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culture

My favorite Black Friday tradition? Complaining about Black Friday.

<!––>It’s Black Friday—the highest of high American holidays.

For years, I puzzled about the traditions that have built up around the start of the holiday shopping season. “Who in their right mind,” I wondered, “would willingly wake before dawn to stand outside in sub-freezing temperatures, on the off chance that they might score a slight discount on a terrible TV set?”

And so I scoffed at the plebian masses, standing in line for the right to be the first to sprint into their local Wal-Mart. I shook my head sagely when the local news aired videos of shoppers trampling and berating each other to get their hands on the latest disposable toy. I rued the erosion of a family-oriented holiday and derided retailers who opened their doors on Thanksgiving evening.

Looking back, I relished my own Black Friday tradition: complaining about Black Friday.


Alas, I gave up my right to sneer at early holiday shoppers a few years ago—when I became one of them.

Back in 2013, at the height of the iPad’s popularity, Target announced a killer Black Friday deal: $20 off, plus a $100 gift card. I had been hankering to join the “post-PC revolution” this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

But to snag the discount, I would need to show up, in person, at the local Target outlet at 6 PM on Thanksgiving itself. With some embarrassment, I explained to my wife that I would be slipping out to shop. (Fortunately for me, she was more amused than annoyed.)

The shopping sojourn went as planned. I bought the tablet without incident; no sprinting or elbows required. I even sort of enjoyed the cultural experience—chatting up other people in the line as we waited for the doors to fling open. Power-walking through the store to the electronics department. Clutching my hard-won prize on the victory walk back to the car. Most of all, I felt a strange kinship for my fellow shoppers, who like me saw fit to celebrate the Day of Gratitude by buying more stuff.

As the Black Friday fever subsided, though, I found that I had lost more than I gained. I never really found a good use for the iPad itself. (For me, tablets have always fallen “into the cracks” between devices: worse for portable usage than a phone and worse for “real work” than a laptop.) In the ensuing months, I couldn’t really justify going to such lengths to secure a device I barely ever used.

The lost money and squandered family time are bad enough. But I have a more poignant regret about my participation in Black Friday mania: I lost any credibility as a couch critic of America’s bizarre shopping celebration. How can I sneer at the “mindless hordes” gathering outside the nearest Best Buy when I’m one of them? ■

Categories
apple culture

Why Apple’s retail stores make me nervous

I grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a city with an ignominious reputation as a place where the rich abuse the poor. There are two infamous examples: first, a devastating, deadly flood in the 1800s, literally caused by the negligence of wealthy country clubbers. Second, the calamitous collapse of Johnstown’s manufacturing economy, caused by the steel industry’s decline. Tens of thousands of local workers lost their jobs.

As I was growing up in the 80s, Johnstown’s steel mills were shuttering en masse. Robbed of its primary industrial driver, the town imploded in slow motion. Retail decay was everywhere: once-bright storefronts patched with plywood. A deserted downtown. The closest grocery market transforming into a half-empty thrift store. Everywhere you shopped, things felt old and broken. Dingy, cavernous, fluorescent-lit spaces became the norm.

Uncomfortable luxury

Maybe that’s why Apple’s luxurious, meticulously-maintained retail spaces make me nervous. Its outlets resemble high-end, big-city fashion boutiques, more than they do the Rust Belt K-Marts of my youth. For lower-middle class consumers (like me), the Apple Store is the ritziest retail experience they’ve ever encountered—let alone shopped at.

Don’t get me wrong; I can appreciate a carefully-designed space like Apple’s new Chicago store. It’s gorgeous, thanks to its riverfront location, its two-story window wall, and its premium materials (e.g. a carbon-fiber roof and the familiar bleached-wood product tables).

But every time I visit an Apple retail shop, I feel guilty. I can’t help but think, “I’m paying for this experience. Apple’s charging me extra so that they can afford their premium real estate, massive video walls, and all-glass staircases.” That luxury feels like a waste and makes me second-guess my unswerving brand loyalty. “Maybe,” I think, “These products aren’t meant for people like me.”

That’s one reason I prefer buying my Apple devices online. It’s not just about convenience; it’s about willful ignorance. By skipping the manicured Apple retail store, I can overlook the ways that the Apple lifestyle grates against my childhood experience. ■

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culture Uncategorized

‘Black Friday brawl videos are how rich people shame the poor’

Luke O‘Neil, writing in the Washington Post:

Once the shopping public falls for [the Black Friday deals], a privileged segment of the population sits back and dehumanizes them for its collective amusement. Look at these hilarious poor people, struggling to take advantage of a deal on something they might not otherwise be able to afford on items that we take for granted.

Which is more grotesque: the surging mob of rabid deal-hounds, or the sneering, privileged audience cheering them on?

Ridiculing Black Friday shoppers is not just cruel—it’s hypocritical. After all, the wealthy have their own capitalist rituals. Consider the Apple fan determined to preorder the new iPhone at the earliest opportunity. Like a mall shopper on Thanksgiving night, he forgoes sleep to snag choice merchandise. Glowing blue screens light the lonely scene: a grown man, dressed only in underpants, hunched over his keyboard, obsessively hitting ‘Refresh.’ He forks over more cash on a single purchase than most Black Friday shoppers spend all night—and he spends it entirely on himself. Next year, when Apple announces the next iPhone, he’ll do it all again.

That’s at least as pitiful as the surging hordes on Black Friday. Leave aside the (relatively rare) mob scenes. At least Black Friday is a communal experience. These uber-shoppers hit the mall with friends and family. They endure the ordeal together—the long lines and the bleary eyes and the freezing temperatures and the inevitable missed deals. It’s a shared experience and (before long) a fond memory. They’ll laugh about their silly adventure over Christmas—when they exchange gifts they bought for each other.

Categories
Life technology Uncategorized

Amazon Prime: the rural escapee’s best friend

When we moved to rural West Virginia last year, we knew the remote location would pose some challenges. There aren’t many doctors nearby, for example. It takes an hour to reach the nearest hospital. We drive twenty-five miles just to get our oil changed.

But the biggest headache? Shopping. Like all good Americans, we had grown accustomed to certain “retail conveniences.” Groceries stores with decent produce. Outdoor stores catering to our taste for adventure. And, of course, Big Box Mart for everything else. But our little mountain town boasts none of these niceties. It takes forty minutes to reach the nearest shopping center.

Amazon Prime to the rescue. For $79 a year, we can have just about anything delivered—for free—to our doorstep. We’ve ordered household items (e.g. an adapter for our grill), food (especially dry goods, like cereal and dried cranberries), clothes, backpacking gear, car parts, vitamins… and all that in the last few months. Most of these items simply aren’t available anywhere near where we live.

We could make rural life work without Amazon, of course. Build up a shopping list, then buy our crap when we’re out of town. But with Prime, household life rolls on here, pretty much like it would anywhere else.