Hello sports fans! Yes, it’s that time of year again. Now that the quadrennial election festivities are once again in the books and we’ve dutifully selected our Queen, er… King, er… Reality TV Star… in Chief, it’s time for we Americans to once again do what we do best and the one task for which we were all born and bred: launch into our annual orgiastic feast of gluttony, greed, avarice, and all around irresponsible behavior, during what we lovingly and only slightly mockingly call our holiday season. Spanning roughly from Thanksgiving Day to the week after New Year’s Day, the American holiday season has gradually morphed into an epic month long binge of excessive eating, drinking, shopping, and god only knows what else, at least for those who are fortunate enough to not be employed directly servicing the great commercial beast. Yes indeed, we ‘Muricans do love us some holidays, and why the fuck not? We’re an empire now – and hey! – we do what the fuck we want! That’s what empires do, and you can bet your bottom reserve currency petro dollar that we’re going to do it bigger and badder and with more copious amounts of bling-bling than any of the piss-ant empires before us could have ever conceived of doing it!
Now, I know, I know, Thanksgiving and Christmas were both (Christian) religious-based holidays right from the start (and still are in a small number of dutifully inclined households) primarily, and they should still be given their due in principle, even if most of us no longer recognize them for any of that. Thanksgiving started off well enough, with images of cute little Pilgrims in their Plain Jane little Pilgrim suits (modeling the first football pants no doubt!) sitting down with the nice Indians who came out to greet them (the first casserole dishes to greet the nice white men and women!) when they came ashore at Plymouth Rock. Only later would ugly rumors of small pox infested blankets and similar treacheries emerge, and the beginnings of what would soon become the great Indian wars, which would sweep the nation from coast to coast in the century following, putting paid to such kitschy notions of peace, love, and understanding between the races. But hey, it was a good story, for a while at least, for a young nation that simply had no meaningful stories of its own at the time; so peace, love, and understanding, all wrapped up in a horn of plenty harvest feast it was.
On the other hand, Christmas was largely an imported affair, originally stolen straight away from traditional pagan/agrarian Sun (Son) God rites. Likewise, the jolly old Christmas elf St Nickolas and his sled full of toys pulled by eight magical reindeer shtick evolved innocently enough in the Scandinavian countries as a variation on the Second Coming of Christ narrative, complete with toys to reward the good little children and naught (or worse) for the little hellions in their midst. Fold in some wise men traveling from afar, a virgin birth, a stable and some livestock, shake well (never stir!), and voila! You’ve got yourself a slightly anachronistic and admittedly quite disjointed little midwinter holiday tradition that makes secularists and non-secularists alike happy. Add in some Christmas grog of sufficient strength and quantity and repeat annually for long enough and pretty soon no one much remembers or even cares what the original rationale for the holiday was – IT’S A FUCKING PARTY – and everyone loves a party!
In the aftermath of WWII and America’s new found prosperity in the world, opportunistic early twentieth century corporate marketers recognized the still mostly untapped potential of the “holiday season” and began to exploit it. Events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and similar festive promotional gambits throughout the country helped define the season as an “event” proper (with all the most appropriate marketing tie-ins of course!), and then the rush was on. First newspapers, then radio, then TV progressively amplified the seasonal hysteria and initiated the first instances of a future marketing trend that would soon take over the world in earnest: marketing to children, in this case the “baby boom” generation, the largest and most prosperous child demographic the world had ever seen. But hey, this was a marketing and sales bonanza, and Americans from their earliest days have always embraced the gold rush mentality, no matter its possible ill effects. And with marketing’s ability to strategically focus its message on the altruistic aspects of the holiday season, the underlying messages of greed and avarice were made palatable and able to hide in plain sight without unduly upsetting the morally pure among us.
And so it was decided and so it became that the holiday season was “win-win” for everybody involved in the vernacular of the emerging new corporate speak. Small town retailers and behemoth corporations alike basked in the post-war bounty, while anxious parents could focus their limited resources and parental benevolence on a single day or days during the year. And with the Christmas message of “naughty or nice” in effect as well, the holiday could also be used as a moral carrot/stick to promote good behavior on the part of their young charges. Fast forward to today: as retailing first morphed into hideous big box stores and then began a historical retreat in the face of the emerging internet and its just in time delivery to anywhere USA, the day after Thanksgiving – a “throw away,” unproductive day for the most part on most corporate calendars – gradually became the most important day of the year for the business community. Coming near the end of the calendar year but semi-officially signaling the beginning of the holiday season, beleaguered retailers sought to whip ravenous shoppers into an avaricious frenzy through the use of mass marketing loss-leader sales techniques. And so it was that the Friday after Thanksgiving was by and by suitably dubbed ‘Black Friday,” allegedly in reference to its ability to bring beleaguered retailers’ annual sales profits into the black, but in this observer’s opinion just as likely a reference to the black heart of greed it unleashes in otherwise possibly sane and caring people.
And so it was that in the aftermath of 9-11, allegedly the largest domestic terror event on the nation’s soil in its history, President George W. “Shrub” Bush famously advised Americans to simply “go shopping.” More insightful words into the corporate mindset that he and his family have long represented have never been spoken. Or, to liberally paraphrase former Shrub Senior Political Adviser and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (my words in bold), a man never at a loss for words himself:
“We’re a consumer empire now, and when we consume, we create our own markets. And while you’re studying those markets—judiciously, as you will—we’ll consume some more, creating other new markets, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s consumers…and you, all of you, will be left to decide: consume with us or be consumed by us, your choice.
So what are you doing still sitting there kulturCritics? Open up another browser window to Amazon.com or the retailer(s) of your choice and GET BUSY! We’re consumers now and all the world’s a marketplace!