The Daily Yonder's coverage of rural economic issues, including workforce development and the future of work in rural America, is supported in part by Microsoft.
To hear America’s newspapers and magazines tell it, Black Friday is soooo 2012—the year when its grandeur and its share of the market appeared to peak. Ever since, pundits claim, Americans have been falling out of love with this caveman “holiday” in favor of a newer, niftier flame: Cyber Monday.
The respective names of these kissin’ cousin commercial holidays say it all: one darkly ominous—black comedy writ large—the other clean, white, and highly palatable. The rise of Cyber Monday neatly parallels the tastes of wealthier, better-connected Americans currently fueling the growth in seasonal e-commerce. In 2016, Fortune magazine gleefully predicted, would go online than to stores over the four-day holiday weekend. And yet, cool or uncool, Black Friday is disproportionality important to the bottom-line of many rural and small-town Americans lacking ready access to online deals.
Commerce-shaming, not unlike the weight-shaming and body-shaming many cosmopolitans decry, is now the order of the day, with multiple news outlets arguing that Cyber Monday is the morally superior alternative to its cruder, caveman cousin. “Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Go to the Store on Black Friday,” reads a C-Net headline, listing reasons ranging from the limbic/lizard brain (the visceral fear-mongering implicit in mentions of Black Friday fights, tramplings, mobs) to the highly rational and intellectual (the smart shopper gets better deals on Cyber Monday). Meanwhile, sporting goods retailing giant REI now closes its doors on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, winning praise from socially conscious, Internet-endowed consumers while effectively shutting out those without adequate online access.
Such high-minded reasons for avoiding Black Friday may make perfect sense for metropolitans snugged up with their high-speed broadband and distrust of the demos in democracy. But where I live, in the heart of Middle America, Black Friday is not yet a cultural villain. And we dodo birds who still indulge in such commercial dinosaurs as 6 a.m. doorbuster deals are not the willfully backslid, backward, morally bankrupt plebes we’re often written up to be. Consider:
According to the FCC’s Broadband Progress Report, 39 percent of rural Americans (23 million people) lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps Internet access, the current definition of broadband. By contrast, only 4 percent of urban Americans lack access to the same. Sophisticated Cyber Monday shoppers who look down their noses at the pigs in a chute who line up for Black Friday in-store deals may want to recall the frustrations they felt with digital commerce back in, say, 2007, when their broadband speeds likely approximated those achieved by many and small-town rural Americans today…on a good day.
If Thanksgiving means sharing the great American melting pot with those who do not share your racial profile, education level, ZIP code, earning potential, and technological prowess, then the boots-on-the-ground, fully analog experience of Black Friday is as down-to-earth and grassroots patriotic as it gets. Those who disdain Black Friday would do well to remember that buying and selling are social rather than solitary acts, begging the question: whose actions are more societally valuable and less solipsistic—the communal shopper waiting their turn with the Walmart throngs, or the digital shopper, high in their cool, silicon-blue tower interacting with no one save Uncle Google.
While arguably not as environmentally friendly as the UPS and Fed-Ex-driven Cyber Monday, the miles we Black Fridays drive to our nearest big-box stores stimulate a much wider cross section of the American economy—from oil and gas to food and entertainment. For us Black Friday is an immersive, egalitarian, all-day experience—a modern folkway—not a mere commercial interruption in an afternoon of smooth chardonnay, soft slippers, and “clean” commerce.
Zachary Michael Jack is a seventh generation Midwesterner and the author of many books on rural and small-town culture, including the forthcoming book Wish You Were Here: Love and Longing in an American Heartland.