After visiting Best Buy yesterday for some discounted DVDs, I found an article from BBC describing how this year's Black Friday turned violent at stores across the country (see the article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-15879139). I could not help being reminded of Marx's harsh critiques of the capitalist system.
If anything exemplifies capitalism in America, it is Black Friday. It is a day devoted to consumerism, where the focus on family, tradition, and giving thanks of Thanksgiving Day is abandoned for the pursuit of private property at discount prices.
And while Marx argues that capitalism alienate the laborer from nature, himself, his “species-being,” and his fellow humans, I think that one can also argue that the capitalist system also alienates two other members of the capitalist food chain--the retailer and the consumer--particularly when viewed through the lens of Black Friday.
First, let’s look at the retailer and the consumer’s relationship with nature—the product of production. The retailer is the most alienated from the product, as he is never owns the product, but simply mediates the transfer from the laborer to the consumer. The consumer is alienated from the product because although he is the final owner of the product, he played no role in its creation. Thus, the product can never be completely “his.” On Black Friday, the gaps between retailer and product and consumer and product widen even more. The retailer devalues the product by slashing prices, and the consumer devalues the product by attempting to give up as little money for it as possible.
As for alienation from ourselves, which Marx describes as the process of production, it is easily apparent that retailers and consumers are alienated from this process, as they are not involved in this process at all.
It is in light of Black Friday (particularly this year’s violent turn) that the alienation between retailer, consumer, “species-being” (or what it means to be human), and their fellow humans becomes starkly evident. Retailers are reduced to their sales job, working 10-hour shifts and being treated by consumers as simply a means to an end. Additionally, retailers don’t act like humans, as this year’s incident of security workers pepper spraying shoppers exemplifies. The consumers don’t act like humans either—they must be contained like a heard of animals, they fight each other with pepper spray or with guns to be the first to the sales or possess the most sought-after private property.
If any day brings out the dark side of capitalism, it is Black Friday. But with the deals as they are, how can we not be consumed by our consumerist culture?