Black Friday, Materialism and Neo-capitalism Incarnate?- Mashood Ahmad, RR6

Business is booming. The 24th of November 2017 once again witnessed a financially monstrous explosion in the economic macrocosm of the world, the proverbial hurricane’s eye being the commercial catapult that is Black Friday. No doubt the single largest commercial holiday in the world, it has become a day of excessive shopping, online browsing and economic intrigue. The New York Times wrote that “Black Friday has almost come to universally denote joyous commercial excess, stupendous deals and big profits.” For many people who reside in nations dictated by a capitalistic economic philosophy, Black Friday is the ultimate landmark of business. It is a day of sky-high supplies, and even higher demands. However, has Black Friday’s over-fanatic spending culture advocated a less than desirable worship of materialistic consumerist tendencies, or is it just a harmless testimony to the affluence of an economically evolved nation?

Black Friday is a colossal commercial shopping holiday which takes place late November at the end of each calendar year.  In the US, it takes place the day following Thanksgiving Day, and in the UK in 2017, it took place on 24th of November. It is ‘celebrated’ in many Western nations; the largest of which spearheading the commercial holiday are the US, UK, EU, Canada, Mexico and South Africa; with many industrially modernising nations like India, Pakistan and China also inheriting the business practise. Moreover, in the financial market, it signifies the genesis of the Christmas shopping season, and has done so since 1952. It is a day when major retailers descend their prices to a bare minimum, in quintessence putting a myriad of goods and capital on sale. Everything from technology, clothing, home-ware and leisure products is placed on sale, on discount prices, intoxicating the populous into a vast spending spree. Businesses and shops would open their stores much earlier than usual times and close much later, allowing for the maximum spending activity to occur. The primary objective of Black Friday is to maximise profit for the business, at a time of the year when consumerism is at its highest effect; due to the celebrations of Christmas and Thanksgiving occurring at similar time periods.

Likewise, as per the impact on the economy, to say that the capital inflow is exponential would be an unjustified understatement. In an interview with Mr Mansoor Ahmad, who is a qualified accountant, who served as Finance Manager with Chittagong Stock Exchange, Bangladesh for more than 11 years, and has also served as a visiting lecturer at University of Science & Technology (USTC), Preston University, Premier University, Southern University, Edward University & University of Honolulu (Chittagong Campus, Bangladesh), stated regarding the financial practise of Black Friday “30% of all retail sales in the UK are originated in Christmas and Black Friday spending. Black Friday contributes vastly to the economy, maximising profits as per the retailer’s desired expectations”. Such sentiments are certainly true as evidenced in the fact that many news outlets reported 2017’s Black Friday as the largest ever to occur. The Evening Standard reported that a predicted £8 billion was to be spent in 2017’s Black Friday, an increase of 7% from last year. The Guardian reported that JohnLewis recorded their busiest hour of online trading. Furthermore, The Economist also wrote that Visa Europe predicted that shoppers will spend £6000 per second on the titular commercial holiday.

Thus, there are no reservations as per the sheer affluence and wealth that Black Friday as an economic entity generates. However, the question arises as to the benefits of being devoured by such a dilute form of capitalism. The main ideals of capitalism of course revolve around the foundational basis of maximising profit through private ownership of capital and goods, rather than public. Of course, this raises the morally ideological query of materialism and economic hierarchy, does extreme capitalism construct a system of economic autocracy, depriving some and benefiting others? Is capitalism not simply a repeating spiral of want and gain? It is these criticisms which influenced the writings of such thinkers and philosophers like Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, and subsequently catalysed the ideological warfare of the 20th Century Cold War. Marx writes “Capital is dead labour, which vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more labour it sucks”. Although ideologically radical, Marx’s ideas certainly reflect the criticisms of the populous conforming to a consumerism-fuelled society. Hence, can Black Friday be argued to be the epitome, nay the embodiment, of cyclical neo-capitalism and its ideals fuelling society into an eternal spiral of spending and consuming? Vladimir Marinković and Natasa Stanisavljević in their essay ‘Capitalism and the global economic crisis’ write “There were other obstacles and open questions which are inevitable in such a complex, lengthy and contradictory social process as capitalism”, commenting on its flaws as such an influential ideology.  

Therefore, to conclude the 24th of November harboured the largest commercial holiday of the calendar year in the form of Black Friday. Its consumerist magnetism generates massive abundances of profit for businesses and retailers worldwide. Yet, if one stops to consider that Black Friday is the literal and metaphorical symbol of neo-capitalism and material want, then the social perception of this cyclical practise of conformism and consumerism may be altered. Nevertheless, capitalism is still the leading economic philosophy of the world and its influence radiates to the socio-political spectrum of civilization as well, making its ideals difficult to criticise in a time when it flourishes with such potency.

Mashood Ahmad, RR6