Monday, November 28, 2011

Excess Commercialism II

[Johnathan Clayborn]
With Thanksgiving weekend just behind us I couldn’t help but take a moment to reflect on how driven by greed our society has become. Many years ago I used to work for Wal-Mart as an overnight stocker. I had the misfortune of working a Black Friday sale once, and that once was more than enough.
For those of you who are reading this internationally allow me to explain Black Friday; essentially it’s the one day of the year where every store has every item that you’ve ever wanted to buy marked down to ridiculously low prices for sale…the catch is that there is only about 50 or 100 of these items and there are thousands of shoppers who want them…thousands of shoppers who have completely devolved back into their most basic animal instincts.
When I worked that one Black Friday back in the early 2000’s, 2002 I believe it was, it was an experience I’ll never forget. There was pushing, there was shoving, There was a 78 year old woman ramming other shoppers with her cart when they wouldn’t get out of the way fast enough. And let’s not forget the fist fight that erupted in electronics. This was the year that the $50 Apex DVD player first entered the market and our store had 3,000 of them. Plenty to go around. And yet, a fist fight ensued. But, mind you, these customers were not fighting over whether or not they were going to get one, they were fighting over who was going to get them first.
Now, I love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday (I blame my Irish roots for that). And I like Christmas Music (after Thanksgiving). But I hate, absolutely hate Christmas Shopping. While the Christmas season brings out some of the best traits of humanity; a giving spirit, kindness, charity, etc. , it tends to bring out the absolute worst in people as individuals. At any point during the Christmas season a trip to the local mall will include; people honking at each other and driving like jerks, cars jockeying for that last parking space, people being rude to one another, long lines and short patience, rude sales workers who have dealt with more than enough rude customers, and generally pushy people trying to make sure that they get everything on their list no matter the cost. Black Friday takes all of those things and amplifies it a million fold. It’s the one day of the year where people revert back to the psychology of primates and compassion or kindness toward fellow man is a foreign concept.
But again, don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a look at some of the headlines over the weekend:
The New York Times reported a story that happened in Los Angeles. A woman wanted a new X-Box to put under the Christmas tree. Right on. I like the X-Box console, it’s a very good choice. And at a half-price sale, who wouldn’t? But, when this particular woman felt that the crowd was threatening her grip on her X-Box how did she respond? With pepper spray, of course. In the end she sprayed about 20 people, including small children. And once all of the other customers were writhing in agony she went to the front, paid the clerk and went home. She did turn herself over to Police on Saturday, but they have not decided if they will be pressing charges.  Also, according to one witness who talked to the press, this particular woman used this tactic over and over throughout the store to get “quick access” to her list of items.
But, that’s just one crazed lunatic, right? Sadly, no. In North Carolina another shopper, this one a former police officer himself, also released a puff of pepper spray into the crowd in order to “calm them down”.  And elsewhere in California another shopper pepper sprayed other shoppers who tried to cut her in line. This woman injured 15 people with her pepper spraying and it is unknown if she will be facing charges.
And then, of course, there’s Kinston, North Carolina, where customers were fighting over cell phones that were marked down $165. An off-duty Kinston police officer ended up pepper spraying the fighting shoppers to subdue them.
Okay, so maybe you think that pepper spray is no big deal. I beg to differ. To get a good explanation of how it works and what you would go through, watch this video here:
Now, keep in mind, these boys did this as part of a training exercise and they had professionals there to guide them through the process and to wash the pepper spray off. Now imagine that same thing happening in a closed store with no professionals and no water and little kids. It would be pretty unbearable. Imagine that you’re talking to your spouse and then suddenly you have a face full of pepper spray.  That’s not my idea of a good time.
But, sadly, the pepper spray was just the beginning. In San Leandro, California a group of thieves thought that they would partake on the Black Friday deals by simply robbing the shoppers on their way out of the store with their wares. One man refused to give up his purchases so the thieves shot him for them. Fortunately, this man survived and even held down one of the thieves until police could apprehend him. Police are looking for the other thieves now and the man is recovering in the hospital.
The shootings didn’t end there either. A 55 year old woman, Tonia Robbins, was shot in the foot outside of a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Wal-Mart as thieves stole her purse. The suspects fled after Tonia’s sister, 58 year old Anne, pulled out a .38 caliber revolver and fired three warning shots into the air.
In Kissimmee, Florida two men had a fist fight over a jewelry sale. The police in this case were planning on just letting the men go with a warning, but one of the men resisted police when they tried to escort him out of the store so he was arrested instead.
And then there’s Rome, New York, where two men got into a fight just moments after the store opened. In this case the police didn’t have to get involved right away. The men beat each other up so badly that they were both hospitalized. And, remarkably, in a different part of the same store another fight erupted in a line of shoppers where the police arrested one man and charged him with disorderly conduct.
It’s not just the big cities that are effected either. Even in small towns like Fruitport Township, Michigan the violence and chaos ensues. Fruitport Township is a sleepy little town of 12,500 people. This is less than half the size of the sleepy little town that I reside in. And yet, this small town is not immune. In the local Wal-Mart a 15 year old girl was overcome by the crowd and pushed to the floor where she was trampled on by several people. She was hospitalized for her injuries. In the same town at the local mall an 86-year old woman was also pushed by the crowds in the Bed, Bath & Beyond. She fell and hit her head and was treated by paramedics at the scene. Authorities in the area say that no less than 8 stores received bomb threats on Friday.
When it comes to electronics customers get crazy. In Milford, Connecticut a shopper got into a fight with another customer. The shopper, Brian Shellnutt, allegedly punched the other shopper in the face over a video game at which point police tazered him and took him into custody.
And it seems that shoppers aren’t the only ones who are affected by the craze either, it also spills over onto those we expect to protect us. One of the more disturbing stories comes out of Buckeye, AZ, a suburb just south of my house. A 54-year old grandpa, Jared Allen Newman was assaulted by police and ended up with a broken face. Here’s what went down, according to eye witnesses on the scene; the crowd in electronics was getting crazy, and they knocked Jared’s grandson to the ground. Jared put a video game in the waist band of his pants so that he had both hands free to pick his grandson off the floor. The police interpreted this as intent to steal the game. He was being cuffed by one officer was cooperative and compliant. Then, out of nowhere, another officer tripped him and body-slammed him into the ground. His face broke his fall. He lost consciousness and began bleeding profusely from the nose.  The particularly disturbing part of this story is one that’s often left out. Mr. Newman wasn’t just there for the game. He also had more than $600 of merchandise in his shopping cart. Why steal a $40 game when you’re about to pay for more than $600? The over-zealous police claim that Mr. Newman was resisting arrest and flailing his arms about screaming “I don’t want to go to jail!”.  Of course not, neither would I, Mr. Newman. I could be wrong, but I’ve worked retail before, and I’ve worked in several different retail chains. It’s typically standard practice not to charge someone with shoplifting until they try to leave the store without paying for the item. This was even the case at the big-name electronics store that my ex-wife used to work for. Just because a customer puts something in their pocket or in their waistband doesn’t mean that they are going to steal it. They have to show intent to steal; by making for the exit. They could have pulled it out of their pocket and paid at the register, or they could have pulled it out of their pocket and set it down anywhere in the store prior to leaving the property. It’s not shoplifting if the item doesn’t leave the property.  In this case, as a result of the police department’s over-zealous protection of the American Economy, not only did Mr. Newman receive a shattered face, but his grandson also got trampled anyway. As the local news reported; both are getting a personalized set of bloody towels for Christmas this year. If you watch the video of the aftermath (which is graphic due to the large amount of blood and can be seen here: ) one bystander asks police “why did you have to throw him down so hard?” The worst part about it, once the police injured him they didn’t even know how to administer first aid for the wounds that they caused and a bystander with some medical training came forward to tend to the man. At least in this one example the crowd seemed to unite against the police and defend Mr. Newman, who was still arrested and charged with shoplifting and resisting arrest. To me, it just sounds like a lame excuse by the police department to cover up their own misconduct.  
One article that makes my point perfectly, is also one of the saddest. 61 year old Walter Vance was shopping at Target in Logan County, West Virginia. He had a history of heart problems. He became ill while shopping for Christmas decorations for his store. He collapsed onto the ground and the rest of the shoppers ignored him and continued on with their shopping. When Walter was in their way they simply walked around him, or just simply stepped over him. Ultimately a nurse happened upon him and called him an ambulance, but he passed away shortly after arriving at the hospital. Walter’s co-workers asked reporters “Where is the good Samaritan side of people? How could you not notice that someone was in trouble? I just don’t understand if people didn’t help what their reason was, other than greed because of a good sale.”
I have to ask myself “is it really worth it?” I don’t think so; the extra stress, tension, the pushing and the shoving and the violence. Not to mention waiting around in line for hours and hours. I have better, more important things to do with my time. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like this crazed mentality will come to an end any time soon either, especially when typically respected sites like MSN Money are urging people to “plan their Black Friday assault”. In light of all of the violence that surrounds that day I can’t help but wonder if that’s really the best choice of headlines.
It may be just my perception of things, but it seems as though Thanksgiving has lost all real meaning anymore. It seems as though it is just there to serve as a reminder for when Black Friday happens. And the Christmas Spirit? Well, that’s just summed up by three little words. Peace on Earth? No. Very Merry Christmas? No. Goodwill to men? No. In these days it’s “Cold Hard Cash”. Christmas is becoming less and less about kindness and charity, peace or goodwill and more and more about how much money you can save and how many people you can trample or maim in the process.
Sources: at-target


  1. Hi Jonathan,
    I loved your blog, and I agree with you a 100% it seems people only care about themselves. Society is so greed driven that if you think outside the box they discriminate against you. I will not shop on Black Friday, it is not worth any money to shop on that day! In fact for the last 5 years I have done most of my shopping online, I get decent prices, free shipping and no lines or crazy people!! What is not to love about that :) Take care and God bless.

  2. Thanks Terri! I stoutly refuse to partake in Black Friday sales. It's just not worth it, and I don't want to do anything that will add to the notion that these kinds of antics are okay for civilized people. I also do a lot of my shopping online, or else I start shopping in July and I'm done by October. :)


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