Donald Clarke: Black Friday is a white elephant

We no longer need to covet the American way of life as our ‘stuff’ is the same as theirs

‘Until three years ago, the phrase ‘Black Friday’ had minimal recognition in this country . . . except that it was the fourth best song on Steely Dan’s second best album.’ Photograph: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

‘Until three years ago, the phrase ‘Black Friday’ had minimal recognition in this country . . . except that it was the fourth best song on Steely Dan’s second best album.’ Photograph: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

 

What did you do yesterday? Did you have a nice Black Friday? Did you draw blood fighting your way to those reduced Star Wars underpants? Has a little piece of your soul turned to lifeless anthracite?

Few phenomena boil the blood more effectively than Irish retailers’ adoption of the words “Black Friday”.

Until three years ago, the phrase had minimal recognition in this country. Black Friday is the fourth best song on Steely Dan’s second best album. (“When Black Friday comes I’m going to dig myself a hole.” Well, quite.)

A minute’s research clarifies that the words describe various horrible events in Glasgow (1918), Norway (1945) and Iran (1978).

But it is now most often taken to mean the day of sales that officially starts the Christmas shopping season.

Cultural imperialism

Why yesterday? Well, it’s the day after Thanksgiving, of course. Most everybody has that day off.

Relaxed after celebrating the annihilation of the Native American population, you feel empowered to bully your way to the head of any queue.

The whole thing is ludicrous. We may as well be marking the day after Simón Bolívar’s birthday or the day before Poland’s Constitution Day.

Welcome the US aircraft carriers to Dublin Bay. Install Donald Trump as our national buffoon too. Our surrender to the Great Satan is complete.

US cultural imperialism used to be so much more glamorous. In the grim postwar years, Europeans could be forgiven for sucking up rock’n’roll and its satellite entertainments.

We still chewed raw cabbage between teeth the colour and shape of medieval gravestones.

A man banging a wooden crate while waving a dead monkey could attract a crowd of hundreds in the average town square.

When the first hamburger arrived in Ireland, nobody was very sure if they should eat it, wear it or shoot it as an invading alien.

Don’t believe elderly nostalgia addicts. Almost everything was useless until about 1990. It was easier to get a home phone installed in Ceausescu’s Romania than it was in Haughey’s Ireland.

Findus Crispy Pancakes counted as exotic food. Showbands still roamed the land.

It was a real challenge to look sad for your parents when you finally got to emigrate.

“Boo-hoo! Now I won’t get to shiver in front of the two-bar heater waiting for Bunny Carr’s Quicksilver.”

Delicious future

In that sort of environment, you would have been crazy not to have been drawn to the impossible excitement of US popular culture.

And they had so much stuff. They had answering machines a decade before they became common in Europe. Video recorders arrived much earlier.

Watching the average American house on television was like staring through a window to a delicious future, while actually going there was like entering a fantasy world. “It’s just like on the telly!” we’d say.

To get that surge today you would need to travel to Westeros, the home of Game of Thrones.

The US and western Europe have moved closer together, culturally and economically. Imagine a mid-level hotel room in Dublin.

Imagine one in Chicago. They will have the same flat-screen TV, the same room-service menu and the same throw at the end of the bed.

I am even old enough to remember being excited that a hotel room in the US would actually deliver pizza to your room. Pizza! To your room! I have become a god!

All of which makes it more peculiar we are bothering to ape the habits of our US cousins.

When they seemed so much glossier and so much richer, it was natural. (You still get a bit of this in radio commercials that inexplicably encourage voice-over artists to fake American accents.)

Now that we have what they have, the bogus adoption of Black Friday makes no sense.

Shoppers like the fact that goods are reduced at a useful point in the calendar. There is no need to place it after Thanksgiving and give it the same name that Americans use.

Passing fad

Anyway, the good news is that Black Friday might be just a passing fad.

Earlier this week, Conor Pope, writing in this paper, revealed that many retailers were dissatisfied with Black Friday.

Once one shop began slashing prices, then all the rest were required to follow.

The Washington Post reports that REI, an outdoor clothing chain, is paying its employees “not to work this Friday in apparent protest against the rampant consumerism that has come to characterize the day after (and sometimes night of) Thanksgiving”.

I like the sound of this place. But could such a great tradition really wither away?

It has been so named since the mid-1970s and that’s more or less the Dark Ages in American terms.

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