One Black Friday celebrant attacked other consumers with pepper spray last night. Police called it - seriously - "competitive shopping."
Infocult wonders why anyone would voluntarily head to a store on this day. Is it greed? Bad scheduling? The allure of sales? Some weird festival feeling? No, the best explanationis: it's about fearing the internet.
How? Because it's a deliberate act of shunning the online world.
Consider: if the purpose of Black Friday is to buy up presents for Christmas etc holidays, that purpose is far more easily served by shopping online. Amazon, for instance, has fired up a series of sales for this dread weekend. A casual trawl across online shops presents many more price cuts and special deals. Over the next few weeks we'll see more of these. So shoppers can save money buying online.
Scheduling problems are also solved by purchasing online. If the mails are clogged horribly, it'll take a week to ship something to its destination... which means we still have several weeks remaining. Shoppers have plenty of time to strategize.
Some Black Friday defenders cite the face-to-face reminder of Thanksgiving dinner with folks othewise unseen. This misses the fact that the majority of Americans are online, and that the leading reason for using social media is to communicate with friends and family. So the reminders are there, online.
What remains to drive screaming hordes to hell-malls? Perhaps it's ignorance of online shopping. Some folks are still effectively offline. Others feel nervous about sharing credit information. That explaination might have worked in 2001, when Americans were still migrating into cyberspace in stages. But in 2011, internet usage is simply too widespread.
No, Black Friday is an act of deliberate resistance to the internet. It's a holiday from online life, a raucous celebration of face-to-face interaction. Black Friday is a return-to-the-mall-womb, a nostalgic riot for bygone pleasures. Black Friday claws back to an imagined social world before the Web's triumph. It's grounded in the ancient, 20th-century delights of shopping, of getting physical stuff right there, on the spot. It rejects the Web page in favor of the unopened food court. And millions do it! Nothing else but fear can motivate this movement at such a scale.
It's a doomed thing, of course. Some of the Black Friday celebrants put down their pepper spray and take photos, which they share on Facebook. Others text fellows in other malls, comparing prices. It's all documented in Web video. And all of it depends on networked digital media, from global credit systems to extended supply chains hauling tvs into Wal-mart.
Like the Society for Creative Anachronism, Black Friday is a historical reenactment, gleefully mixing fiction and reality, dependent on what it shuns in order to function. Its votives flock to crowded aisles in flight, shrieking in a delight just barely removed from terror.
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." - Lovecraft
(photo via jbhthescots)