December 3, 2013 by Ben Crystal
I know I should already expect them, but they still surprise me every year. Whether it’s a crowd trampling some poor security guard to death at the 5 a.m. Doorbuster Black Friday sale at the mall or someone stabbing someone else over the chance to buy an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, I’m still routinely unprepared for the holiday season headlines of mayhem and manslaughter amid the mirth and merriment.
In Philadelphia, a small group of women got into a closed-fist, prison-yard rumble — complete with the deployment of a stun gun — that may have involved at least one of their children. A mall in Sacramento, Calif., hosted a barn burner of a beat down, which began over a pair of panties at a Victoria’s Secret. And Wal-Mart stores nationwide saw their yellow smiley faces splattered with blood as Black Friday shoppers turned the electronics departments into Mixed Martial Arts cage fights.
I forget these seasonal reminders of just how ridiculous our consumer culture can make some of our less inhibited compatriots. They do such a marvelous job of proving themselves throughout the rest of the year by blaming their problems on productive Americans, shrieking into their “Obamaphones” and voting for Democrats. Nonetheless, in modern-day parlance: Really?!?
The only way I might get violent at a mall would be if they wouldn’t let me leave. And I’m smart enough to stay the hell out of stores like Victoria’s Secret; they have a website, for cripes sake. I shop at Wal-Mart on at least a semi-regular basis, and I have yet to encounter any of their wares that are worth another shopper’s blood — much less his life.
But don’t read this as an indictment of the American love of stuff — especially stuff we can’t afford. At least these melees break out over people’s sense-occluding desire to buy stuff, as opposed to just stealing or looting it (New Orleans not included). Through most of the year, we tend to buy, sell and/or lease with a minimum of bloodshed. While our pursuits might well make many of us debt-ridden fools who are trying to drown their sorrows in professional-grade espresso makers and theater-style popcorn machines, they also partially fuel an economy that has withstood the broadsides of President Barack Obama’s bumbling for nearly six years. Of course, it would be lovely if Americans were motivated by more altruistic factors. However, consider that comparing the poorest Americans to the poorest people in places where “stuff” means “foliage near the hut” is like comparing Stephen Spielberg to a film student with a broken 8mm Bell and Howell — meaning our consumer-driven culture provides even its non-producers with the chance to be consumers.
And even amid our most murderous mall-marauding moments, we can’t sniff the title for “Most Likely to Kill Each Other Over Something Truly Ridiculous.” We can’t compete with the Mideast, where they’ve been fighting the same battle since at least the 7th century. We can’t compete with Asia, where politics trumps life to the tune of Tiananmen Square (although we are catching up with the Chinese in the state-sponsored infanticide standings). We can’t compete with Central and South America, where murder is often considered a hobby, if not a legitimate vocation. We can’t compete with Europe, where homicide is an acceptable response to an adverse result in a soccer game. In fact, we can’t even compete with Detroit, where life is worth slightly less than the price of the newest Nikes.
The annual American Black Friday free-for-all is weird, sad and — most importantly — tragic. But it could be worse; at least we get some lovely parting gifts. Now, who wants an espresso?