If any new sign was needed (and it wasn’t) that we live in a viciously corporate-inspired, consumerist society, then the export of America’s “Black Friday”to the UK high street and the subsequently embarrassing scenes of shopping pandemonium serve as the definitive, rather ugly indictment.
People trampling over other people, vying and screaming to be first into the stores in order to win the ‘Christmas shopping’ race… Jesus would be so proud.
And whoever owns those stores must be incredibly happy (I can picture nothing other than Mr Burns rubbing his hands together in glee, muttering “Excellent”). Seriously, I have never wanted anything from a store that badly. Except cigarettes. And maybe X-Men #25 back in 1993. ‘The Spirit of Christmas’, if there was ever was such a thing outside of Charles Dickens’ idyllic storytelling (or idealised visions of the season maintained in films, TV and on Christmas card images), isn’t dying – it’s dead.
Like almost everything else in society, it has disappeared into the all-consuming vortex of rabid consumerism, manipulative advertising and the desperate though artificial sense of ‘need’ that has been programmed into so many people, driving them towards the bright lights, hellish queuing and even more hellish in-store music playlists, of the high-street stores.
Tiny Tim would’ve been massacred if he’d tried to go shopping on Black Friday.
I’d never heard of ‘Black Friday’ anyway; when someone mentioned the term to me, I thought it was a reference to some kind of IRA incident from the eighties. I already thought it was bad enough the cultural pervasiveness of “the American Century” meant that we got lumbered with Valentine’s Day.
It’s perverse to consider that at a time where several of the world’s oldest Christian communities, specifically in Syria and Iraq, have been wiped from the map, its historic sites devastated, thousands of its devotees either killed or forced into exodus, the Western heirs of Christianity – for centuries the chief vanguard and disseminator of Christian ideas in the world – are broadly societies now worshiping at the altar of the modern religion of Consumeranity.
The disapproving tone of the coverage in some of the newspapers towards the “Black Friday” scenes made it seem like this was the worst display of consumer rabidness we’ve ever seen; actually it isn’t. The UK riots of 2011 were the ultimate display of that; thousands and thousands of people, mostly feral youth, smashed and looted stores in several UK cities for two days, stealing whatever they could. They essentially hijacked something initially localised to Tottenham, London, that had been a legitimate protest against perceived police discrimination; and they ran with it, turning into a mass exercise in greed, envy and that same artificially created ‘need’ – that burning desire to have things advertised on TV or to have things other people have.
The mass looters of 2011 were simply a more violent, extreme version of the rabid shoppers – all of them worshipers at the same altar of ‘desirable products’ and artificially induced ‘status’ desire.
Not that I’m big into religion in the doctrinal sense, but there’s something sad in considering that the kinds of frothing hordes storming the shops with ‘Christmas’ in mind will by far dwarf the number of people entering into churches or chapels come Christmas; or volunteering in soup kitchens or visiting elderly relatives. Whatever remains of the traditional hallmarks of Christmas will be entirely extinct within another decade or so (by the time my grandparents’ generation is gone, I suspect the Christmas season will be largely regarded as a secular cultural event; like Valentines Day or “Black Friday” itself). Even I can track the discernible ebbing away of the old-style Christmas trappings and behaviours over the course of my own lifetime; and that’s just talking about from when I was a kid in the eighties to now – not even that long a passage of time.
Aleister Crowley once predicted that Christianity would be supplanted in the West by a century of ‘Crowleyanity’; he was probably wrong about that, but Christianity has been replaced with the Religion of Consumerism, sponsored by the Gods of Corporatism and their many enticing Messengers and Emissaries, and wholly embraced by vast swathes of society.
It’s a religion without theology, without parables and without moral demands; one that is purely existential, offering only immediate gratification and possibly customer loyalty cards. Whether that’s something better or worse than the type of religion that held sway before is difficult to answer. It isn’t as imaginative, evocative or romantic though and it isn’t likely to inspire much art, poetry or act of charity.