Saturday, November 24, 2012

Carnival in the USA

Josh Marshall, editor of the political site Talking Points Memo, can be a thoughtful kind of a guy. Here is what he has to say about Black Friday:

As I mentioned below we have our round-up below of all the craziest Black Friday behavior today. As I see this today and as it seems to have evolved over the last decade or so I’m starting to wonder whether Black Friday isn’t evolving into some modern day version of one of those old inversion festivals from the Middle Ages.

Back in the European Middle Ages and in many other societies around the world, there’s a tradition of social inversion festivals (see one example here). Basically it’s one day where everyone or many people have permission to act out and engage in all sorts of transgressive behavior, whether it’s sexual transgression or hierarchy transgression or anything else. The local fool gets put up on the throne, people in power get mocked, gender norms are parodied or turned upside down. Sort of every one get it out of their system for one day before going back to the old relatively-ordered society of the other 364 days a year.

These rituals seem very challenging to the status quo. Civil and church authorities eventually rooted them out in Europe in the 16th and 17th century. So they certainly thought so. But many sociologists would say they actually had the effect of entrenching hierarchy. Something similar to the imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.

There are obvious class dynamics to people lining up for deals and the ability to save money. But that’s not mainly what I’m thinking about. And if you see people lining up for their new Apple devices you know this isn’t just a Walmart phenomenon. I was out with my son on Thanksgiving morning and saw the barricades already set up around the local Best Buy and the first half dozen people sitting with their places in line and cracking jokes and eating sandwiches. My first thought was, Really? And then, I guess it’s kind of fun?

Now, I know you’re saying — and you’re right to be saying — don’t overthink this, Josh. When there’s only 5 half priced 60 inch flat screens left and there’s 12 people left in line, people just be crazy. And yeah, it’s mainly that.

But in recent years there seems to be at least a little bit more than that going on, maybe just a bit. Just like national consumerism freak flag fly day or maybe if you’ve got a little more aggression than most of us to get out of your system maybe this is your chance. Of course, the retailers also have a real stake and clearly try to maximize the frenzy and even a little craziness — at least up to the point of punches flying or someone pulling a gun.

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