Friday, November 29, 2013

Be Part of the 'Black Friday' Herds? Hell NO!

I watched with mouth agape on the CBS News this morning as Thanksgiving Day shoppers bashed each other in Florida to get some limited desired product. Their antics reminded me of the words of Erik Larsen in his book The Naked Consumer  , p. 167.   that "consumers" crowded into small spaces for limited buys emulated a herd of panicked cattle. Or "mindless sheep". 

Well, that means some 33 million Americans mutated into herds and "mindless sheep" yesterday - Thanksgiving Day - as they stormed big box stores and fought over TVs, Xboxes, Notebooks and what not.  Hmmmm......what does it show? That too many are prepared to destroy a day for family conviviality (so long as politics is avoided) to grab some more "stuff" they probably can't fit into their abodes anyway.

This morning I saw similar mobs massing toward the local Kohl's as I went on my usual morning brisk walk. They were likely among the played idiots that believe getting a 30% markdown is a "bargain" despite the fact that stores typically rig prices to process 30 percent as a net win. As Rebecca Jarvis reported on her news segment two days ago, shoppers would need to get at least 40-50% off to make any real gain. But illusions reign in the American consumer's head.

In another take, the scenes of shoppers run amuck this morning reminded me of  teens in the midst of a rock frenzy (like the infamous Stones' appearance at Altamonte, CA decades ago.)  Out of control, without any semblance of reason, proportion or judgment. This is backed up by Benjamin Barber author of : 'CONSUMED: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole'- which ought to be required reading for everyone.  Barber documented how consumption infantilizes Americans.

Rather than being wary citizens, attending to how our gov't is cutting our rights by surveillance, etc. we have been infantilized to just consume.....and it has to be the right brand. Let's get that new Ipad! Let's get that new  smart phone, HDTV or X-box video game!  We've descended into virtual babies with nappies as we've gotten toy after toy and embraced the "Gimme!" idiom. Barber demonstrated how this rampant consumerism degrades a whole society to limit its civic role and attention, and ultimately lose participatory democracy the corporatocracy. (The Neoliberal imperative, of course, applauds this.)

An even more trenchant take on the devolution of the American citizen to "consumer' is provided by Neil Postman in his book,  The Disappearance of Childhood’ . In his Chapter Seven ‘The Adult Child’, Postman lays out a summary of his thesis on the disappearance of childhood (and adulthood)  in tandem with what it has evolved (devolved?) into after the emergence of video culture. Basically his premise is video culture puts children and adults on the same mental footing, with the net effect of regressing the adult to the child level.  In the 50s adults read books like Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"  and children watched "Mickey Mouse Club" and Davy Crockett.  Today both play Xbox games, work Ipads and tweet. Where's the distinction? The adult had become melded with the child.

Postman defined a number of truly adult attributes which include:

- A capacity for self-restraint

- A tolerance for delayed gratification

- A sophisticated ability to think sequentially and conceptually

- A preoccupation with both historical continuity and the future

- A high valuation of reason and hierarchical order

He then goes on to warn that as electronic (visual) media have assumed center stage “different attitudes and character traits come to be valued and a new, diminished definition of adulthood begins to emerge”. This new stunted version of the adult which reaches its apotheosis (nadir?) in the adult child has arrived with the television-video- computer- Twitter age which flattens out all differences between all ages.

What I beheld this morning with store mobs pushing and shoving and running over each other to grab an Xbox or Ipad showed me 6' tall, 190 lb. "children" who lacked every one of the attributes above. As I envisaged the future I can see not only that Thanksgiving will be sacrificed to consumer culture but probably Halloween in the next round.

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