Thanksgiving and Black Friday expose class differences

What people do on Thanksgiving and the day after is indicative of their class status:

But Black Friday is also, as pseudo-holidays go, more class-conscious than most. It is thus more divisive than most. If you can’t normally afford a flat-screen/iPad/Vitamix/Elsa doll/telephone, Black Friday discounts could offer you the opportunity to purchase those items. If you can normally afford those things, though, you may well decide that the trip to the mall, with its “throngs” and its “masses” and its sweaty inconvenience, isn’t worth the trouble.

Which is another way of saying what a headline last week, from the Los Angeles Times, summed up well: “Black Friday highlights the contrast between rich and poor.” As a spectacle, it may be celebrated by all, but it is participated in, increasingly, by a few. Black Friday stands, both temporally and culturally, in stark contrast to Thanksgiving, which is not a Hallmark holiday so much as a Williams-Sonoma one, and which involves, at its extremes, people who can afford heritage turkeys/disposable centerpieces/vessels designed solely to pour gravy congratulating themselves on how wonderfully non-commercial the whole thing is. With stomachs full of bird and broccolini and bourbon-ginger-apple pie, they settle in to watch the news stories that come out of Black Friday—the stampedes, the stabbings—and gawk in amusement and amazement. “All that for a flat screen,” they say, drinking their wine and clucking their tongues.

Perhaps this helps explain something I saw in a number of news stories about shoppers going out to line up for Thanksgiving evening store openings. A number of those interviewed suggested they didn’t like the idea of having to leave home to shop (some foregoing their family meals) or having retail workers put in holiday hours. Yet, they felt compelled to shop because the deals were too good to pass up.

This all sounds like Bourdieu’s lifestyle differences through class distinctions. How do you celebrate Thanksgiving? It should be little surprise that food and entertainment choices that day are guided by class-influenced tastes. When do you shop and how do you do it? It is all likely (from brands to time you have to spend on it) influenced by class.

I remember one professor of mine suggesting to the class that they needed to go to Walmart to find real (implied: average) Americans. At least one student seemed aghast. Perhaps the peak of that would be to go to Walmart on Thanksgiving and Black Friday…

Occupy Wall Street to occupy Black Friday?

There is a report that some Occupy Wall Street protesters want to take the movement to national retailers on Black Friday:

Some demonstrators are planning to occupy retailers on Black Friday to protest “the business that are in the pockets of Wall Street.”

Organizers are encouraging consumers to either occupy or boycott retailers that are publicly traded, according to the Stop Black Friday website…

“The idea is simple, hit the corporations that corrupt and control American politics where it hurts, their profits, ” states the Occupy Black Friday Facebook page.

A few of the retailers the protesters plan on targeting include Neiman Marcus, Amazon and Wal-Mart.

Besides wondering how many people will do this, it raises other questions:

1. Would most or even a sizable minority of shoppers welcome the protesters? I would guess not. People might think that the income and power situation in the United States is unequal but that shouldn’t get in the way of good sales.

2. Why are certain corporations singled out in this list (though they do suggest going after the top 100 retailers)? Why not Target? Walgreens? Kroger’s? Costco? If it is all big corporations that are the targets, will the protesters be evenly distributed or will they go for the typical targets like Walmart and McDonald’s that are often tied to sprawl and excessive consumption?

3. How exactly does one have a visible protest at I guess the group could take over the comment boards. If Deadspin can prompt so many responses that ESPN can’t keep up, maybe Occupy Wall Street can do the same.

4. If protesters show up en masse, what will the response of stores be? Is the parking lot of Walmart a public space? (I assume not.)

Black Friday as people watching paradise

Even if shopping for big ticket items on Black Friday does not sound like your idea of fun, why not go out just to do some people watching? One person from Wisconsin with a sociology degree suggests this very idea:

Count Carly Simon, 26, of Racine, in the second group. Simon, a graduate student, said she, her two children and her sister, Jessie Baker, start at Target, 5300 Durand Ave.

Always integrated into their plans are getting Simon’s daughters new Christmas outfits and holiday haircuts – and they love it.

“It’s like their makeover day,” Simon said.

For Simon, who has a sociology degree, Black Friday’s main attraction is people-watching. “I joked that I would do my master’s thesis on that,” she said.

What she sees in fellow Black Friday shoppers is “not only their holiday excitement, but that they’re so driven. People don’t act like they’d act normally.”

She added, “You’re dealing with group think and you’re dealing with money; those two things are driving forces in large groups.”

This student suggests “people don’t act like they’d act normally” on Black Friday, a description that could fit a lot of sociological work that tries to understand why people and groups do what they do.

If I had to pick several locations for observation on Black Friday, here is what I might suggest: Best Buy at its opening, Wal-Mart at its opening (though they are mixing this up with midnight hours this year), and a large mall relatively early in the morning, say 7 or 8 AM, to watch people scurry from store to store.

One scenario I would be interested in following up on: what happens to people who have waited for hours to get into a store like Best Buy only to find that they are the fourth person who wants the only three available special deals? How do people reconcile the time they put into this sort of excursion with the possibility that they won’t get what they really came for?