For a thing that didn’t really exist until 2005 and even then was sort of a joke, Cyber Monday, the day when bargain-hunting shoppers swarm online sales for deals, has become an actual day in the American retail calendar.
This year, the Monday after Black Friday’s notorious early morning sales was expected to see a record $1.2 billion in sales, a 20 percent increase on last year. That figure will round out the record sales seen over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend: Starting Thursday night and continuing through Sunday, 226 million consumers spent a record $52.4 billion, up 16 percent from $45 billion last year. The whole thing appears to be morphing into one long, five-day carnival of consumerism, leaving more than a few observers wondering if this recession-denying trend will continue through the end of the Christmas season and still others moaning about American avarice.
Perhaps the best thing about so-called Cyber Monday is that nobody gets hurt: From waffle iron riots to pepper spray, Black Friday marred by violence.
Black Friday is ‘mindless consumerism’, but Cyber Monday gets a pass? “Each year, Black Friday is plumbed for symbols of American decline and avarice. Oh, look at the riffraff with their Wal-mart pepper-sprayings and $2 waffle iron riots! But now it’s Cyber Monday, which is so cool and new,” pointed out Adrian Chen at Gawker. Ultimately, both are just excuses for Americans to spend themselves deeper into debt, buying “Slightly-Cheaper Useless Sh*t”, though Black Friday’s riots make for better copy than Monday’s quiet frenzy of clicking. What’s the message, then? “Be a mindless consumer: Just don’t try too hard while you do it.”
What have we learned from all this shopping? Brad Tuttle, writing at TIME, examined the wreckage of the five-day shopping spree and found a few things: People like shopping at midnight on Thanksgiving (perhaps it gives them a chance to avoid familial unpleasantness at the dinner table?); they’re happy to splurge both in store and online; and they’re increasingly using their credit cards to do it.
Not actually good for the economy. While good sales numbers may look promising, they’re not actually an indication of the health of America’s economy – in fact, it may be the opposite, given how many people were evidently so desperate for deals they turned to violence to get them. USA Today noted that the last record-breaking Black Friday was in 2008, in the depths of the recession. CNN Money explained that it’s too early to tell whether the momentum of the weekend will carry shoppers through the Christmas season: Pointing again to 2008, Jessica Dickler reported, “[T]hat bright start to the 2008 holiday shopping season was then followed by a steep slump in spending as many shoppers sat the rest of the season out. In fact, 2008 turned out to be one of the worst holiday seasons on record, with consumers’ concerns about the economy ultimately crushed their shopping spirits.”
Austerity or profligacy? Rioting either way. It’s a strange thing, this “modern condition”, Joel Achenbach mused at his blog at The Washington Post: “We’re supposed to spend money to improve economies wrecked by profligacy.” The irony is in newspaper front pages, featuring articles about Black Friday next to articles on the European financial crisis, as Europeans riot against austerity measures: “People are marching in the streets. Or should they just shop?? You see how I’m confused.”
Black Friday drove people crazy. Amid all the denunciations of Black Friday madness as a symptom of America’s decline, at least one writer wondered if it was indeed madness. “America’s addiction to cheap crap from China reached new depths during this year’s Black Friday shopping frenzy,” wrote Douglas Robb at Hive Health Media, pointing to the spate of injuries and rioting that seems afflict Wal-Marts especially. “According to the Contagion Theory, crowds exert a hypnotic influence over their members. Shielded by their anonymity, large numbers of people abandon personal responsibility and surrender to the contagious emotions of the crowd. A crowd thus assumes a life of its own, stirring up emotions, and driving people toward irrational, even violent action. Sounds crazy to me.”
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