My older sister dragged me to Wal-Mart’s Black Friday ‘grand opening’ at 6 PM tonight to purchase a steam mop, and I must say, Black Friday really brings out the worst in people. If there ever was an event that was embarrassing to the human species, it is Black Friday shopping.
We parked in the very, very back of the parking lot at 5:36 PM, and as a minivan sped through the pedestrian zone, swerved to avoid hitting us, and dumped out a passenger to “pick up that shopping cart”, my sister warned me that I was going to experience some really savage behaviors from people. She explained to me this ‘adrenaline rush’ that occurs when the clock strikes 6 PM, you run in to grab your items, race around the store, and end 20 minutes later, with some new loot.
We walked in, the store already packed, people standing in front of the displays, eying their product like vultures. Our list included a steam mop and Pyrex tupperware containers, which were luckily, in very close proximity to each other, so we set up. I could not believe that kinds of conversations that were going on around me. A lady next to me, who apparently sent troops to different parts of the store, was on a walkie talkie, transmitting her line up location to everyone. Some apparently very religious women were standing around a shelf, praying for safety and good deals (In my opinion, there are just some things you shouldn’t ask God for…) Other people were reliving Black Friday’s past, stories about getting hair pulled, feet trampled, carts stolen. And I could not believe the amount of justifications for Black Friday shopping I was hearing: “I have wanted a steam mop for three years, so I had to come”, “I loved the Rachel Ray cook set I bought last year and had to come back to get my daughter a matching one”, “This is just a killer deal on a t.v., and I lost my remote, so we needed a new one anyways…” I began to wonder how many of these people were buying stuff for others, like post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas shopping is supposed to be about, and how much of this stuff would actually end up being used by them.
Even though I did not really care whether we accumulated the steam mops or not, I began to feel everyone else’s savageness wear off on me. A lady in front of me leaned on my shopping cart, and I kept a close eye on her, to make sure she wouldn’t take off with that very precious, and very in demand item I fought a Wal-Mart employee in the parking lot for. The store was so packed, I felt like I was trying to move through a college party again (you know, where you don’t actually move). I can’t tell you how many people banged their shopping carts into my knees, because “they just had to get back to the fake fireplace thing”. I caught many whiffs of post-Thanksgiving alcohol and stale smoke emitting from people’s pores (probably their way of handling the stress of the holidays, and the Black Friday mania). Being the humanist that I am, I started asking the people around me who was also going for a steam mop, and I began delegating who was going to pick up which box when the clock struck 6 PM for efficiency, and to make sure everyone got what they wanted.
At 5:56, people began circling the displays, taking their starting-stances. The lady next to me pulled out a pocket knife and began to cut the plastic that encased the Rachel Ray cookware set. At 5:58, one lady crouched, scouted to make sure there was no a Wal-Mart employee lurking in the bushes, jumped, and tried to knock a box off the top. As my sister said, “It’s like Hunger Games: survival of the fittest”. Being a rule follower, I just couldn’t get myself to break the seal of the steam mops before I was instructed to do so. Instead, a lady from behind me jumped, shoulder checked the tower of steam mops, they all came crashing down, and everyone rushed to claim their own prize. I could not believe the greed, the selfishness, the consumerism that overtook these Black Friday shoppers. It honestly lessened my faith in the human species.
I have been on this rut lately about morality, what it means, and why we don’t seem to have any in our society anymore. My experiences Black Friday shopping exposed this plainly and clearly: our society is morally corrupt, simply because consumerism has taken over our desires to teach moral lessons. C.S. Lewis says, “In reality, morals rules are directions for running the human machine”. The moral lesson would be to have everyone follow the rules: to station a Wal-Mart employee at each Black Friday bin so they could regulate the rules. However, that would require Wal-Mart to schedule more employees, which would cost the company more money, so therefore, it’s just easier to let people run rampant and be savages, knock down towers, leave items in the aisles, and run into each other with shopping carts without feeling even a smidgen of empathy.
Of course, these same things can be seen outside of Black Friday shopping as well. For example, a couple weeks ago, I had to cancel my credit card, because someone stole the number and was racking up a bunch of purchases (SEE: Life Without My Credit Card). All that I had to do was call the credit card company, they reversed the charges, and sent me a new card. While my account will probably be slightly monitored, unless something really poignant comes up, whoever stole my credit card number will probably never be held responsible, because it is much cheaper for the credit card company to just reverse the charges, than spend resources trying to investigate; the only consequence to the perpetrator will be that, the next time they try to slide the credit card, it won’t work, but they most likely will not be caught and put in jail from this one incident. The message we send to our society through these experiences?
A similar mentality can be exemplified through media venues. Some may argue that video games can in fact teach moral lessons. However, I am not sure it is ‘moral lessons’ that video games attempt to teach. One of my students, a successful video game producer, said his inspiration when crafting games is simply to create something people want to play. We no longer care about story lines, but rather to be simply entertained. And, entertaining to us means violence, sex, drugs, offensive language. I recently watched ‘Pompeii’, and it was clear the movie was created for the special effects; the storyline itself is pretty lame: servant boy becomes a hero and goes on a quest to save a girl. The rest of the two hours was devoted to showing men with big muscles, volcanoes blowing up, gladiators sword fighting in the streets. As a movie producer, it’s about making money, and right now, making money means perpetuating these themes of violence, blood and gore, action, etc.; not about teaching moral lessons.
As a teacher, I completely understand the hard work it takes to teach morality. On days like today, one day before Thanksgiving break, when my students are anxious and jittery, it takes a lot of energy to corral them in, and sometimes, I don’t even feel like expending that energy. However, when I hear a kid tell another to “shut up”, or another kid leaves his trash on the floor, or another tries inconspicuously to sit outside of the seating chart, I have to make the decision if expending the energy is worth teaching the moral lesson.
But, this is the issue: as a society, we value our resources–our time, our energy, our money–more than we do teaching each other to be moral, respectful, selfless individuals. It’s much more fun to run over people with shopping carts and spend other people’s money apparently…