Well, we’ve made it. We deployed the stiff upper lip, the fearless spirit that has seen Britain endure three plague epidemics, two world wars and a Margaret Thatcher, and we’ve survived Black Friday for another year.
About three years ago, the biggest shopping day in the United States migrated to her little cousin across the pond. The lack of a Thanksgiving Thursday over here would no longer stop us elbowing our fellow Britons in the jaw in a bid to secure the best deals on massive TVs on Black Friday. Videos of snarling housewives showed the lengths we’d go to for a good deal, dependable consumers that we are.
This year was no different. There were 14 arrests after a mass brawl at Tesco Extra in Watford, and six staff were treated for smoke inhalation as furious shoppers reacted to the Solihull John Lewis selling out of Dell Inspirons by setting fire to the Customer Service counter. A man died in the Russell Hobbs stampede at Lakeside.
Only none of that actually happened.
Instead we were treated to a phalanx of frustrated journalists interviewing the odd punter about why they thought the masses had passed up the chance of a nice queue at 5am. “Madam, Tom Logan, Sky News. Where’s the carnage I was promised?” I might be wrong, but it strikes me there are more important issues pressing against the inside of 2016’s trousers than why it seems to be a normal shopping day.
Everyone does their elbowing online these days. Black Friday has become a nearly exclusively internet phenomenon, as people discover it’s easier to make a delivery man lug an 85-inch JVC up the garden path than to have to change out of their pyjamas and interact with spiritless sales staff in person.
Kind of makes the subsequent ‘Cyber Monday’ a bit redundant, not that it’s stopped three fucking emails about it dropping into my inbox in the last ten minutes. ‘Cyber Monday! 30% Off on All 6131 Digital Music!’ ‘A dealicious 50% off for Cyber Monday’ from Dominos. ‘It’s Cyber Monday at the MLS Store, 25% off with the code MLSCM.’ If I want I can eat a Large Stuffed Crust Mexican Hot with Reduced Fat Cheese TM while wearing a Portland Timbers jersey and listening to ‘Clear Minded Fury’ by Minority Unit, whoever the fuck they might be.
And this is what passes for a good time nowadays: buying utterly useless shit. ‘Retail therapy’ as the appalling term goes. “Tell me about your mother. Did you feel loved as a child?” “No, the bitch wouldn’t get me that Boba Fett I wanted and all my friends had a better bike than me.”
What is it about the process of purchasing that makes people happy? Your job doesn’t pay nearly enough and you’re probably going to have to leg it from the bailiffs when the rent goes up next month, but so long as you can do it in a brand new pair of Vans Old Skools it’ll be all right. It hardly matters that your husband’s left you given Amazon’s incredible range of sunglasses.
Whatever happened to getting smashed and using regrettable decisions to wipe the slate? Didn’t necking two bottles of Zinfandel and phoning your sister to tell her you sold Dad’s medals to pay for that trip to Corfu, not lost them in the move as you told her, used to unburden the soul?
The amount of pleasure people gain from shopping seems to be inversely proportional to the number of frightening letters they receive each month from HSBC. I’m not blind to the idea that it’s because I can afford a certain quantity of useless tat that I don’t find joy in buying more of it.
But I really, really fucking hate shops. The weird gait and gaze of people peering at items on shelves or off pegs reminds me of cattle roaming across a field, chewing on a section of grass, then moving 30 metres away to do the same. It’s fucking grass, lads – I don’t see the quality changing much from one area to the next.
Not that I’m immune. As I write, two Geordies are tearing the shit out of my living room, which I’ve had to spend the last few days emptying to prepare for these decorators. My God, the sheer volume of worthless shite unseen by human eyes for years is staggering. Thankfully it’s cathartic beyond imagination to find myself freshly free of Dick York’s Wardrobe, a VHS tape of the Wedding Present’s record-breaking 12-single series of 1992.
The things we urgently feel it’s time to replace often have months or years left in them. Almost none of the mostly purposeless objects we haul through life would be mourned after the fire. Open any cupboard in your house and you’ll be staring at a selection of things you don’t need, in this life or the next.
But on we rumble in this vacuous consumer nightmare, piling up stuff in cupboards and filling drawers with redundancy. Mountains of clothes, countless unopened DVDs, a bigger, bigger, bigger TV, a new computer long before the old one’s dead, more shoes than the Human Centipede could ever hope to bleed or vomit on, stuff for the kitchen that makes cookery that little bit more confusing, a Black and Decker that you’ll use for one single DIY disaster, a device to make you thinner while you sit unmoving and a fucking trampoline that lives in the shed.
I don’t have an alternative route to pleasure and joy for those of you currently wondering whether that great deal on a PowerLead Pcam PDC001 2.7 inch TFT LCD HD Mini Digital Camera will lead to immeasurable happiness, or at least more happiness than the infinitesimally different camera you bought this time last year. But I can tell you this: these things do not make you happy. They serve no purpose beyond providing an inconvenience to the people tasked with scrubbing any trace of your life away when you’re dead.
Don’t buy things, buy memories. Save all that cash you’re shedding on pointless crap, and take your dad to the cricket. Go snorkelling off Sardinia. Fly in a hot-air balloon. Take a course in cooking a curry. Have a blowout weekend in Monte Carlo. Pay for an Eritrean village’s water supply for a month and earn yourself a few new pals. Cough those inexplicable thousands it costs to ride the Orient Express. You have to dress up like a pillock for that one mind.
Or just go to the pub. Do anything, but do, rather than accumulate. Treat physical possessions with the indifference they deserve.
The son of Malcolm McLaren has just burned £5m worth of music memorabilia in protest at the commodification of punk. I applaud him with every part of my marrow just as others decry that he could have sold it, and given the money to charity. Think of the homeless that could have been fed for a few nights with that cash, they say.
And they say it while not wondering why the person who would have bought £5m worth of punk memorabilia wouldn’t simply have given his £5m to charity himself. Of course he couldn’t be expected to do that: he’s a consumer, let him buy. We are consumers; we buy things. We’ve worked out how to be happy in a system that doesn’t often seem to value our contentment.
Our products will make you happy! How can you sleep at night knowing there’s a square inch of cupboard not guarding a treasured belonging? Don’t waste your money on things you can’t touch and hold and keep!
We are consumers; sell us stuff. And the best thing you’ve been sold? A fucking line.