By Norman Fulkerson *
The biggest shopping day of the year, known as “Black Friday,” has now invaded the most family-centered holiday. The electrifying shop-till-you-drop excursion formerly began in the wee hours of the morning after Thanksgiving. It eventually crept up to midnight of the same day and this year stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Toys R Us opened at nine o’clock the same day. With barely enough time to digest the annual turkey dinner family members entered the consumer war zone.
The familial rules of civility and common courtesy enjoyed at dinner hours before are now replaced by a “dog-eat-dog” competition. The winners take home a coveted item whose perceived value was increased not by the essential excellence of the product as by three simple words, “while supplies last.” The losers are unable to see the futility of this consumer rat race. The object of their desire will, all too soon, sit idle on store shelves collecting dust as the next new gadget comes along.
This irrational and intemperate spending frenzy makes the book, Return to Order by John Horvat all the more important. It is exactly this “frenetic intemperance,” so prevalent during every Black Friday, that he points to as the primary cause of our economic woes.
“This intemperance is not just an economic problem,” Mr. Horvat explains, “but a moral and psychological dilemma that resides deep inside the soul of modern man that manifests itself in economy.”
American Version of the “Running of the Bulls”
The term Black Friday first came into existence in 1961. Its original negative connotation was linked to the traffic jams and pedestrian congestion that occurred on the busiest shopping day of the year. It later came to signify the period when retailers were finally able to turn a profit and go “into the black,” on their balance sheets.
Stores vying for customer’s attention offer reduced prices on a limited amount of the most coveted items. The key word here is limited or “first come first served,” which explains the insanely long lines. Then there are the infamous “door-buster” bargains which got their name because they lead consumers to both figuratively, and in some cases literally, bust the door down to get them. Such was the case at a Long Island, New York Wal-Mart in 2008.
The store was set to open at 5:00 AM but shoppers who had been waiting for hours began to get anxious, much like hungry piranhas at feeding time. The crowd of 2000 began screaming and chanting “push the doors in.” As the doors broke free from their hinges, Wal-Mart workers climbed atop vending machines “to avoid the horde.”1 A 34-year-old employee, Jdimytai Damour, was not so fortunate to escape the human tsunami. He was subsequently trampled to death as fellow workers and later police officers tried in vain to hold back the crowd.
Such a spectacle has led eyewitnesses to refer to this as the American version of the “running of the bulls.”2 The big difference is that the victims, lying helpless in a fetal position, are not gored by angry bulls but trampled by fellow human beings. Not much has changed since 2008. This restless state of spirit, in men who only think of gratifying their disordered passions, led to a string of similar abominations this year.
Shoppers Step Over Dying Man
A shopper at a Kmart in Sacramento, California was caught on tape threatening to stab anyone who tried to cut the line.3 Fellow customers laughed it off but police were called to the scene to prevent the situation from becoming ugly. A similar incident occurred at Sears in the South Park Mall in San Antonio, Texas where two customers got into a fight over merchandise. One man threw a punch, the other pulled a gun and pandemonium erupted causing a stampede which injured a third customer.4 A similar thing happened at a Wal-Mart in Tallahassee, Florida. Only this time threats were followed by action when two people were shot outside the store over a dispute for a parking spot in a busy area.5
A woman trying to improve her chances to buy cheap electronics at a Wal-Mart in Los Angeles, California came armed for battle also. When things got hot she chose to pepper spray fellow shoppers.6
The most striking example of black Friday frenetic intemperance was the callousness of shoppers at a Target in South Charleston, West Virginia. Mr. Walter Vance was among them, buying Christmas decorations, when he got sick and fell to the floor. Those around him simply kept on shopping; some even went so far as to step over the top of his lifeless body7 as they continued their search for a bargain. Finally Kimberly Rowland, a nurse stopped and unsuccessfully tried to revive him. He was eventually taken to the hospital where he died of a heart attack.
Sue Compton, an employee of Mr. Vance, described how he treated them all “like family.” Choking back tears she asked, “Where is the good Samaritan side of people?”8 She was simply unable to understand how people could walk by and do nothing and wondered if it was greed.
“This Is Not for the Faint of Heart, This Is a War”
“It’s not just greed or ambition,” Mr. Horvat explains in Return to Order. “They have existed throughout history. Rather it is an explosive expansion of human desires beyond the normal bounds and leads man to scorn or even resent restraint.” Sadly this has lead to the type of behavior which changes many Americans from Dr. Jekyll at Thanksgiving dinner to an almost unrecognizable Mr. Hyde after the sun sets.
In a more rural Owensboro, Kentucky, things were more subdued. Nevertheless, one could not help see the same frenetic intemperance driving people on. Lana Browder from McLean County braved the long lines at Target and admits saving a buck is not her main incentive for returning every year. “It’s the excitement,” she said, with a characteristic southern accent. “This is not for the faint of heart, this is a war.”
Sheila Jarboe, a homeschooling mother from Red Hill, Kentucky knows this all too well. She recalled the time she strategically placed her ten-year-old son Jeremiah by a door buster sale bin at Wal-Mart. As employees ripped the plastic off, his little eyes grew wide and a look of panic came across his tender face. He was nearly crushed by the throng and feared he might not survive the melee.
“My son almost died for this?” Mrs. Jarboe reflected.
She no longer braves the crowd and is wise for refraining. A Wal-Mart employee at that same location described some of the behavior he has witnessed during his nine years at the store. “I saw someone spit in the face of another,” he said, “and I also observed exasperated customers taking a Wal-Mart employee and putting her in a garbage bin then placing the lid on top.”
Black Friday is merely one example that illustrates the harmful effects of “frenetic intemperance.” Cheap supplies are not the only thing running short these days, simple charity is also. More than bargain, what we are in greater need of is a serious “Return to Order.”
2 Originating in Pomplona Spain, this marks the beginning of bull fighting season and involves running in front of a small group of bulls towards the city arena.