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I Love In-Person Black Friday, and I Already Miss Its Chaos

Among the throngs of deal-seekers willing to drop-kick each other for an under-market-value television, you will find the capitalist id in its purest form

Our Thanksgiving op-eds have been coated in butter and dunked in a barrel of boiling oil. Now our house is on fire. But nothing, nothing will convince us otherwise. So pass the alcoholic gravy — here are our deep-fried holiday takes.

I’ve never seen a stampede at a Best Buy on Black Friday before, but I wish I had. 

I won’t get it this year, with in-store sales largely reduced or shuttered altogether as the nation weathers a brutal spike in COVID-19 infections. A year free of people swarming into department stores like a zombie hoard, stumbling and sprinting toward a pyramid of PlayStations? No stampedes, no screaming, no pepper spray or throwing of holiday hands? It’s impossible to imagine in America, frankly, but here we are.

You may be relieved that in 2020, fewer functioning adults will reduce themselves to quivering masses of pure consumerist rage and anxiety, but for me, there’s always been something alluring about witnessing this facet of the human spirit. I actually used to wake up for Black Fridays at the mall, and relished participating, too. It started in high school, when my friends and I would meet in the predawn cool and grab too-sweet coffees from Starbucks before lining up at places like Sears and Best Buy.

We never had enough money to buy anything of note, but it felt like genuine entertainment to race around, debating the best deals and picking up stocking stuffers. I always got a good laugh from watching aggressive shoppers, especially when they attempted clumsy overtakes of other people who dared stand in their way. I knew better than to hover near high-value targets. It’s like dealing with a mama bear: You don’t want to stand between her and her cubs, and so it was for the middle-aged shoppers I saw jogging toward me, eyes glinting with frantic energy. I had no need for an iPad, anyway. 

It was much better just to soak in the human condition under the pressure of capitalism, wondering if Plato ever could’ve imagined that people would trample others while trying to obtain a fucking Furby. Not that I was really above any of it. I felt the tidal pull of Black Friday, too. It’s a seductive thing, mixing our ever-present sense of consumer FOMO with the promise of special discounts not possible at any other time of year. Staring at that cherry-red SALE tag kind of feels like you’re getting away with something, and the blitzkrieg of ads around Black Friday is designed to overwhelm you with that sensation. Despite my claims of austerity, it’s not a coincidence that I still bought more stuff, especially dumb tech trinkets, during this weekend than any other time. 

It takes effort to resist this pull, and it’s especially hard when American capitalism is designed with the illusion of competition and meritocracy. When you really want a PS5, you feel like you deserve it — and when Black Friday operates as a seeming real-life adaptation of Supermarket Sweep, where the fastest and most aggressive can win the literal prize, it’s no wonder it awakens savagery in an otherwise docile populace. We’ve been tested and primed for this all of our lives, subconsciously and otherwise. It almost makes you forget that you’re still the one paying the price at the end. 

Like I said, I never saw a stampede, a fist fight or even a good ol’-fashioned tug-of-war over a box with my own eyes; I suppose people really are more chill in Hawaii, where I grew up. I recall things getting a little more heated in California during my college years, when I dropped into malls in L.A. and got jostled around. Mostly, I recall seeing people hypnotized by the ecstacy of commerce. Black Friday is the perfect trigger for what researchers call “anticipated regret” — the feeling that the opportunity in front of you is so good that you’ll kick yourself later for not jumping on it. And when you buy one item, the brain craves another, and another. Brands know this, and lure people inside with discounted items that serve as loss leaders, knowing enough people will end up grabbing other, pricier items out of instinct. 

Thus, the mall buzzed all day long with the excitement of people on the high of a win at the register. But who really won? 

I couldn’t judge. I’ve done the same shit, whether by waiting hours in line for concert tickets or desperately setting up multiple computers in a bid to get a coveted table at a fine-dining restaurant. So I guess this year, I miss participating in Black Friday more for the self-flagellation than anything else: Behold the folly of man, as you pay $35 for a $60 Xbox controller that was made for $6 in Wuhan by suicidal workers

The chaos of in-person Black Friday is maybe the most illuminating, unfiltered showcase of the human condition under the pressure of capitalism — the id of the scarcity mindset, if you will. I don’t get the same moral reflection when I press the online “checkout” button while sitting at home, no matter how good the deals are. So with any luck, I’ll be back at the mall next season, waiting to see how we behave in the post-pandemic haze. 

Which is my favorite deal.

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