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Gary Horton: Overloaded backpacks, pepper spray Black Friday

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: November 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Have you noticed how many news stories you’ve seen or heard about Black Friday? Like most, I’ve often heard the term in reference to the big shopping day after Thanksgiving, but this year, Black Friday seems to have taken on a full-blown holiday status all its own.

I used to think it was called Black Friday because of the pain of fighting through stores packed with as much people as merchandise, or the angst of driving in never-ending loops searching for parking. Nope, that’s not it.

It’s “Black Friday” because it’s the day retailers expect to put them safely into the black for their fiscal year.

Indeed, this year, Black Friday sales were reported up 15 percent over last year, totaling more than $54 billion in transactions. Fifty-four billion dollars is a lot of plastic crap shipped over from China for just one day.

Black Friday has risen in holiday popularity to the point where family around the hearth and turkey and mashed potatoes are a secondary afterthought to many Americans.

First is the shopping anticipation stoked from the 10 pounds of ads in our mailboxes and the mind-numbing onslaught of TV and radio spots aimed at our brains during that “marketing opportunity” formally known as the rest between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Beyond record sales, this year’s Black Friday may be most remembered for pepper spray and shopping riots.

It’s odd that this season, pepper spray seems to be the gift that keeps on giving. First made famous by police spraying granny and student “Occupiers” — now we hear from a Northridge Wal-Mart that one particularly eager shopper sprayed down competing shoppers to gain advantage in her crazed rush for stuff.

Pepper spray: It’s good to have for the holidays.

You may have seen the video gone viral from Little Rock of the store riot over $2 waffle irons. The now-famous Waffle Iron Riot of 2011 says a few things about what Americans have become.

First, many of us have been broke so long we really, really need a good bargain. Second, by God, we love stuff that makes us fat. Combined, these two aren’t good omens for America’s future.

Still, the stock market went fairly crazy after Black Friday. Americans had dutifully camped outside stores the night before, we suffered lines and riots, ran up our charge cards and Wall Street reveled to the sound of cash registers a-ringing.

Heaven, even if Junior or Princess hate the stuff we bought them, please let this Black Friday be the purchasing explosion that breaks the recession’s back. I’m confident we’ll at least see increased hiring for in-store security and riot-suppression staff.

Still, I have a hunch that this Christmas economic bump is temporary and unsustainable. In the end, what happens when most of us have most of stuff what we need or can afford? Sooner or later, the weight of it all just gets to be too much. Then what?

Americans are sold that consumerism is our natural state of being — that we should want a lot and work like hamsters on tread wheels to get it, and then we should want some more. We’re taught consumerism breeds jobs and jobs pay us the money we need to keep the whole scheme afloat. Our duty is to spend.

But consumerism is just a belief “ism” like any other dogmatic “ism.” Despite all the advertising to the contrary, you and I still have choice in what we believe constitutes the quality of life.

The other night, my wife, Carrie, and I watched a good George Clooney movie called “Up In The Air.” It’s a timely story about a guy who flies all over the country firing people for a living. Clooney’s character also happens to give somewhat jaded motivational speeches to traveling salespeople, and jadedness aside, there’s some merit in what he has to say:

“How much does your life weigh?

Imagine for a second you are carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff you have in your life. Start with the little things — the shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks. Then start adding larger stuff — clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV.

Your backpack should be getting pretty heavy now — and you go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home — I want you to stuff it all into that backpack.”

So picture the weight of everything you own, everything you’re obligated to pay for and maintain. While the weight adds up fast, Black Friday fills your backpack even heavier still.

Do you feel that weight as your credit cards sink and your backpacks sag and drag?

Driving McBean by the mall, you’ll see seasonal flags hanging all in a row on the light posts lining the streets:


Banana Republic



Steve Madden

William Sonoma


Something close to a Bible verse popped to mind as I drove past these banners promoting the “holidays.” “They’ve taken my God, and I know not where he is.”

I understand the rules and drivers of our consumer society. My life is paid by consumerism like most everyone else’s. That’s how life pretty much works.

Still, how much richer for Americans to share higher seasonal ideals and celebrate distinctly different seasonal messages flying from our light posts:









And it wouldn’t cost us a thing.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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