Friday, November 25, 2011

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Black Friday was barely underway when the first-ever (they think) incident of shoppers being pepper-sprayed was reported this morning.

No, it was not Lt. Pike. A woman desperate to get her hands on some cheap Chinese electronics in a California Walmart (where else) blasted fellow alleged humanoids in the annual consumer stampede that makes America so.... exceptional.  According to police, 20 people were injured, and the unidentified woman was still at large. From the LA Times:

Alejandra Seminario, 24, said she was waiting in line to grab some toys at the store around 9:55 p.m. when people the next aisle over started shouting and ripping at the plastic wrap encasing gaming consoles, which was supposed to be opened at 10 p.m.

"People started screaming, pulling and pushing each other, and then the whole area filled up with pepper spray," the Sylmar resident said. "I guess what triggered it was people started pulling the plastic off the pallets and then shoving and bombarding the display of games. It started with people pushing and screaming because they were getting shoved onto the boxes."
Although "part of the store" was evacuated, the store itself remained open for business.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that 9,000 shoppers were lined up in front of the Macy's flagship store on Herald Square overnight in hopes of snagging a bargain.... or because they get a rush in a crush...  or just to be able, someday, to tell the grandkids that they were there.

Anti-Wall Street Day of Rage, NYC, March 2011 (Pre-Occupy; not covered by MSM)

Tahrir Square, Cairo, November 2011

Best Buy, USA, Nov. 25, 2011


Jay - Ottawa said...

Tell me why you gather into crowds and I'll tell you what you are.

Jay - Ottawa said...

The NYT's Andrew C. Revkin serves up an article (with a dollop of faint praise) on the man behind "Adbusters," Occupy Wall Street and "Buy Nothing Day." Surely this man behind the scenes is worth a salute today.

See also Karen's top comment following Krugman's fine precisions about the "99%." To be accurate, the number should be changed to 99.9%. How much more income disparity can we take?

WestVillageGal said...

i am forced to wonder how my own Mayor Mike (nope: never voted for the bloke) regards the salivating Mid Town mobs - poised to purchase and plunder - versus those peacefully protesting further south.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Tales of shoppers all lined up, or, alternatively, stampeding to buy a product, have long reminded me of Frederik Pohl’s 1984 science fiction novel "The Merchants’ War", set in the dystopian commercial future (not to be confused with our dystopian commercial present), and which has a scene that includes similar shopper behavior. No, it's not a highly-reasoned political tract, nor Nobel-prize-winning literature, but I recommend it, together with its predecessor, "The Space Merchants" (co-written by Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth), as light, socially-conscious political reads. (Though written three decades apart, they were later packaged together in one volume as "Venus, Inc.").

The interesting point about the commercialism that dominates this season is that so many of the products are, as noted, of foreign origin, plus unrelated to either genuine quality-of-life or fundamental human needs. The tragedy of Obama's and other politicians' response to the financial crisis is that they tried — and continue to try — to simply put Humpty-Dumpty together again. Both major political parties nowadays seem to want basically the same thing, and differ more in timing than in fundamental principles, with Democrats hoping for improvement before the 2012 election, and Republicans not wanting it till after. Their goal has been simply a return to the status quo of a manipulated-consumer, claimed retail-driven economy, with largely-unnecessary, quickly-superseded products produced at the lowest cost. That often means Third World sweatshops, and fewer jobs here — but none of that appears to trouble either our multinational corporations or their co-conspirators in retail. (There was a great documentary on PBS a few years ago about how Wal-Mart helped put U.S. manufacturers of TV sets and their component parts out of business).

Rather than build an economy that serves genuine needs, improves the national infrastructure, and provides meaningful, secure employment, we instead get crap. But to get what we really need would require sensible values and priorities made real, which means some sort of collective planning and implementation, and taxes, all of which are denounced by Republicans, and largely ignored by Democrats fearful of being branded "socialist".

Gotta stop here. I'm receiving messages through the ether ... and ... must ... shop!

Will said... has dedicated today's entire program (11-25-11) to a fascinating panel discussion regarding the Occupy movement. If you're in the market for a great deal this Black Friday, you can't beat a free seat for this hour-long, spiritually and intellectually invigorating meeting of the minds.

P.S. I wholeheartedly agree with our friend Valerie's "corny" sentiments yesterday. I'd also like to recognize the kinship I feel with the countless Sardonicky readers who choose not to post comments for whatever reason. We're all in this together. Occupy everywhere!

The Doktor said...

I wanted to go shopping today but the anti-capitalist conservative encampment people drove me away. I ducked and ran from their barrage of insults and taunts as they shook their chubby little fists at me, and wobbled their triple chins with howls of derision... "Back of the line loser!", "Don't even think about it a$$ hole!", "Hey Jimmy, where's that pepper spray?" , "Go back to yer mommy, Liberal Scum!!"
These dissidents are known criminals with a long history of violence against anyone who may try to get into a place of business to make a retail purchase. I was no match for these determined ruffians.
These anti-capitalist conservatives also have a long history of refusing to pay retail or even regular discount prices because they hate capitalism so much. They refuse to allow small business owners even a small percentage of profit on ANY item, they would prefer it if the retailer actually lost money on the transaction.
These risible reactionaries have a bloated sense of entitlement that is hard to comprehend in these days of economic difficulty. Why do they hate the American way of life so much? How can we expect our society to flourish or even continue to exist at all under such an onslaught of conservative hatred of profit. Anyone who expects a retail store to hand out goods at below cost must expect banks to hand out free cash as well I’m sure. Every year we hear new tales of death and destruction as these corpulent anti-capitalists take over our storefronts with their dirty tents and encampments of misery, while they plot the injury and maiming of those of us who would dare to pay retail....
Even the local constabulary are in mortal fear of the wrath of these anti-capitalist hoards, as evidenced by their conspicuous absence! Indeed, observe the almost casual and careless way in which other people in tents without the same proclivity for unprovoked violence are routinely assaulted, arrested and otherwise harassed by the same police and so-called peace officers who methodically avoid confrontation with the abusive anti-capitalist conservatives.
Now we see that the police must know that the uncontrollable conservatives are armed with their weapon of choice; Pepper Spray. So now they cower in fear in the face of this horrible new threat maliciously wielded by the tightfisted tormentors of retail traffickers... Is there no justice!?! Do we not pay them to face down these threats!?!
How can these miscreants and malefactors get away with such felonious malfeasance? Have we descended into lawless anarchy under the odd euphemism of Black Friday even as we are overcome by a tidal wave of red ink, red blood and red pepper spray??

Anne Lavoie said...

Here's a quote from Naomi Wolf in the Guardian about the federally coodinated crackdown on the Occupy movement here at home:

"Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us."

James F Traynor said...

Thanks Ann. Just read that article in the Guardian by Naomi Wolf. We're really getting into the crazy season. Never did like that Homeland Security crap; sounds like something thought up by Goebbels.

I usually lay low over the Holiday Season, beginning with Black Friday. This year it's especially advisable. It's almost like Soylent Green out there.

Kate Madison said...

I have not for the past 10 years, or so, given Holiday presents to kids, siblings or friends. Instead, I ask about their favorite charity and make a contribution in their name. I ask that for myself as well. The three favorites: Mercy Corps (which headquarters here in Oregon, Doctors Without Borders and local Humane Societies. However, some have smaller, personally important organizations--i.e., my daughter-in-law asks for contributions to "Out of the Pits"--a Pitbull Rescue organization-- and has her request respected.

So far, there has been only one hitch. A few years ago, several family members asked me to give contributions to Greg Mortenson's, Central Asia Institute--before anyone knew of his fraudulent activities. Ah it goes. Nothing is perfect. I now do check out, however, how the requested organization is rated on Charity Navigator and Charity Watch.

I have never, I am happy to say, shopped on "Black Friday," not out of moral superiority, but because I detest crowds and get claustrophobic in malls. Sometimes pathology can serve us well.

George R said...

Finally, some OWS objectives we can all understand:

1. Feed fat people to zoo animals.
2. Ban the private ownership of property.
3. Ban home schooling.
4. Ban meat.
5. Tax food "hogs".
6. Unify.
7. Attack.

Anne Lavoie said...

Please don't feed the trolls.

Neil said...

@Anne Lavoie

Thank you!

James F Traynor said...


Chuckle, chuckle.

Valerie said...

I few years back, due to economic necessity, my husband and I had to radically cut back on our consumption. At the time, I thought, "This is a temporary thing. We can suck it up for a year or two."

However, several months into it, the thing that struck me the most was how little we missed shopping and acquiring new stuff. Our lives changed not an iota and in fact, I met a different kind of person in my organic gardening class, and at the farmers markets (which are cheaper than the grocery stores in Australia). My ten year old enjoys the few beautiful hand me downs she gets from her cousin far more than she did the brand new clothes I used to buy her at expensive children's stores like Hanna Anderson. And I must confess to being positively delighted to find the occasional nice piece of clothing for $5 at the Salvation Army Store.

Last Christmas I took my daughter back to the States. Either my friends and family members had gone one way or the other - either they had jumped off the consumption merry-go-round or they were buying more than ever because the "sales were so good." The latter were incredibly boring. They talked about their stuff endlessly - or about money and making more money, or about things that cost money like vacations to resorts, restaurants, expensive shows – yet I found their experiences to be quite hollow and uninteresting. My less materialistic friends talked about values, family and friendship, injustice and poverty. If they travelled, they met interesting and real people (not the plastic variety). They were so much more interesting. And our walks in free parks, free nights at the museums, community theatre, and home-cooked meals we made together were so much more fulfilling than the lives I saw my plastic friends living.

I truly embrace my new life and feel such a sense of serenity about it. It is true; when you are not in a hurry to go shopping, you DO stop and smell the flowers. I don’t know if you heard the Democracy Now panel talking about the Occupy Movement that @Will recommended but I found Naomi Klein to be so optimistic. She spoke of the municipalities walking away from the big corporations and re-localising their economies (this part of the discussion is about 41 minutes into the broadcast) and more and more people buying locally, particularly their food. My daughter loves to go shopping with me at the market. Our favourite vendors know her and speak to her. They tell me that local cherries are almost ripe to pick and they will have them for sale next week. And we anticipate the treat. They offer my daughter a nice piece of fruit or a slice of something yummy. It is an experience in community and I daresay these people have become almost friends. They certainly add to my life. Now that I have experienced it, I would never go back to the sterile consumption I used to enjoy. It is a plastic existence. And that is what I thought as I read about the crazy Thanksgiving shoppers. They seemed so sad and pathetic to me – and so empty.

Valerie said...


It is good you honoured your daughter-in-law's request. A pit bull puppy doesn't asked to be born into the pit bull world anymore than I asked to be born into a Fox watching, fundamentalist Christian, Republican family.

Some of us can be redeemed.

Anne Lavoie said...


I hear you. And don't forget the sports mania. For those of us not into our shallow and materialistic culture of shopping, frivolous and mindless entertainment, being football/sports fanatics, and talking about money, it often makes it hard to feel very connected.

On the other hand, the Occupiers and the Garcia Brigade are my kind of people! I feel connected to the intelligent, caring, thoughtful, dedicated, and passionate people who have become this community. Namaste.

As far as our society in general goes, I'm with Einstein: 'I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity'.

DreamsAmelia said...

Valerie, thanks for your wonderful, personal parable about how bit by bit, the willing can reclaim life from zombie consumerism run amok.

Where I live, in a "historic"(god forbid you ever acquire such a pretension--watch your house prices quadruple!) community that has more parkland than apartment space, and families of 4 lived in 930 square feet with 1 bathroom, it was designed with the idea of fostering community (it was built in 1940-41 for the families of WWII soldiers). Despite the fact that the units still have the original 1940s wiring (major fire hazard), and residents are warned about the propensity of 2nd floor ceilings caving in, lead paint, and asbestos, people blindly buy units here without ever having rented (I'm a renter) for some $350,000-$430,000--also without knowing about the intransigence of the condo board, ever rising condo fees--and my first reaction to my new neighbors is "what's wrong with you???"--?!

This younger generation is just so *glib* about signing up for a lifetime, or two, or three, of debt, and they don't see any conflict in it with democracy, or historical comparisons to slavery....

And on top of it, they are just so darned self-contained. So I find that our community becomes increasingly anti-social, and no design can force people into sociability if they don't want it--they would rather sign up for debt rather than pool money and labor collectively like in the community barn-raisings of yore. I am grateful at least one of my neighbors barters childcare with me.

But this is why Valerie's description of "plastic" people is so resonant. The conservative mantra of self sufficiency in general has taken to such extremes that we are all proudly, "self-sufficiently" isolated in preposterous debt-loads, while looking to all the rest of the world like pure fools, because we have lost the spiritual richness of community they still have.

And, much as I relish Sardonicky, Krugman, the comment streams, and email, real neighborliness in person with your actual neighbors is the bedrock of society, and no online "community" can mitigate the societal erosion caused by excessive debt-loads.

Valerie said...

It is interesting how many of us are renters! I daresay most of us have forgone the "American dream of owning your own house." I have a friend who insists owning your own home is just a money pit. It gives people the excuse to buy furniture and decorations for the house and gardening equipment and plants etc. for the yard. Furthermore, there are all those unexpected expenses like a leaky roof or in our case when we lived in the States, the underground sewer line. We were lucky; a friend knew an ethical guy who replaced the whole thing for $4500 but there were people bidding on the job who were asking $15,000. While there are certainly disadvantages to renting like the rent increasing or the buyer wanting to sell and the renter having to move out, but at this point in history, I don’t want to get myself tied down to a house with a mortgage debt obligation that I might not be able to pay in future.

It is not like it was in my parents' generation where people bought a small "starter" house which appreciated one to one-and-a-half percent a year and MAYBE moved after they had an established family to a little better house where they stayed put the rest of their lives. - Where you paid about the same amount per month in a mortgage as you did to rent and the only thing standing between you and home ownership was saving up the cash for a 20% down-payment. But then, those were the days when if a person worked hard, was reliable – even talented – that person could expect to remain employed and therefore could commit with confidence to a mortgage. I think a lot has changed about homeownership with the advent of so many jobs being “outsourced.” No one can count on employment anymore. I hear so many stories of people working 15 -20 years for a company only to be laid off and unable to find meaningful work again.

@DreamsAmeila – What happened to that friend/relative of yours who moved his family for a job and then was laid off?

I was reading an old article in the NY Times about how housing in the U.S. really isn’t an investment that will appreciate much in the next fifteen or twenty years. Buy a home if you want to own a home but keep in mind that you will have to live in it for a long time to make enough money to cover the cost of selling it if you have to move. I am surprised ANYONE is buying a home at this point in time (unless of course you are the 1%) because the economy is so uncertain.

I am totally off topic here. Just noticed how many of us are renters.