Those involved with or sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street cause might think that Black Friday represents everything they loathe — greed, mindless consumerism and corporate monopolies. But for Black Friday shoppers, the sales mean something entirely different. They mean equal footing.
It was a comparison begging to be drawn, a contradiction pleading to be exposed. This year’s Black Friday drew mobs, riots and even pepper-spraying — much of what the Occupy movement has come to be known for in popular media. And yet these two groups were fighting for such seemingly different causes and with different tactics. What Occupy wants, in a nutshell, is a political and financial overhaul in this country, as well as the right to protest peacefully in public space. All Black Friday shoppers wanted was a new Xbox. Black Friday shoppers broke out the pepper spray, while Occupy demonstraters had pepper spray used against them.
But even if they’re fighting for vastly different things, their fervor comes from the same place: the desire for justice.
The myth of the American Dream has been dead for a while. When the stock market crashed in 2008, its downward momentum managed to hammer the nails into that coffin. For many Americans, it doesn’t matter how hard they work, or how committed they are to finding a job — there’s still a chance they won’t be able to provide for themselves or their families. There’s still a chance their kids won’t get the top item on their Christmas lists. And it’s all because of the selfishness and irresponsibility of people at the top.
But on Black Friday, or as I like to call it, Occupy Sales Rack, there is an odd sense of fairness. Insane deals don’t go to people because of what families they were born into or what schools accepted them, but because of how hard they are willing to work, even if it means camping out three days before Thanksgiving or creating a 24-hour itinerary of different stores to hit up. Not everyone succeeds, but everyone has the chance to.
That sounds awfully similar to the type of society the United States erroneously prides itself in being, as well as to the demands Occupy Wall Street protesters make. Black Friday may financially support Wall Street, but ideologically, it has a little more of a progressive bent.
And not to be ignored are the deeper implications of deal-hunting. The excitement of buying something on sale is essentially the thrill of knowing that there is justice, because a discount tag is nothing more than the store admitting an item is worth less than they originally tried to pass it off as. Trying to cheat someone out of a few extra dollars isn’t going to work — at least not this time.
That is the joyful mania of Black Friday, the satisfaction that comes with cheating corporations out of a few bucks. It’s also the reason shows like “Extreme Couponing” exist — it’s alluringly subversive to watch a shopper somehow manage to not pay for $200 worth of groceries, and sometimes even get cash back.
There’s one thing almost all Americans can agree on these days, and it’s that something in the system doesn’t quite add up. From the Tea Party to Occupy, and for everyone somewhere in between left scratching their heads, discontentment is the new consensus. And everyone has their own form of resistance.
The main difference between Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Sales Rack is the former works outside of the corrupted system, while the latter works within it — indisputably supporting it in the process.
But that doesn’t mean it’s wise for protesters to scoff at or belittle deal-seekers. Because for all their faults, Occupy Sales Rack is just a group of people doing what they can to better their lives and find justice amid a sea of contradictions. Which sounds a lot like how one might describe Occupy Wall Street.