Friday 28th November 2014 saw the USA’s infamous post-Thanksgiving day of sales – Black Friday – make its proper debut on this side of the Atlantic after slowly being established in past years by online retailers. At its core, the idea of Black Friday isn’t that far removed from what we experience here in the UK after Christmas, with retailers offering discounts in an attempt to get us back into their stores immediately after dealing with the stressful rigmarole of Christmas shopping, to then part with more of our hard-earned cash. One would assume, as we deal with this aspect of the holiday season every year, there shouldn’t be anything too alarming about one more day of sales. One would assume.
In a fashion identical to its American counterpart, the stroke of midnight resembled the biblical day of reckoning. Police were called into stores across the country in order to break up disturbances and maintain a semblance of peace. A shopper in Stretford, Greater Manchester, reported to BBC News that, whilst shopping for food in a Tesco store on Thursday night, he suddenly witnessed “people climbing over shelves and displays, staff running for cover, fights breaking out, stock flying through air, people breaking through carrying televisions – and this was before the sale had even started”. Another shopper in Cardiff recounted “people were biting each other, pinching, punching, kicking – it was just absolutely horrendous.” Nightmarish scenes like this were commonplace, putting strains on regional police around the UK. Perhaps the most troubling aspects of these accounts, however, lie in the fact that the violence did not do much to deter the hoards. An estimated £360,000 was spent per minute on credit cards alone. Black Friday UK was, without any shadow of a doubt, a commercial success.
The most curious thing about Black Friday, however, is that we’ve accepted this consumerist call-to-arms despite the fact that Thanksgiving isn’t even celebrated in the UK. We all know full well that every holiday calls for massive amounts of over-spending, and that really it’s the retailers that benefit the most, but we accept that and we’re mostly okay with that. With Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween there is a reason to link up with friends and family, to come together in the spirit of community, to enjoy (or at least try to enjoy) each other’s company and, of course, to drink.
With a great proportion of the population’s concern over immigration, the resulting belief in the erosion of so-called ‘British values’, and electoral capital being gained by certain parties on this basis, it’s surprising that this whole event doesn’t arouse more suspicion. As we’ve seen with the events of our first proper Black Friday, not only have some of our dearest British values – queue-awareness, passive aggression, and creating the illusion of dignity – been less eroded more literally blown to pieces. But we’ve been convinced to take part in a holiday where at least pretending to be nice to people, and being rat-arsed by the mid afternoon, gets completely bypassed – instead we start at the point when we’re punching each other’s lights out to pay £30 less for an iPad.
Whatever the significance of this event, the outlook is bleak. Could this be where society is headed, where decent, ordinary, well-mannered people lose their minds and any sense of civility simply because, on a day utterly meaningless to the people of this country, we are told to spend? One year in it is hard to tell, but no doubt, thanks to the enthusiasm to which Black Friday 2014 was met with, it is most certainly here to stay.