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Irrationality and Frenzy: Desire and Shopping on Black Friday

Black Friday at the New York City Apple Store in 2006 (image from jardenberg).

Black Friday at the New York City Apple Store in 2006 (image from jardenberg).

This year even Apple appears poised to join the host of American retailers offering dramatic sales in the early morning or middle of the night on Black Friday.  By Black Friday standards the Apple store sale prices are not especially dramatic, but a legion of consumers seem eager to find an iPad under the tree and will likely beat a path to some of the competitors who are promising dramatic deals on iPads. 

It is now an expectation that Black Friday will be greeted with irrational crowds rioting for prosaic things, and by Saturday a host of videos will dot the internet documenting the most boorish behavior.  Much of the media coverage seems to suggest that the consumer miscreants storming the housewares aisle are a horde quite unlike the bourgeois patiently awaiting iPads.  For some observers, Black Friday reveals the distinctions in class consumer desire and obliquely disparages mass consumption as emotionally driven irrationality; at least implicitly, that storming of the Target doors is suggested to be quite unlike the material desire at high-end retailers and upscale spaces like the Apple store.

A 2012 camp out awaiting Black Friday at Best Buy (image from Mahat Tattva).

A 2012 camp out awaiting Black Friday at Best Buy (image from Mahat Tattva).

The mass consumption experience is followed closely by the media, which routinely psychologizes Black Friday as mob manipulation by clever marketers.  This week, for instance, the Las Vegas Guardian Express hysterically argued that “it seems necessary to recognize that this much anticipated retail extravaganza can be as deadly as it is lucrative.”  In 2011, a Huffington Post article likewise painted Black Friday shoppers as an emotionally frenzied mob, suggesting that “Add in the online-coupon phenomenon, which feeds the psychological hunger for finding impossible bargains, and you’ve got a recipe for trouble.”  The Las Vegas paper’s Daniel Worku blamed all this on clever marketers and manipulable consumers, arguing that “This atmosphere seems to be intentionally manufactured by the countless advertisements, blurbs, signs, billboards, and radio plugs, constantly seeding the suggestible public mind about how this years deals will be better than ever.  The energy and frequency of this media frenzy, galvanizes the debt burdened public into spend-crazy, deal-hunting, sale-seeking, mob with zombi-like [sic] determination.” Read the rest of this entry