29 November 2013

America the depressing

Yeah, I know, bemoaning Black Friday is something of a blogging cliché, but it really is dreadful and depressing, and it seems to get worse every year.  This time we didn't even have to wait for the actual Friday for the squalid spectacle of stampeding and fighting to start up, as businesses large and small forced employees to work on Thanksgiving (or even stay late Wednesday) to help scrabble even more millions in shabby profits into the already-bulging coffers of the one percent, though at least one person fired for refusing to cooperate was reinstated after a public outcry.  It's enough to give you a sneaking dark feeling that Lenin was right and we should take advantage of the terrific deals Mall-Wart is doubtless offering on ropes so we can..... Well, maybe it's not necessary to go that far.  Three states in the most civilized corner of the country took action to protect workers, and the idea may spread.

But while heartless greed comes naturally to the super-Scrooges of the modern world, I don't see what's in it for the hordes of shoppers who make it all possible.  Are a few bucks in discounts really worth all that stress?  Is it really worth lowering yourself to the level of a pack of starving dogs fighting over a bone so you can save a grubby few bucks on some mass-produced consumer product?  You do realize that the oligarchs who own these chain stores, who make more money (off you) in a day than you do in a year, are laughing at you?  Almost anything can be ordered over the internet these days.  Even if it costs a bit more, isn't your dignity worth something?

Finally, this time of year makes me more glad than ever that I'm not a Christian.  To anyone who takes Christmas seriously as a Christian holiday (which it actually isn't, of course), the commercialism, one-upmanship, mania for material possessions, and sheer vulgarity that have developed around it must make the most depressing time of year even more so.

I'll leave you with a new patriotic song for the age of quashed hopes and lowered expectations:

Not even all of this really bears close examination any more -- I don't know about the Italian cheese reference, but you might want to compare actual food-safety standards in Europe (or Japan) nowadays with those here, and I'm sure readers could think of many other examples.

But there are people working to change things.  Maybe someday the people squabbling over the latest i-whatever will look up, rise up, and join them.


Blogger Ahab said...

I flatly refused to leave the house on Thanksgiving, and slept in this morning, for this reason. Why should we shop on a particular day just because retailers tell us to?

Compelling employees to work on a beloved holiday is unethical, and I hope it doesn't become a long-term trend.

29 November, 2013 09:01  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

I wonder how many of the people forced to work retail on Thanksgiving were just simply happy to have a job? The stock market has largely rebounded from the hit it took on 2006-8, good news for the 1%, yet unemployment and wages remain stagnant. And here we are still pinning our hopes on an economy based on consumerism?

I think Robert Reich said it best a few years ago when he claimed that corporate America wasn't only laying off their workforce, they were also laying off their own customers.

29 November, 2013 17:24  
Anonymous Zosimus the Heathen said...

While we don't have Thanksgiving here in Australia, much of this post still resonated with me, as we have our own equivalent of Black Friday* - the post-Christmas sales - with the same attendant craziness. I remember one year (way back at the end of 1992), things got so bad during the post-Christmas sales that I seem to recall legislation being passed to try and curb some of the worst consumer behaviour. For example, there was the guy who bragged (on national television!) about tackling an old woman who'd gotten to something he wanted before he had, and prying said item from her fingers; and the person who lost a finger (or maybe it was just the tip of one) while fighting over a fridge that had been ridiculously discounted (I think one of the things the aforementioned legislation decreed was that shops couldn't try and incite consumer hysteria by providing ridiculous discounts on expensive items that were in limited supply). Oh, and then there was the woman who camped out in front of one of the entrances of a big department store for days beforehand, so she'd be the first one inside when the store opened for the sales, only to find the store opening another entrance first; as I recall, she actually tried to sue the store over that!

Depressingly, while we had quite a few public holidays here when the shops couldn't be open, big business has succeeded in pressuring our respective state governments to rescind the trading bans on most of those holidays (after all, we can't have the state interfering with the all-important religion of TRADING now, can we?). Even Anzac Day, which is akin to a religious holiday here, and which used to be considered the one day of the year when shops most definitely could not be open, has become a victim of the above trend. Yay for "progress"!

Stories of store employees being forced to work on Thanksgiving also resonate uncomfortably with me, as I've a feeling that similar shit happens here. It definitely did during the (mercifully few) years when an odious piece of (now thankfully revoked) industrial relations legislation called WorkChoices was in effect. The brainchild of our former prime minister John Howard (who was a good buddy of George Dubya), it was one of the most Orwellian pieces of legislation ever to be foisted on this country. While its name sounded all very upbeat, in reality the only "choice" it offered most employees was "Sign this crappy new contract (one that slashes your pay and takes away most of your previous workplace protections), or go look for another job!" And, yeah, there were many horror stories of it allowing employers to force their staffs to work on public holidays, at the normal rate of pay! It also led to the ironic situation of the PM whining that we'd all lost sight of the "true meaning of Christmas", just after that aforementioned legislation of his had effectively turned the celebration into just another working day!

*BTW you won't believe how disappointed I was when I found out what that phrase meant. It sounded so delightfully sinister and evil that it was a real let-down to learn that it was only referring to a stupid shopping day!

29 November, 2013 18:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ahab: They're always probing to see what they can get away with. It won't become a long-term trend if we take action to stop it (as those three states have).

Robert: That's true, it's still very tough for people to stand up for themselves when unemployment is so high. No doubt that's part of why Republicans have always blocked any stimulus of adequate size, and pushed for cuts like the austerity policies which have driven unemployment in Europe to Depression levels.

Zosimus: If they're willing to pass legislation to tackle the problem, at least that's a start. The absurdities you mention sound like the kinds of things that could happen here.

Part of the effect of mass commercialization of everything is that the holidays have become interchangeable and drained of meaning. You can hardly tell one holiday from another -- it's all the same mall sales and pushy ads. Military holidays like Anzac day do get more respect (in the US too), but big retailers will always try to debase them as well, if only out of fear that someone else will make more money by doing so first.

I don't know a lot about Australian politics, but some of your right-wingers seem disquietingly similar to ours in the worst ways -- global-warming denialism and kowtowing to big business and such.

30 November, 2013 02:56  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

I'm freezing my fingers and toes here in below zero Massachusetts, but when I read this:

While in other parts of the country retailers will offer holiday deals starting Thursday, most big stores in Rhode Island, Maine and Massachusetts are barred by law from opening on the holiday. It's the legacy of so-called "blue laws," which prohibit large supermarkets, big box stores and department stores from opening on Thanksgiving.

That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and I forget the uncivilized weather and concentrate on how this sort of law keeps me hopeful for this country. After all Massachusetts led the country in its decision to treat all people equally under the law when they choose to marry. And that's spread to what? 16 other states now?

Give it time, and perhaps those three New England states will inspire the rest of the country.

30 November, 2013 11:56  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: I'm hoping they will. I never liked blue laws in general -- stores being required to close in Sunday (as they still are in some European countries), for example -- but something has to be done about this degrading exploitation.

01 December, 2013 02:51  
Anonymous Zosimus the Heathen said...

I don't know a lot about Australian politics, but some of your right-wingers seem disquietingly similar to ours in the worst ways -- global-warming denialism and kowtowing to big business and such.

Yeah, I've noticed a bit of global-warming denialism over here, both among the newspaper columnists and other influencers of public opinion, and regular folk (I've seen the odd bumper sticker denying that AGW is real, for example). To me, it's fast becoming like creationism as a reliable indicator of crankdom.

As you noted, there's also a lot of kow-towing to big business among the right-wing here; indeed, one of the criticisms of that WorkChoices legislation I mentioned was that it denied Australian workers rights that even US workers had (it pretty much abolished collective bargaining, for example).

On the positive side, religion doesn't play nearly as big a role in politics here as it does in the US; for example, politicians here generally aren't expected to bang on and on about how much they love Jeeeeeeezus when running for election (indeed, any who did would probably be viewed with suspicion by the members of their respective electorates). That said, there have been some disturbing trends, such as periodic pushes to have Intelligent Design taught in school science classes. Something for us to be vigilant about, I suppose!

01 December, 2013 04:12  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Yeah, I've noticed a bit of global-warming denialism over here, both among the newspaper columnists and other influencers of public opinion, and regular folk (I've seen the odd bumper sticker denying that AGW is real, for example).

This seems pretty clearly the influence of the anti-science element of the American right wing. It crops up here and there in Britain too, but doesn't seem to have caught on anywhere else (English-speaking countries are more susceptible to American influences).

On the positive side, religion doesn't play nearly as big a role in politics here as it does in the US

Thank goodness for that. Here, it will be a while before we have an openly-atheist leader like Gillard.

02 December, 2013 02:55  
Anonymous Zosimus the Heathen said...

The weird thing here is that one prominent global warming denier is a guy called Ian Plimer, a geologist who's a vocal critic of creationism, and who once (in)famously invited Duane Gish to risk electrocution by touching a live wire (after all, he pointed out, electromagnetism is "just" a theory too). The one good thing I will say about global warming deniers, though, is that, unlike creationists, they at least don't tell you that you're going to burn in hell if you disagree with them!

02 December, 2013 04:05  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Zosimus: I suppose there are always exceptions, especially since AGW denialism isn't rooted just in religion. The two denialisms are increasingly linked, though, at least in the US.

By the way, since in your autobiographical post you spoke of a "terror of death", you might find this of interest.

02 December, 2013 06:22  

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