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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Shopping for Truth: Black Friday: An animalistic exhibition

Published: December 5, 2008
Section: Opinions

In the wild, herds of animals race to find their prey–the early bird catches the worm. Herds prepare for battle, strengthening themselves with a pre-battle feast, and a plan of attack is formulated.

In the United States, herds of frenzied shoppers pack together to scour shelves for the latest deals–the early bird catches the bargain. This ritual, like any other, requires intense preparation: an intense study of the previous day’s newspaper and the glossy, beckoning inserts inside, a trip to the ATM and a filling meal for starters.

Like any other avid shopper, I was up before the sun last Friday. I had scoured the ads, searching for that perfect deal; that reason to wake up way earlier than any college student should on their day off. And I did it all in the name of the shopper’s holy day—Black Friday.

As any die-hard shopper knows, Black Friday is the height of the shopping year. This is the day when prices are slashed and bargains are had. This is the day you use your recently padded stomach to fend off the crowds and hope to burn off all those holiday calories.

Black Friday is traditionally the day that marks the start of the profit making season for retailers as the herds come out from their caves and hunt—for bargains.

It’s not traditionally the day an innocent Wal-Mart employee gets trampled to death. But that’s exactly what happened Friday.

As many employees enjoyed a few days off from the 9-5 grind, retailers woke up in the wee hours of the morning (if they even went to sleep) to accommodate the crowds. Some stores opened at 6 a.m. or later, but those that really meant business yanked open those doors at 4 a.m. or even midnight.

As I zigzagged through the narrow tiled aisles of the first store I visited, clutching to the items I’d checked off on my list before entering the store around 6:45 a.m., I couldn’t help but marvel at how tribal it all was.

As someone who goes shopping on a regular basis, I’m used to the crowds. I’m used to rude people bumping into me with their carriage they can control no better than their car or their whining child. I’m even used to waiting in long lines. And I’ve done Black Friday before, so it wasn’t anything new. But I don’t think anyone can ever really come to terms with how tribal it all is.

Somehow, when a retailer mentions ‘lowest prices of the year,’ people hit their moral lows also. Forget saying excuse me, forget all façade of propriety, just get out of my way and let me buy my $80 camera.

And though shoppers certainly didn’t forget to leave their wallets at home, it seems they forgot their manners, especially in the New York Wal-Mart where the man was killed. How many heartless shoppers does it take to trample a 6-foot-5, 270 pound man?

2000, approximately.

2000 shoppers in the pursuit of a bargain. 2000 shoppers who didn’t care that that was a human being they were stepping over.

You have to wonder what was so alluring about Wal-Mart’s sale that it generated so much foot traffic. Was a stupid electronic device or some trite trinket really worth the life of an innocent bystander? Was getting a DVD for $5 really worth losing integrity or manners? Or did these people ever really have them in the first place?

I love a good shopping day as much as the next shopaholic—just look at the title of my column! But doesn’t the whole point of holiday shopping-finding something special for the ones you love-go against the behavior so many people exhibit at these animalistic exhibitions?

The holidays are supposed to be a season where people put aside their differences for a short time and join in on the ‘season to be jolly.’ But somehow we all get so caught up in the stress to find the perfect gift that we forget about all this.

Perhaps we’re all just in a rush like we are on a daily basis. We’re all trying to find perfection that isn’t out there. We expect our holiday to be the best and forget about the feelings of others. But what about the holiday of the family of this New York Wal-Mart employee? Something tells me that their holiday will be far from perfect because of the selfish actions of a few frenzied shoppers.

Nothing-not even a dirt cheap digital camera or TV is worth losing your morals over. And that lesson is one holiday gift that should be in all our stockings this holiday season.