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11/27/2014 08:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

When We Mock Black Friday Shopping, Are We Practicing Classism?

2014-11-26-jay.jpgAnswer by Jay Wacker

There are lots of sources of the widespread outrage and mockery surrounding Black Friday, and I don't think you can cleanly classify it as arising exclusively or even predominantly from classism.

I don't come from a wealthy family, and in the 1980s and early 1990s, during the pre-modern era of Black Friday, my family would go through the newspapers and go out early (read: 9 a.m.) to shop, particularly for the hot-item toys that were always hard to find. There was no lining up beforehand. The deals were pretty good -- frequently 20 to 30 percent off some items. It was generally a way of kicking off the holiday season, and it was a busy time where people would run into each other and families would go out together.

In the late 1990s the feeling began to change. Stores started opening up at 6 a.m., and there were more door-busters with bigger deals. By the early 2000s we were getting 4 a.m. openings and a lot more media coverage of Black Friday (usually lazy local TV reporters looking for local-interest stories -- these nuts out on the street on Thanksgiving night made for good TV). You started getting more aggressive people in line, and injuries started occurring.

People saw this, and there was a certain set of people who wanted their 15 seconds of fame on the local news, and the story became about the event more than even the deals. Stores realized that they could get free publicity by increasing the sizes of discounts. You started getting unbelievable deals of 90 percent off big-ticket items. Now the lines became even more aggressive as a secondary market started to develop around Black Friday, where people would line up days beforehand to grab the door-buster deals and then resell them. Black Friday was no longer about shopping for Christmas; instead it was abound a mini secondary market economy. After all, if you can get a $1,000 TV for $600 and resell it on eBay or Craigslist for $800 and do this for several big-ticket items, that's real money. But this definitely brings out a different set of people with a different set of motives than what I was familiar with in the consumerist era of Black Friday that I grew up with.

I think there are definitely elements of Black Friday that can be criticized without being classist. I don't think it's right to mock people for trying to get their kids some good toys or even getting a new TV for themselves. But if people are going to treat Black Friday as a job and throw people to the ground so that they can make a quick buck, sneering and snarling all the way out the door, people are entitled to criticize Black Friday without being called classist.

I think 2014 is the beginning of a new phase of Black Friday. We see many retailers offering "Black Friday" deals well in advance of Black Friday (some up to a week before). These deals are not nearly as steep as the ones from a couple of years ago, and the best deals are "only" 65 percent off, and many electronic retailers (whose items have the easiest resale potential) offer only 40 percent off, which will likely severely curtail the profit potential of the secondary market. This could signal the end of the true extravagances of Black Friday, and we could be looking back at the absurdity of the 2000s and early 2010s Black Friday in the near future.

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