Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It involves food. It is entirely American. It is entirely secular. What culture or community can’t embrace getting together for a big meal? So I absolutely hate the creep of Black Friday Christmas shopping into the previously sacred Thursday of Thanksgiving.
The above commentary is usually followed by a paragraph bemoaning the coarsening of society, the lack of respect for traditions, and the increasing scarcity of time set apart from the rush of the modern world. All true, but basically twaddle at its core.
Stop and ask “Why didn’t we start Black Friday shopping earlier just five to ten years ago?”
The “societal” commentary above places the blame on shoppers. People have lost their sense of decency and restraint – indulging their base desires instead of staying home with their families. But has society really gotten all that much coarser? If the stores were open ten years ago, would people have really stayed away?
The real change is that the stores are able to open. The latent demand was always there. Stores didn’t open on Thanksgiving for one very simple reason. THEY COULDN’T GET ENOUGH PEOPLE TO WORK ON THANKSGIVING. Workers would have refused to work, or called in sick, or otherwise shirked. Store managers wouldn’t have wanted to show up either. There was too much risk of a crowd at the door and no-one to run the checkouts.
So what has really changed? Workers bargaining power. People today are desperate to cling to their jobs and very aware someone else is desperate to take their place should they step out of line. Marx nailed this effect of the “reserve army of the unemployed” on those who are actually employed. You don’t want to work on Thanksgiving? No problem we’ll just cut your hours back and give them to those who did… And the next time you are late or I can find some other cause, you’ll be out the door.
Technology has only sharpened the edge of that “choice.” Managers no longer really set hours for anyone anyway. It is all handled at arm’s-length by demand-driven flexible scheduling of (involuntarily) part-time staff. This both enables finer control and further de-humanizes the nature of that control.
The result is definitely a coarser society. But the real ugliness isn’t the people rushing from the table in search of deals. It is the people rushing from the table to make their shifts. Or never sitting down with their families and friends at all.