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Black Friday: The Epitome of Consumerism?

November 29, 2010

Before today I believed that Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving where many retail businesses cut prices so low that some people wait  in line overnight) appears to be the epitome of consumerism. Merriam Webster’s online definition of consumerism is stated as:

: the promotion of the consumer’s interests
or
: the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; also : a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods’

 

With lines that wrap around buildings early in the morning, and people leaving stores with “once-in-a-lifetime deals”, you would think that the consumption of these goods are promoting consumer interests. The catch? The deals are very limited. Competition for certain items is incredibly high. Once a person grabs an item off of a shelf, they must get in line before the time of the sale runs out, or before the sale quota is met. But after all is said and done, and a person does make it through the expected “holiday stress” (the irony here is sad) with the item(s) they stayed up all night for, many consumers boast about their deals to friends, families, and to those who weren’t able to reap the same benefits on the same item.
Does this remind you of something?

 

Maybe this will…
Thomas Hobbes explained the State of Nature as “First, competition; secondly, diffedence, thirdly; glory” (Wootton 158). Black Friday sounds pretty similar to Hobbes’ State of Nature to me.
 
 
London H
12 Comments
  1. Taylor Fields permalink
    November 29, 2010 11:17 AM

    Your connection between consumerism and Hobbes’s state of nature are accurate and humorous. Black friday is about the pursuit of a sale and the accomplishment that comes with buying something for less money. Ironically, as I always tell my mom, just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s saving money. Sure, two for one is great, but buying an item solely because you can get two, when you didn’t ever even need the first one, isn’t saving you money, it’s wasting you money. Consumerism is not the expression of our desires, but is also the retailer’s manipulation of our desires, to entice us by sales to buying a bunch of crap we really didn’t want in the first place.

  2. Jorge Rodriguez-Larrain permalink
    November 29, 2010 11:32 AM

    Great post! It is certainly true that the chaos of Black Friday resembles Hobbes’s state of nature, everyone is after their own interest. Not only does it resembles Hobbes’s state of nature, but it also resembles Locke’s state of nature, as there appears to be the establishment of “property”, and as the video shows, there is no protection for this property.

  3. crorey permalink
    November 29, 2010 11:48 AM

    There is a clear link between Black Friday and Hobbes’ view of the state of nature. It appears that many people will forgo many laws in order to get those “once in a lifetime” deals. There is no social contract between the people and it’s basically a free-for-all. It’s amazing how this Hobbesian state of nature and people’s primeval mentalities can still show up when the right conditions occur, such as Black Friday.

  4. November 29, 2010 3:42 PM

    A humorous post indeed. Black Friday does represent the state of nature very well. It puts people in a situation where its every man or woman for his or herself. People are fighting over potential property, but what else is any war really about? But the idea of manipulation brought up by another comment I thought was interesting as well. What would Kant say about this day of consumption? Why are people so easily manipulated by the media and by retailers. I have seen commercials for certain stores that depict people staying up all night and fighting over products. These commercials make it seem as if this behavior is normal, and the product of the commercial is it does become the norm. People are too easily manipulated and do not think for themselves enough. When reduced to the state of nature, it seems as if people are put also in a mindless daze. People are willing to set aside all their morals, all their limits, their pride, and their sleep because on this day they are told to, and they are told that it is okay to act this way. In an enlightened world, where people can think for themselves, this kind of behavior, and more importantly war would not occur.

  5. Sara Mitchell permalink
    November 30, 2010 8:33 PM

    I really enjoyed this post. I never thought about relating Black Friday to Hobbes’ state of nature, but it is a vert accurate connection. Everyone is fending for themselves and is willing to push others out of the way for their selfish benefit. Black Friday truly is the survival of the fittest because people have to be able to withstand a long amount of waiting time in addition to rushing in as soon as the doors open to get what they came for before anyone else can get it. The “fittest” so to speak always come out with what they came in for and the weaker ones tend to get pushed to the ground during the chaos.

  6. joshuacy permalink
    November 30, 2010 9:48 PM

    Every man for himself. You’re definitely right: Black Friday is just about as brutal as Hobbes’ state of nature. How beautiful, that consumerism can connect us with our minimalistic nature. I’m glad that I stayed in this year. Nature is scary.

  7. fvenzor permalink
    December 1, 2010 1:39 AM

    The comparison to Hobbes’ state of nature is slightly frightening, to think that not only on this day but for the next few weeks leading to the “holidays” this madness will continue. I find it humorous to think that during discussion we almost completely disregarded the accuracy of Hobbes’ idea of human nature after we read John Locke. We figured that since we do not see that “the condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone”(Hobbes) in literal terms then its validity has been lost. But this post does an excellent job in making Hobbes realistic in modern day society. We see his ideas embedded in the way live through shopping, competitive sports, and even earning job spots. Through all of this it is important to note that the reason that it’s so hard for us to make this state of nature relevant to our society is because we have become numb to these things. Its now acceptable for people to get trampled as long as everyone understands that these deals are once and a lifetime and to “die-for”.
    I think that we want to believe in Locke’s theory of mans original state of nature because, for one, it seems a lot less nasty and very much civil in comparison to Hobbes. Who doesn’t want to believe that we are all free and we are guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and property. We can only pretend that we came from such a pleasant history that has led us to be the chivalrous people of America. Ironically enough, I’m sure that this video was not hard to find and there are probably many more where that came from. Humans are as vicious as we deny them to be, they want the best of everything and they will go through many levels of competition to get to the glory and get what they believe they deserve. Hobbes tried to explain this to us, that we are all just out to compete for the limited resources that this world has. Who knew that the 50% off television at Best Buy would fall under that category. I realize now that since Hobbes seems to be right about this, then it would be best for me to shop with the bigger and stronger people of this world, the weak and small would never make it.

  8. mikeking0717 permalink
    December 1, 2010 1:51 AM

    It’s interesting that this state of nature, written about well over 300 years ago, still applies. I think that we see this state of nature more than just one Friday a year though. Hobbes state of nature is alive and well at the University of Michigan every day. For anyone who has tried to catch the Michigan bus during its rush hour, you know its an every man for himself ordeal securing a spot on board. And what about those exam driven courses that demand exceptionally high performance for success. Students aren’t exactly immune from the idea of cheating to get ahead. A scene from Hobbes state of nature? I think yes! But what I think is even more interesting to think about is that the states of nature from other social contract theorist seem to co-exist here at U of M. Maybe they all just saw a smaller piece of the whole of humanity.

  9. Samantha Eisler permalink
    December 1, 2010 1:50 PM

    as an avid black friday shopper myself, I would definitely agree with your comparison of Black Friday to Hobbes’ state of nature. When I hit up the big department stores when I venture out into the chaotic environment that is Black Friday, I usually go in with a certain mindset. Keep my eye on the prize, watch out for the hazards around me (pushy women and fallen articles of clothing and shoes), and come out victorious. I would say that these three principles alone coincide perfectly with Hobbes’ conception of the state of nature

  10. awodarczyk permalink
    December 1, 2010 2:44 PM

    It’s amazing how closely related the idea of Black Friday and Hobbes state of nature are. To think the same idea still exists some hundred of years later, is unbelieveable and even more remarkable. Black Friday is the closest related thing to a free-for-all, which best resembles Hobbes and Lockes state of natures. Everyone against each other, seeking the best opportunity for themselves. For Black Friday, the main goal equals getting the object of gift before anyone else by any means neccessary. Whether that is by force, or giving up personal free-time to stand in lines and wait, people are always going to experience a Hobbes style state of nature on Black Friday. Overall, a very interesting post and a good way to present present day state of nature with classical theorists views.

  11. greguff permalink
    December 2, 2010 4:49 PM

    While consumerism is “the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable,” the example of shopping habits on Black Friday proves that consumerism is beneficial only in moderation. As Hobbes’ state of nature suggests, people instinctually act in their own self interest. When people act in their own self interest, others are put at risk and negatively affected. The video of customers racing for great deals while trampling over other customers solidifies the idea that everybody is after their own self interest.

  12. jjkn09 permalink
    December 8, 2010 11:35 PM

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I am actually a Black Friday shopper myself and can recall the craziness that went on this year when I had arrived at the mall. Hoards of people lined up outside popular retail stores hours before they had opened in hopes of finding great “once-in-a-lifetime” deals that were actually… not that great. People even lined up in front of stores that did not even offer any deals (that really shocked me). I found it very interesting that you related Black Friday to Hobbes’ state of nature. However, I couldn’t help but think about Rousseau and his idea of the state of nature. He believed that the true state of nature is in fact much more peaceful than Hobbes assumed it was. He thought that it was in fact the civil man that was “savage” and I feel that Black Friday depicts this precisely. Man has created for himself this notion of property and now people are forever looking for more clothes to adorn themselves with and for more electronics to play with or to “make their lives” easier for them. Because man has evolved into a state of civil society, we now have Black Friday. People compete with others for the right to own clothes and electronics and whatever else is on sale during Black Friday. Perhaps this is not the state of nature but in fact, civil society.

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