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Right Wing Nut Job Bill O'Reilly, who lost his head Head Pinhead in Charge status to the even nuttier Glenn Beck lately, seems to have dropped his whole "War on Christmas" line.

Damn. I could have used a good hook for this diary. This snark from Salon will need to suffice.

What follows is a rant about Xmas, in contrast to the more traditional Christmas. The two are not interchangeable, nor are they mutually exclusive. "Christmas" is that Dec. 25 holiday where most of us take the day off to spend time with family, maybe exchange a few tokens of appreciation and Christians observe a high holy day.

Xmas is a much, much, much uglier thing.

Let this godless heathen 'splain. I'm not a big fan of Christmas displays and Ten Commandments at courthouses. But I'm sort of meh on the whole issue. It's a long, uphill fight in this overwhelmingly Christian nation to make a symbolic point and frankly, I have more important issues to focus upon. On a side note, though, it is both humorous and sort of scary that certain people in the majority can sick a big ass cross on the side of a mountain somewhere, but the very sight of a few billboards questioning biblical inerrancy offends delicate sensibilities. Though it does lead to fun headlines like Atheist Billboard Calls Nativity A Myth, People Get Angry

No. I'm declaring war on Xmas, the annual orgy of unbridled consumerism. I'm declaring war on the idea that you are not a good, loving friend/relative/frienemy/coworker/vague associate unless you spend an entire month buying crap that the recipient will pretend to like and toss in a bin somewhere. I'm declaring war on the collective insanity that hits sometime in late November and goes until the end of the year (factor in returns, spending Xmas money, etc.) I'm declaring war on the idea that American business is doomed without at least one day of the year that starts out like this:

The dude you see hunched over in the still and at about the one minute mark was hospitalized after he got trampled. And sorry, Laura. You're a wonderful person, but the quip in the open thread asking if anyone got trampled on Friday was the catalyst for this rant.

Is this what our society has come to? Seriously?

Every year, it's the same thing. The big business retail cabal has spun this myth of "Black Friday." According to the Walmarts of the world, delivered through a media that is either complicit or deluded, were it not for this unbridled orgy of spending, no retail business would ever end up with a profit (i.e. "in the black.")

From the wiki about the cutsey media phrase "Black Friday (shopping)," we find that the original context was something pretty bad.

JANUARY 1966 -- "Black Friday" is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. "Black Friday" officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.

From the more things change file...

But over the years, the retailers have created a narrative that they operate at a loss until the annual end-of-the-year spending spree. Of course, each retailer has to outdo the others via awesome sales to attract these crowds of people who will (sometimes, anyway) just grab whatever happens to be on the shelf -- as long as there is a sign announcing a discount -- and run up that credit card debt to even more unsustainable heights. Of course, we also have the "shop-a-holics," and they are all like "O-M-G! Sales! And on my Friday off of all days!" Never you mind that alcoholism is a deadly serious problem but shop-a-holic is yet another cutesy term and something to be casually accepted and even celebrated in the popular media.

You know what they have now? Black Friday Android Aps. (Link is not an endorsement and I still can't find a freaking Devil's Night greeting card.)

The ad execs don't help by pushing The Must Have Item Of The Year™. This creates the self-fulfilling prophesy that The Must Have Item Of The Year™ will be sold out unless you get to the store at 4 a.m. on Black Friday and beat out hundreds or thousands of other parents to buy the thing.

Or you won't get it.

And your kids will hate you.

Because every other kid at school got one.

And Xmas will be ruined FOREVER.

And they will be ostracized by their friends.

And your kid, who had a bright future, will be sent into a permanent depression and grow up to be the world's biggest loser.

So it is critical to be in line at 4 a.m. the day after a draining Thanksgiving to get The Must Have Item Of The Year™

(And if you do get it, that piece of shaped plastic/simple electronic gadget/article of clothing will most likely be forgotten within two months.)

Granted some retailers probably do rely on the month-long retail spending spree, but that is as much a business model than anything. Bear in mind, too, that I am going after the big-box retailers and not the legitimate small businesses who may very well have to use the Black Friday model. It is the big boys who created the economic reality in which mom-and-pop retailers operate.

And on a side note: As more of American manufacturing jobs go overseas and retailers hire more and more not-quite-full-time-so-no-benefits-for-you workers/wage slaves, this annual spending orgy does less for the American economy. Well except for some investors in a particular business headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas. And that whole shortage of The Must Have Item Of The Year™? Of course there is a limited supply (and thus a higher price) if the next shipment is still on a boat from China. Of course, if the plant that makes The Must Have Item Of The Year™ was located in Missouri, a new shipment could make it to both Portlands in a few days -- just in time for Christmas. (awwwww!)

Meanwhile, the media continue to stoke the frenzy. Do we really need days and days of stories discussing the lead up to the predictable feeding frenzy? No. We really don't. It's not like we missed the deluge of sales fliers in the mail box and a steady diet of Xmas sale ads on teevee, radio and the internets.

But the Black Friday thing is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Every year, business tries to get consumers to think about/get paranoid about Xmas earlier. For example:

And Ivan (last name withheld ~ CW) of Beverly Hills, Calif., notes that the first Christmas film of the year, the indie flick "Lovely Still," opened on Sept. 17 -- six days before the autumnal equinox and the end of summer.

Some day in the not too distant future, March 18 will no longer be national Shake Off Your Hangover and Drag Your Ass to Work Day. It will kick off the holiday shopping season. And then civilization as we know it will finally crawl into a deep hole and wait a few million years for a truly intelligent species to evolve.

And perhaps the worst part is the co-opting of the term "Black Friday" in the first place. Consider this sampling from the List of Black Fridays wiki:

Black Friday (1881), the Eyemouth disaster: 189 fishermen died.

Haymarket affair (11 November 1887), four Chicago anarchists hanged, without evidence, for the deaths of seven police officers during a labor meeting.

Black Friday (1910), a campaign outside the British House of Commons (18 November) of the Women's Social and Political Union the Conciliation Bill which failed.

Black Friday (1921), the announcement of British transport union leaders (15 April) not to call for strike action against wage reductions for miners.

Black Friday (1939), a day of devastating bushfires (13 January) in Victoria, Australia, which killed 71 people.

The 1950 Red River Flood, which burst several dikes flooding much of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Black Friday (1960), San Francisco City protest against the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Black Friday (Maldives) (2004), a crackdown in Malé, Maldives (13 August) on peaceful protesters.

Yeah. Even a Philly traffic jam pales in comparison.

Finally, I know that I didn't reach too many people this this acerbic rant. In fact, I'm bracing for the backlash. Whatever. My main plea is that, as you do your holiday shopping, please be decent to the retail slaves. Will there be some unhelpful, lazy or just plain incompetent employees? You betcha ;-o

But I'm here to say that most of them are hard-working and seriously overstressed from dealing with the occasional fuckwit customer that can ruin a whole day. On top of all that, they are lucky if they are making a living wage. Oh, and never mind the idiot manager who is telling them to do stupid, unnecessary and counterproductive things because "it's regulation" or "just for the sheer hell of it."

Do you want to know what they really think about the worst of the customers? Read Retail Hell Underground sometime. In particular, I suggest this particularly horrific customer story. It is NOT Safe For Work. Or at least it is not safe for your cushy job. Some people do actually put minimum wage, part-time, no benefit workers through the lowest levels of hell just to get a five percent discount they never deserved in the first place.

Don't be that guy.

My advice: Smile at clerks and be as pleasant as possible. Leave the kids at home or with someone. Leave an extra dollar or two tip at the restaurant. If there is a question about a tiny discount, just drop it. The clerk really could get fired for giving into your rant to save $1.50. Don't cause a scene -- someone else will take care of that momentarily. Budget plenty of time to cue up to check out. It really is not the fault of the cashier that she is the only register (out of 20) open at the height of the rush. If you really feel the need to unload on someone, save it for someone who is abusing an employee. The clerk's entire livelihood probably rides on whether or not they can keep smiling while some jerk rants about a $1.50 discount. Seriously, go back and read the last link to see what I'm talking about.

These little things can make the difference between a rotten and a tolerable day for the very people we, as progressives, fight for. I know that Americans have this innate need for instant gratification. As someone who has done retail jobs and waited tables, I can say that the job is not as easy as it looks -- especially when they would rather be with their families for the holidays. Give them a break and you will most assuredly make someone's day and maybe their whole holiday season.

You can avoid being part of the problem and not be a Grinch. I promise.

Happy holidays, but I'm sitting out Xmas this year. All I want for Christmas is to go home and see my family. I could care less if no one buys me anything. Ideally, someone would make a nice donation to charity or a progressive cause in my name.

Finally hat tips to @mitchellhirsch (catchlightning) and @f8vnz -- both of whom you should follow -- on Twitter for their input on this.

Originally posted to Casual Wednesday on Tue Nov 30, 2010 at 05:16 PM PST.



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