jobs. Yes, sure, and so what? If that’s enough in your mind to justify participating in the destruction of a great American tradition — good for you. But you COULD wait until Friday, couldn’t you? And if you did wait until Friday, and if everyone waited until Friday, no store would ever open on Thanksgiving again, right? So you COULD take steps to protect Thanksgiving from the decay of materialism and consumerism, and, while you’re at it, give this wonderful holiday back to the customer service representatives who have been forced to abandon it and cater to the stampeding throngs, right?
Right, but then again, those skirts at JC Penny ARE super cheap.
Oh Lord, if you don’t go on Thursday to buy stuff, there might be slightly less stuff available on Friday! Think of the stuff! We must get all the stuff! The stuff must be purchased!
Family can take a backseat.
Tradition can wait.
These employees should just be grateful for the opportunity to stand behind a cash register for 14 hours while the rest of us eat our pies and drink our wine.
Thanksgiving is just a holiday.
But stuff, things, toys, gadgets — these are what life is all about.
Why give thanks for what you have when there’s so much you don’t have? That’s the new meaning of Thanksgiving: count your blessings, and then buy some more blessings and count them again.
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