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Consumerism Run Amok: Shopping on Thanksgiving Day

a8xzovyceaaskmaI recently read what I considered to be an uncontroversial article in which the author called out the loathsome business practice many large retailers are engaging in this year of actually opening on Thanksgiving Day, you know, because it wasn’t asshole enough to have their employees come in at 3am on Black Friday. However, the author did spread the blame for this selfish and greedy business practice around by pointing out that if people didn’t go shopping on these days, (and by “go shopping” I mean try to avoid getting in a fight, or getting trampled or stabbed by strangers while waiting hours in line to try to get a 50% discount on something they likely don’t need) the stores wouldn’t open. Still, even this didn’t seem like an argument-inducing statement to me due to its easy to understand logic and clear connection to what I thought was a universally agreed upon despicable problem. However, when I went to check out the comment section of the article, instead of finding a bunch of bravo’s and well-said’s, there were actually a lot of people defending the business practice and themselves as the people who make it profitable.

Some attempted to justify the practice by saying things like, “Firemen, police officers and hospital staff have to work on Thanksgiving, so why shouldn’t Wal-Mart staff?” They seemed to be saying this earnestly, so I have to guess they either view their need to shop as being an emergency on the scale protecting/saving someone’s life or they don’t actually know what doctors and first-responders do.

Others made the significantly less ridiculous comparison to people who work at hotels and gas stations having to work on the holiday and took issue with the author not mentioning that as being unfair. However, if they just took the time to think about it, I think even they could see the services these people provide are directly related to a holiday in which huge numbers of Americans hit the roads and travel long distances to visit family in other parts of the country.

Still, perhaps the saddest arguments supporting retailers forcing people to work on Thanksgiving came from people who either said that they, themselves, had had to do it before so other people should too or the ones who said not everyone has people to celebrate the holiday with, so they would probably enjoy the chance to earn some extra money.

ec7683db04aa369937546cf618bca742Starting with the latter point, that is just heartbreaking and my heart goes out to anyone in the position where they view working to be a better option than having some time off either because they are lonely or that hard up for money. Still the idea that some people are lonely on this holiday makes it OK to drag people who aren’t away from their families is a bit selfish. As for the former arguement, this attitude is one of the most despicable ones I’ve encountered in my life. I don’t get how people go through something shitty and come out of it going, “I hope more people have to go through that.” I’ve led a pretty blessed life, but it hasn’t been completely without hardship. However, my take away from those hardships, even while knowing they can strengthen you and build character, wasn’t to wish more people could experience the same. It was to hope fewer would. The idea that something bad happening to you makes bad things happening to other people justified is the most selfish attitude I can imagine a person having. It’s even more selfish than the owners of the stores making people work, in my opinion.

The arguments defending the idea that a store shouln’t put off the sale of a bunch of nonessential crap for one day might vary widely in terms of how ridiculous, heartless or sad they are. However, they all have one thing in common, they all come from people who have been completely consumed by consumerism and cannot distinguish between what is and is not a necessity, and what is and is not important in life, hence their comparisons of professions like nurses to jobs like cashiers.

There is nothing being sold on Black Friday at 5am – or now Thanksgiving Day – that could not be sold a day later. There is nothing a store chooses to discount on those days that they could not choose to discount a day later. But what it all comes down to is retailers are tearing their employees away from their families to come in and work what is already a pretty terrible job because they know people will come. So yes, like the author of the original article said, “If you shop on Thanksgiving, you are part of the problem.”

Sidebar: There might be one upside to people working at Walmart coming in on Thanksgiving: maybe they’ll get first pick of the donations some Walmart stores have set up to help their horribly underpaid employees.

Brian M. Williams
Brian is the author of the recently published travel memoir "Stranger in a Stranger Land: My Six Years in Korea." (Click this profile for more information.) He's also a law school grad with Southern charm and Virginia roots. He recently returned to America after nearly seven years traveling and working abroad. He loves dive bars, international travel and foreign accents. He's particularly good at small talk and was the first person to notice there's no "I" in "team."

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