Dark, darker, darkest

Trigger warning: racism, islamophobia, mass surveillance

Black Friday – it’s a kind of cartoonishly negative image of Christmas. All the (supposed) piety and charity in the traditional holiday is darkly countered in today’s crass materialism and determined search to maximize savings. It’s a day when the darker side of human nature comes out more than we might realize. Here’s a quick look at that in the news from today and earlier this week.

The New York Mag’s Jonathan Chait put together a somber examination of the dangerous rhetoric that’s become common stock in conservative politics. In the wake of the Paris attacks, one of his interesting observations is how President Obama’s ruling out of a full-scale invasion of Syria or Iraq has mutated the post-attack paranoia into a more inwardly-focused xenophobia. What I’d argue is the most haunting part of his piece, however, is this:

“[Trump’s] talent for manipulating the darkest emotions of the conservative id, while minimizing specific policy commitments, has been on full display. In every public appearance, he emitted new, authoritarian-sounding warnings. ‘We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,’ he vowed. ‘We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.’ Every new sound bite set off a profitable fervor of media speculation, forcing other candidates to raise the bidding or be left behind. ‘It’s not about closing down mosques,’ insisted Rubio, placing himself rhetorically to Trump’s right, ‘it’s about closing down anyplace — whether it’s a café, a diner, an internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired.'”

While the fear of the Other blazes in the background – America conventionally goes to its big box stores today. Economics journalists are sounding the alarm that the loss-leading sales that define the holiday aren’t as business-savvy as they might seem. Black Friday has managed to attract a deal-conscious fan base, not motivated by brand loyalty but by getting the best offer. In short, stores have to offer discounts that don’t actually make them money (or far less than usual) – but that’s acceptable since the point is to outcompete everyone else, not to turn a profit.

8211477498_34b6ee9b0a_o2012 Black Friday crowds in New York City, from here.

Faced with that type of market failure, where the fight is over who loses the least, there’s one basic solution: expand. Black Friday deals have begun coming to the UK – another corporate import from their former colony. If crowds can be turned out over there like those that created the deal-driven celebrations in the US, then maybe international companies can sell at a loss here and recreate their historical sales profits over there. That could keep them in the black, at least until a similar customer base for the holiday develops in the UK. Then, they go shopping for another set of buyers – maybe Australia next?

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