Black Friday is another American nightmare

It's a big thing over there, and now it's coming over here

Simon Kelner
Thursday 28 November 2013 16:02 GMT
(Getty Images)

I don't know the exact provenance of one of my favourite political cartoons, but I know it comes from a paper in the Middle East and dates back to 2003, at the height of the West's “War on Terror”. It shows a poor young Arab man at night in a deserted souk. There he is assembling a rocket launcher, and the only light he has to work with comes from the illumination of a Coca-Cola dispenser.

This simple, brilliantly conceived, image was, for me, a trenchant and thought-provoking comment on one aspect of the particularly complex geo-politics of the world at that time. On the one hand, people in less developed countries cherished the iconography and yearned for the material assets of America, the Hollywood stars, the big cars and the fast food, but on they other they raged against American cultural imperialism and what it had done to their indigenous culture.

This latter point seemed, to me, to have a certain amount of validity. I know it's another sign of my advancing age, but I find myself in gathering antipathy towards the stealthily Americanisation of our own culture and society. My anger is not murderous, and my protest is silent, like avoiding Starbucks. And it's complicated by the fact that I love visiting America, I've rarely met an American I didn't like, and I bow to no one in my love of modern American culture - my life would have been so much poorer without Philip Roth, Larry David and 30Rock (which is, incidentally, the greatest show of its type that has ever been on TV. Bar none).

I've only just finished complaining about Hallowe'en. Not that many years ago, we never took any notice of Hallowe'en. Of course, we'd seen the fuss they make of it in the States from the movies, but we concentrated on Bonfire Night, an occasion that was part of British culture and history. Over the past couple of decades, this hierarchy has been dramatically reversed. Hallowe'en has become a big day in our calendar. Shops have a bonanza, it's a party opportunity, and you can't move for trick-or-treaters. Bonfire night is now a much inferior status: after all, there's not been a series of Hollywood films about Guy Fawkes.

And now welcome to Black Friday. This is the day after Thanksgiving when the whole of America goes retail crazy, propelled to the shops by all manner of cut price deals. It's a big thing over there, and it's come over here. Many big British stores are today offering substantial Black Friday discounts in an effort to pack the shops. It's so called because it represents the day when many retailers, who trade at a loss for the rest of the year, start going into profit. But it has very different echoes in Britain. Like Black Tuesday, or Black Wednesday, days when billions were wiped off share prices. But mark my words: Black Friday is here to stay, and in years to come, will be a fixture in our lives. The thin, seemingly trivial, end of a very large wedge. I will leave the vacuous Americanisms infecting our everyday language for another time. Oh, I almost forgot. Have a nice day!

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