November 23rd, 2012
Black Friday is upon us or around us, or under or over us–The final triumph of basic American grasping… Thanksgiving, the most universal American ritual is now disappearing into the dark, growing shadow of mindless consumer capitalism.
Let us put aside the bullshit narrative of the Founders giving thanks to God–and ignoring, then later exterminating, the Indians who kept them alive that first winter).
Thanksgiving–depending on the kind of family you grew up in or have made for yourself– is a sort of secular version of many ancient and enduring religious rituals– where once a year, (or every day, depending on the severity of your piety) you pause to thank God, Providence, Nature or Fate for those simple earthly pleasures and tendrils of love that have come your way.
The Europeans who came to this country originally came for all sorts of reasons–some of them based on simple survival, some of them of them for honest and noble causes… But also (the history is complex) one particular cause of the original emigration to this country was the desire–the fever–for MORE. More land, more money–more power–more prestige… Bigger, Newer, Faster, Stronger–this was and is one of the great driving engines of what America became. But now that multi-armed, multi-headed engine–like the machine network in The Terminator–has come to rule almost every part of our public and private lives.
Thanksgiving starts off with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. People (and that includes me and my kids when they were little) line up to see the giant floats–Mickey, Spiderman, Kermit, Barbie… How wondrous and spectacular–like the huge statues of the Gods from ancient cultures–And, like people in ancient cultures, we are appropriately awed by their supernatural greatness…
But what are these floats but gigantic ads for television shows, action figures and video games? And then comes Santa– And who is Santa but the great shill for STUFF? Bloated and manic old Santa ho-ho’s his way down Central Park West, and Broadway (and these are not places universally recognized as oases of mercy and humility), then winds up at the world’s largest department store.
Then word goes out over all the land, and Yea– we are commanded to shop! How perfect it was, when, after 9/11, the most grossly American of Presidents urged us to fight “terror” by going out and shopping… Of course the real terror is not a bunch of bearded lunatics ten thousand miles away but our own crazy desire to buy things, even if it fills our houses with useless junk and drives us into bankruptcy.
Black Friday–now moved back sp that it has begun to obscure and swallow Thanksgiving–is like a slow motion Black Plague–an evil virus which killed approximately one third of all human beings from Western India to England in the Fourteenth century.
Our American Black Plague (which is growing more virulent all the time) is–and always has been–the insensate and soul-destroying desire for stuff, and MORE stuff. Hundreds of millions of people, in our country and in others–right up until this moment–have died or are living miserable lives because America needed or wanted MORE. (If you can find them, ask the vanished Indians, the Africans in the Middle Passage or the Afghans and Iraqis).
And it’s getting worse all the time. The light of our collective soul is flickering like a dim candle in the great darkness of Black Friday. Our consumption is consuming us. Our objects, products and devices–in all their manifold, spectacular, leukemic brilliance–are eating us, digesting us, excreting us and turning us into shit.
So Thanksgiving now fades passively into Black Friday… In the very near future Americans will be taking turkey and pumpkin-pie capsules while they wait on line at the department stores, the whole family gathered around to pray that the discounted televisions, waxer-sanders and loungers are still there when they hit the aisles.
And like every holiday, every ritual, Black Friday has embedded in it the tacit acknowledgement of great, unseen powers. Because we are mere mortals -we anthropomorphize these powers and come up with specific Gods. Whatever we had before that supplied our psychological yearnings for something to look up to or fear, we have now replaced them with new idols. Now we have giant, helium-filled, plastic Gods and Goddesses–and their fat, jolly, messenger, Santa Claus—who rides his magic sleigh down from Great Corporate headquarters carrying the eternal message: Ho-Ho-Ho, Buy-Buy-Buy…
I know there are millions of people who will be buying important things—even necessities, at prices they couldn’t ordinarily afford—and that’s the way of things in America. But for everyone who buys a kitchen table to replace the one that is about to collapse from age, or an air-conditioner for a kid who has asthma, there are a hundred people buying useless crap and foolish luxuries because they’re bored or have been convinced that whatever they have is old-fashioned or not cool—or something their kid was brainwashed into thinking they needed for Christmas. Most of this slave-labor built trash will programmatically self-destruct in six months and add more money to their already over laden credit card bills.
However, Thanksgiving is still here and, as with almost everything we are or have invented, it holds out the possibility of redemption. We can try to avoid the noxious sales pitches that fill our ears and eyes and assault us everywhere we turn. We don’t have to get sucked into the maelstrom of consumption and nihilism that constitutes 90% of our culture. And we can give still give thanks for the simple pleasures and the love that surrounds us.