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How the Wal-Mart Stampede Made a Long Holiday Season Longer

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The first full week in December hasn't passed, yet it feels as if it's been Christmas forever.

This doesn't mean that this blog entry will burst into song and tiny anthropomorphic woodland creatures and mythical men made of snow will opine that every day should be Christmas. If this were a holiday special, someone would have just spat 150-proof alcohol into Frosty's face and thrown a match at him. Three deaths on Black Friday this year mean that Christmas has overstayed its welcome, and the recent no-shit announcement that the U.S. is in a recession is no reason to make the holiday season as long as the last election cycle.

Christmas' encroachment began when radio stations, once believed to be extinct, decided to start playing holiday music 24-7 back in early October. If your tolerance for Burl Ives is low now, imagine that of the poor schlub who's been listening to "Holly Jolly Christmas" during rush hour for the past two months.

Christmas radio, however, has been just a low, dull hiss amid the din of holiday white noise. Economic doldrums have forced the Salvation Army to unleash its brass-bashing bell ringers weeks early to offset drops in donations. Target's ban on bell ringers in favor of more silent Salvation Army donations brought down holy hellfire a few years back, but seems savvy now that some stores have lost patience with the extended noise.

You could ring enough bells to give an entire barful of drunken Frank Capra angels their wings and it still wouldn't be enough to drown out the holiday ads Wal Mart has been running since the last slutty pirate slipped out of her Halloween costume. Wal Mart has wagered that not only do cash-strapped Americans need their store's cheap crap more than ever, but that the recession will help people forget about how poorly Wal Mart pays and insures its employees and how the chain decimated Main Street well before Wall Street ever got around to it. The gamble paid off, and Wal Mart parking lots looked like Depression-era contest scenes from They Shoot Horses, Don't They? once Black Friday rolled around.

Temp worker Jdimytai Damour's day ended just as tragically as the aforementioned film. After attempting to open the Wal Mart's Valley Stream, N.Y., outlet in the wee hour of black Friday, he was killed after nearly 2,000 Long Island fat-asses trampled the air out of his lungs while rushing to buy $800 plasma televisions and $2 DVD copies of Rush Hour. They also stampeded over the workers who tried to save Damour, a pregnant woman and at least three other shoppers. When it was announced that the store was closing because of Damour's death, people literally stepped over him and kept shopping.

In our world, deadly stampedes happen. During a September pilgrimage in Jodphur, India, 147 people were killed during a stampede following rumors of a landslide at a temple there. The same month in Indonesia, 21 people were killed in a stampede for food and aid during Ramadan. The key difference between these events and what happened to Jdimytai Damour was that the people in the other stampedes were facing life-or-death situations. Damour was facing what should have been, at its worst, filler for a slow an unimaginative holiday news cycle.

Coupled with the killings of two men in Palm Desert, Calif., who thought it would be a great idea to shoot each other to death on the busiest shopping day of the year in the middle of a Toys R Us, Damour's death is a reminder of what a country told to shop its way through the tough times can do to a holiday. Every shopper in the Valley Stream Wal Mart on the morning an employee lost his life to their shopping left the store with one thing: Blood on their hands. Any artifice of good will captured in the previous morning's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, where balloons of corporate iconography are couched between commercials for their products, loses its thin veil when a man dies so everybody can get theirs.

Is there any reason to think that Bubba Walton and his hayseed family are going to come out of their Bentonville, Ark., bunker long enough to pay for Damour's funeral or burial? Is there any hope that attempts to find suspect in the deadly stampede will result in anything more than another cash-poor working person being taken away from his or her family for the forseeable future? Is there even a notion that Wal Mart would take money equal to what it just spent to make its logo look less like a McCain-Palin poster and actually put it toward helping those hardest hit by the economic crisis (or that any other large chain would follow suit)?

There's a better chance of Ralphie giving up his Red Ryder air rifle, which is why this whole sad charade needs to end. I'm talking to you, dentist office filing clerk. When your boss is busy snaking a vacuum tube under someone's tongue, turn the radio from the all-Christmas station to either the same inoffensive maudlin hum you play during the rest of the year or plug in an iPod filed with holiday playlists from your coworkers. The medical professionals' lobby has a lot of sway in the radio ratings system, so I'm sure your clients will appreciate your help in rinsing and spitting the all-Christmas format. If that gets even one of your root-canaled clients' mind off the holidays and shopping for an hour or so, perhaps that will be enough to keep some hapless big-box store employee alive.

Bill O'Reilly and others
can spare the lecture about how shunning the megastores, bell ringers and holiday radio amounts to a war on Christmas. When your holiday amounts to a monthslong commercial urging people to spend their way to happiness and step over the dead bodies of their fellow men to do so, the war is already lost.