Black Friday is an interesting time to observe the gaps between the well-off and the “Jams” (that’s families that are 'just about managing') in our society. Newspapers and websites publish articles explaining where and how to get the best deals, swiftly followed by picture-compilations of queues down the road, crushes to get into shops and people fighting over the last flatscreen TV with 50 per cent off its original price.
Shoppers are told exactly where to go and how to get the best deals – and then laughed at by the nation’s voyeurs for partaking in this retail version of the Hunger Games.
This isn’t about pointing out the onward march of consumerism, it’s about mocking those who participate. Of course many of Black Friday’s middle class “savvy shoppers” are just there for a seasonable bargain, but the annual event is more important to those who finally have the chance to buy “essentials”, and the odd luxury, at a price they can actually afford.
Our society is extremely superficial. Who has the biggest TV, the smartest house, the best clothes? We are pitted into competition against one another to be “the best”, but the best is judged almost entirely by what we have. If you have little money, it’s impossible to compete.
For families with children, the pressure to “keep up” is amplified, particularly considering our obsession with expensive technology. Children are using tablets and smart devices from the earliest years of primary school – and everyone expects to have their own. The competition to be “the best” on the playground rivals the competition observed on trading floors.
Much of this year’s Black Friday advertising is directly targeted at parents and their children – the kids are brainwashed into wanting these obscenely expensive Christmas gifts, in the manner that they have been brainwashed into consuming unhealthy amounts of sugar, and parents are left to deal with the ensuing trauma if they do not, or simply cannot, deliver.
I recall when I was at school everyone had a Gameboy. It was the thing: everyone would play on their consoles together – particularly after Christmas, when our school had a “bring-your-own-toy” day. I didn’t have a Gameboy, and I felt very left out. My parents cottoned on to this and got me one the following year – but by then its playground value had dropped and everyone had moved on to an Xbox.
It was non-stop buying to “fit in” and “keep up”. Of course, looking back, it seems rather trivial. But at the time it was a social currency that genuinely mattered, and it’s one that children have so little control over – and that’s exactly why many parents will be spotted making a beeline for the biggest discounts on the top brands today.
I clearly remember my primary school friend, then aged just 10, bragging that her parents had spent thousands on her and her brother for Christmas, and that their next door neighbour was jealous because he was “poor” and he only got a few gifts that year. Black Friday is one of the few opportunities for less well-off parents to purchase “cool” gifts for family members for a fraction of the price they normally cost, stopping yourself spiralling into bankruptcy and yet keeping your children from ridicule. It’s easy to argue that parents should just say no, but the consumerist cruelty of the playground knows no limits.
To laugh at people’s eagerness to get the best from this annual discount bonanza shows that many adults never ceased to be the nasty children in the playground. From laughing at their classmates, for not having expensive gifts, to laughing at today’s parents, for trying to find such goods at an affordable price, is not much of an emotional journey.
Philip Hammond and Theresa May talk repeatedly about the “Jams” and how they are trying to help them, but if we as a society are laughing at their attempt to keep things together for their children during tough times, the problem runs much deeper than economics.
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