Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday isn't what you think it is.

Activist-artists from the "Buy More Stuff!" campaign make ironic performance art in Seattle on Black Friday 2009. Picture by Michael Holden.

It wasn’t but two years ago on Black Friday that newsmakers frothed at the headline: “Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death.”

The New York Times described a mob of more than 2,000 shoppers who broke through the sliding-glass doors of a Valley Stream, New York Wal-Mart, storming the store and killing an employee:

“Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.

Some workers who saw what was happening fought their way through the surge to get to Mr. Damour, but he had been fatally injured, the police said. Emergency workers tried to revive Mr. Damour, a temporary worker hired for the holiday season, at the scene, but he was pronounced dead an hour later at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream.

Four other people, including a 28-year-old woman who was described as eight months pregnant, were treated at the hospital for minor injuries.”

Since then, retailers have employed more advanced methods of crowd control, and since the economic downturn, media attention has shifted from the sheer spectacle of rabid shoppers to Black Friday sales as an economic barometer. It’s customary for commercial news to frame the history of black Friday with such unattributed claims as: “It’s commonly held to have its origin in retailers counting on the crowds of shoppers and a surge in sales to push them into the ‘black,’ or profitability, for the year.” The history and reality of Black Friday is more complex than commercial news media care to look into.