Call For Comments: Black Friday and the Conspicuous Consumption Shopping Event

From Mav: I love shopping. It’s fun. First of all, spending money is fun… at least if you have it. Because having a bunch of new stuff is fun. But also, I actually love the thrill of going and looking at stuff, deciding you like it and even searching for a good deal. It’s like a fun little game. Of course, I understand that this is a game that a lot of people don’t enjoy. In fact, I know a lot of people who seem to hate shopping. In fact, I know a lot of people who would rather do anything than shop. However, even amongst the biggest of haters, there seems to be an attraction to CERTAIN shopping — Event Shopping! The most classic example of this I can think of is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the biggest shopping days of the year. Honestly, most people I hang out with would rather die than fight Black Friday crowds… and yet, it continues to be a madhouse because it works!

At this point, the whole thing just sort of feels like part of Christmas to me. While I certainly wasn’t at ground zero, per se, I very much remember the fervor of the Cabbage Patch Kid Riots of 1983. The craziest thing about that is… if you’re too young to remember, that probably sounds like a joke. Because it’s the kind of thing that I say all the time when I’m exaggerating. It certainly sounds like the kind of thing I would make up. But no… there were actual violent fucking riots over Cabbage Patch Dolls in the 1980s! And it happened again in the 90s over the Tickle Me Elmo Doll. And then over the Furby. And then the Hatchimal. And the Beanie Baby. And various Playstations and other game consoles. Holiday rush toy shopping riots are such a thing that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad made a movie about it!

But also, event shopping isn’t really limited to Black Friday. It happens several times a year now. Of course there is the actual Black Friday, but for decades that’s been extended by online retailers into “Cyber Monday”. Similarly there’s specialized events like “Free Comic Book Day” which has been basically helping to keep the comic book industry alive for two decades now. Add to that, Amazon Prime Day, which has basically become a holiday that the world’s largest store invented to celebrate itself? And you celebrate by buying stuff from them? And it’s been so successful that they do it twice a year now? In fact, other stores that aren’t Amazon actually have Prime Day deals on Prime Day in order to… I guess celebrate other people shopping at Amazon? I dunno… all I know is that I wanted NEEDED a robot to feed my cat, and so I specifically waited like two agonizing weeks after I decided I wanted NEEDED one in order to get a few extra percent off! And many of the people I’ve seen call that silly and pretend they’re above that… I’ve seen waking up at 3am to be first in virtual line to click a button to order a new iPhone or whatever on release day. It’s the same thing! It’s just a Cabbage Patch kid for adults!

I’m speculating that a big part of the appeal is the rarity and that is exemplified by the rituals of the shopping event. It feels like part of it. I’ve not done a Black Friday door buster in years. BUT, I did buy a TV that way once before… and there was something kind of magical about camping out in the car overnight to hold my place in line. There’s a sort of camaraderie with the other shoppers, even though you’re technically sort of in competition with them. It’s all about being part of the event… it’s about being a part of the culture of consumption… and you know, culture is what this show is, so I want to talk about it.

So next week, we plan to have you historian Jonathan Alexadratos on the show to talk about toy history, shopping culture, and their upcoming appearance in the soon-to-be released documentary Billion Dollar Babies: The True Story of the Cabbage Patch Kids. So give us your thoughts and questions and comments and experiences so we can talk about them on the show.

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