Black Friday Experience Is So In Tents

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I went out for Black Friday, once, because we hoped to get a laptop for our daughter. Gini and I got up at 3 a.m. – “dark o’clock,” as we called it – groaning and complaining all the while.  We drove to Best Buy.  We discovered a line of people stretching around the block, like an impromptu city, families who’d clearly settled in for the long haul: tiny houses of tents with children sleeping inside, playing music on boom boxes, sitting in front of their reading books.  They’d brought equipment for the journey.  Some had coffee makers, space heaters, little generators.
We were clearly outmatched.  We went home.
A similar thing happened when Chik Fil-A opened up across the street from us: FIRST 100 CUSTOMERS GET FREE FOOD FOR A YEAR! And it was a bawdy thing, with a DJ playing Southern-fried rock, the same crowd of campers, looking quite enthused about the whole thing.  And when Piada opened up down the street with the same deal, again, that tiny town of patient waiters.
To me, Black Friday is an abomination.  It destroys the retail workers’ day off, encourages the worst kind of consumer behavior, and it’s not even a real deal.  (You frequently get better deals before or after; they jigger the numbers to make it look better.)
And before I started looking, I had always assumed that Black Friday shoppers were desperate poor people – the kind of folks who, if they couldn’t get that laptop for $399, they wouldn’t get it at all.  Why else would you be motivated to spent the night in the cold, waiting endlessly?
But what I suspect is that Black Friday and Opening Night have become codified experiences.  There’s people for whom Black Friday has become a tradition, a weird hunting expedition, where the entire family packs up and gets prepared and has all the fun of defeating this absurd challenge that capitalism has laid out for them.  For these guys, it’s a thrill to get the tent up and running, to stake out the good space in front of the store, to spit in the eye of what’s obviously intended to be an uncomfortably ugly experience and make it a place where there’s hot cocoa and laughing and dancing.
They bond.  And I’m absolutely certain that there are people who only exist as Black Friday Friends – they’ve staked out their turf at Best Buy every year, have a jolly rivalry with last year’s neighbors as this year they’re two spots closer to the door, exchange duties on McDonald’s runs as they go get the food.  The point isn’t whether it’s the best deal or not, the point is that they’ve beaten the system.
And I’m not sure how to think about that.  Viewed in that light, it actually seems kinda fun.  But the sort of people who have all of the equipment for the good tent and so forth are probably not the people who really need the deal, and so Black Friday becomes weirdly more abhorrent to me – you’re forcing all of these poor retail workers to leave their Thanksgiving dinner earlier and earlier so you can have the thrill of beating them.
Black Friday, one suspects, is actually a sports challenge wrapped in consumerism.  An endurance contest with a prize built in.  And that’ll just make it that much harder to eradicate as a tradition.

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