Black Friday heals America’s nonexistent wounds

November 19, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

It’s good to realize, in times of international horror and savage bloodshed, when terrified refugees are fleeing impossible levels of violence we here in the States cannot possibly comprehend, when fundamentalist thugs murder hundreds in one the world’s most beautiful, historic cities (and in many other places this year, and even deadlier), when zealots are furious and bombs are flying, it’s good to note that America, a nation almost completely immune to these horrors and yet somehow also the most paranoid, reactionary and mal-educated of all, can still lean on its deepest values to find solace.

No, not from God, silly. Not from any church, or political rhetoric, or from baffled TV pundits or racist Republicans desperate for a new group to demonize.

It’s shopping, of course. Our balm, as always, comes from aggressive retail therapy writ large and hallowed beyond words, beyond suffering, beyond crushing credit card debt. It’s the American way, no?

Of course it’s true. Shopping – Black Friday in particular – is America’s truest religion, our biggest distraction and, next to fear and guns, our most rabid addiction. In a nation almost completely devoid of true history to call its own, we turn instead to our proud status as the world’s No. 1 consumer of goods and resources as the best evidence we can muster that All is Still OK Because Hey Look I Scored a Kindle for Twenty Bucks, So the Terrorists Lose Again.

Hurry! Because stuff!

Hurry! Because stuff!

Ah, Black Friday. Not just a manufactured event, not merely a warped form of worship at the glittering altars of capitalism, but a true rallying cry for a nation that has little else call its own.

Proof? That’s easy. Right now, freely interspersed among all the reports of the Syrian refugee crisis, the ISIS attacks and the heartbreak in Paris, you’ll find endless “stories” – advertorials, really – pointing you to the best deals, where to score this and what to look for in that, and how to prepare for the America’s Biggest Shopping Day That’s Already Underway.

Here’s the thing: They’re not actually stories. It’s not merely Target, or Walmart, or Amazon that bleat their regurgitated sales and reap the benefits of American gluttony, it’s also media, TV, magazines, news sites – you name it.

Just look around. Reporters and writers from every media outlet you can name (Time, NYT, CNN, Vox, Fox, Christian Science Monitor, on and on) are reduced to banging out “articles” and “gift guides” that have zero to do with actual human thought and merely shill Amazon’s best deals, or talk up when Macy’s will be opening its doors this year, or who’s offering the most killer “door busters” – a sad little term that refers to a deal so impossibly great, shoppers will actually smash down the door to get it. Don’t forget to bring a firearm! God bless America.

Call it the BuzzFeed Effect: It’s a state in which you, the lowly reader, can no longer tell what’s an actual, unbiased piece of authentic reportage, and what’s just more shameless whoring of content in service of making advertisers very happy indeed. (Advertorial = An ad disguised as actual content. AKA about 1/3 of BuzzFeed’s posts, like this and this and this).

Perhaps you’ve heard that Black Friday is dying off? That a handful of retailers are refusing to participate, or that there’s no longer a need to line up at Macy’s at 2:00AM after Thanksgiving dinner and willingly stab fellow shoppers with a fork to score the latest Star Wars toy, because you can get everything online now, pretty much whenever you want, and they’re not even really good deals anyway?

Only partially true. Black Friday has not at all vanished; it’s merely spread itself out, soaked into all media and infected much of the calendar year. It’s everywhere, all the time. Sometimes it goes into remission. You know, like an STD.

So while it’s true that you don’t have to line up like a chump at the mall at midnight (though tens of thousands will continue to do so, because it’s become a family tradition), that’s only because they now bait you endlessly, online, in stores, in dedicated apps, in mailers and news feeds, on Twitter, Facebook and instant message alerts. Does this mean fewer people will trample each other into raging pulp at a Texas Walmart this year? Maybe. But rest assured: the Church of Retail is by no means crumbling.

But don’t worry. You can still show you care about the state of the world. You can still show some love for Paris, while honoring America’s deepest tradition. Just order the “Pray for Paris” T-shirt. But hurry! This deal won’t last.

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Mark Morford

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