Let us for a moment set aside whether the
historic figure named Jesus ever existed. Accepting the premise that
did and that, as Christians believe, "He" is always with them, what would
Jesus make of the events depicted in the U.S. national news about Black
Friday 2005? Would Jesus be shopping for great
bargains? Would he be party to the shopping frenzy? What would
Jesus do on Christmas? The day after Thanksgiving is the day when
U.S. consumerism triumphs and conspicuous consumption earns its title. It is
this day on which "even in the sleepy frozen north country of Vermont buyers
took the term 'early-bird shoppers' to new levels
Friday, lining up as early as 1 a.m. to wait for stores to open..."
(Rutland Herald 11/26/05). Consumers in my state of Vermont and across the United States are
damn serious about their shopping, especially when it comes to getting
the "gotta have" items.
Cindy Sheehan, the mom peace
activist who lost her son Casey in Iraq, returned to Crawford Texas where George
W. Bush was celebrating Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, much of America was engaged in the
annual pilgrimage to the mall. While Cindy protested the
brutal and illegal Iraq war, shoppers protested long lines at the
malls. Scott Krugman, from the
Washington-based National Retail Federation reports that Black Friday
2005 is "...the most promotional Black Friday we have seen." (CNN
11/25/06). Here is how good it got: Dozens of people in Cascade Township,
Michigan stepped on a woman that fell as they
rushed through doors that opened at 5 a.m. A man pushed shoppers to the
ground keeping others away from the ensuing entangled bodies.
Troubled Wal-Mart saw people rushing and falling on its wet floors.
In Orlando, Florida, a customer was wrestled to the ground by others when he cut into a
line of people waiting to shop. We are told that we must remember that the Christmas retail
buying season that runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving through the
end of the year is a most critical time. Who cares about Jesus and his
message of peace when business must exceed last year's profits?
After all, success for capitalists is the bottom line and a return into the
black must happen even if it means that people get hurt.
According to the National Retail
Federation (NRF), shoppers are expected to spend more than the $22.8
billion than they spent last year on this Black Friday weekend (CNN,
11/25/05). Imagine that. That is what it costs to keep the
Iraq war going for about 22 weeks. We plunge into the holiday
spending stupor as our compatriots continue killing and are being
killed. Operation Purchase appears to be our noble cause. While Iraqis
are slaughtered and our young people die for oil that powers
neo-liberalism, our citizens shop in Wal-Mart, Target, etc., that exploit
poorly paid workers
selling goods made in China, Mexico., etc. under slave labor
conditions. These manufacturing jobs and many others are U.S. jobs
that have been exported by the same neo-liberals who urge us to go into
debt in order to satisfy their lust for wealth.
God rest ye merry gentleman, let
nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satanís power when we were gone astray.
Just what is this "Satan's
power" that leads us astray? While I do not subscribe to
notions of the mythical adversary, Satan, parallels to corporate
global power, domination and hegemony are worthy of close
Imagine the scenario:
Jesus and his
twelve apostles are having a modest Thanksgiving dinner.
Paul asks, "Jesus.
What should we do tomorrow, Lord? It's Black Friday".
pitch for going to the Maul of Amerika, is resoundingly shot down by
Thomas shouting, "This is Buy Nothing Day! We should be protesting
participating - in the orgy of greed consumerism and conspicuous
Judas fires back, "This day is not Black
Friday. It is Green Friday where people in Capitalist
countries perform the ritual of worshipping our Lord, Jesus, by buying
gifts in His name that no one needs and that they cannot afford.
It's good business and it's good for business".
In unison, the apostles shout,
"Happy birthday, Lord". Jesus weeps as he realizes
neo-liberalism is co-opting his message of living simply so that
others may simply live.
While Jesus' message conveys
contentment with living a simple life, neo-liberalism markets a constant
dissatisfaction with life. Our looks, our clothes, our music,
toys, status, health, position, cars, food, possessions, body, family,
friends, etc., are never good enough. We never have enough. We are as church goers constantly
being sermonized to and falling for the
rhetoric of spending. We pray and shop our way back to personal
satisfaction but it never quite gets us there. Preachers know that their congregations are best
controlled through manipulated discontent. Preachers and
advertisers both tell us that they have the answers that offer respite from the
dissatisfaction with and the meaninglessness of life. That answer,
advertisers say, comes through the promise of a better if
only we consummate our relationship with neo-liberalism by buying
something. Wall Street offers us salvation within their temples of purchase where
its advertising promotes feeling good through spending.
We are programmed as religious adherents to so believe. The good feeling lasts
only briefly, however. As it must, for capitalism demands that its
profits through our discontent be perpetually renewed. This
neurosis is further exacerbated by the monthly arrival of the credit
card statements and their 23% or higher daily compounded interest rates.
We then once again
realize that we are incomplete. We are again compelled to go
out and buy something else to feel better again. Wall Street's promised land never
arrives but is always around the corner if we just succumb to trying and buying again.
The Wikipedia website notes that,
"some larger retailers (e.g. Toys R Us, Target Corporation, and
Best Buy) have begun referring to Black Friday as Green Friday because
the majority of events that have Black in their title are overwhelmingly
negative". The term Green Friday has a much better set of
corresponding values. And just what is it that the people are beating
up each other over on Black Friday? People are clobbering each
other in order to buy the video game machines such as Xbox and
PlayStation 2 and some of the most violent games ever produced.
back to the Jesus scenario above:
Judas returns from the Maul of
Amerika with one each Xbox and PlayStation gaming system. He must
after all have both.
Jesus asks Judas,
"Are you now
Judas answers, "Listen Jesus, not yet. I'm
wrapping these and a whole bunch of great games up and placing them
under the holiday tree as gifts to myself. Damn if I have to wait
until Christmas to play them!"
And so on the day that Christ
was "born" Judas like many Americans plug-in and play video
games like "Grand Theft Auto", "World of Warcraft",
"Halo 2", "Madden 2005", "Mortal Kombat",
etc. What a fitting tribute to Christmas where children play and
practice violence, war and death, after being given gifts purchased on
Black Friday. What goes around comes around as the saying goes.
The spirit of Christmas is as ephemeral as is peace on earth. The
profits, however, are immense. Dayana Yochim in "Cancel
Christmas" on the Motley Fool website writes, "Americans are
expected to spend $435 billion on holiday cheer, according to the
National Retail Federation. Its annual holiday spending survey found
that the average consumer plans to shell out $738.11 this season, a 5.1%
increase over last year." Yochim suggests ideas for saving
both "finances and sanity".
wing christo-facists like Pat Robertson have been making accusations
again that Christmas is being stolen. During his sermons in recent
years Pat Robertson declared, "We are winning the Christmas
war." Is this what America needs Pat, another war?
Perhaps, the Lord that Robertson worships is sick and tired of war.
What can one expect, however, from a follower of Christ that advocates
for the assassination of the legally elected president of Venezuelan, Hugo
Chavez? "We have declared war on the left..." says this
so-called man of God and follower of Christ.
The essayist Jon
Mooallen points out that, "The most demoralizing form of violence
that could visit a Christian right leader...is the violence of not being noticed." And so, everywhere we
go we find violence in one form or another. We are so use to
always attacking one another that any other reality is
unimaginable. There is an escape, however, as Dayana
Yochim suggests from
the madness of Pat Robertson, Black Friday, Xbox, PlayStation,
Christmas lights made in China, fruit logs, eggnog,
Hallmark greeting cards, shopping, shopping, shopping, and, buying,
buying, buying. And that is to opt out of it all. Once
again this year, Christmas will not exist for me just as Black Friday
has ceased to exist being transformed into Buy Nothing Day. I will be
neither accosted by the crowds at the shopping centers nor browbeaten by
the proponents of this so-called Christian holiday. As for Jesus,
he's taking a pass on celebrating his birthday as he is nowhere to
be found, again.
Well you know that it's going to be
I think it's gonna be alright
Everything will always be alright
When we go shopping
And never stop
Until we drop
It's never enough
Until you've got all the stuff
When the going gets rough
Just shop with somebody tough
from Barenaked Ladies, Shopping (partial lyrics)