Eugene Cho

being trampled to death on black friday and thoughts about buy nothing day

from NY Daily News

“Black Friday” claimed it’s first victim when an employee at a Walmart store in Long Island, New York was trampled to death right as doors opened.  This is disgusting and I’m feeling sick to my stomach.  I’m not trying to sound righteous here.  People that know me know that I love bargains.  Who doesn’t but what a way to die?  And all this happening in the same time of the global tragedy of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.   

And sadly, even a person being trampled to death by hundreds isn’t going to stop this “cultural expression.”  Look for a big lawsuit and then, business as usual.  I’ve reposted an entry I shared on Sojo last week about Buy Nothing Day.  I want folks to clearly know the entry isn’t coming from the angle of “bash White folks” but rather a call a reflection on privilege – which certainly includes me.  While I support Buy Nothing Day, I also understand the complex nature of our world economics.  Buying Nothing isn’t the answer but I love what the cause stands for: Re-examine our consumption. 

If that’s one of the natural results of the economic downturn, it’s a significant plus.

Here’s the news from NY Dail News:

A Wal-Mart worker died after being trampled when hundreds of shoppers smashed through the doors of a Long Island store Friday morning, police and witnesses said.

The 34-year-old worker, employed as an overnight stock clerk, tried to hold back the unruly crowds just after the Valley Stream store opened at 5 a.m.

Witnesses said the surging throngs of shoppers knocked the man down. He fell and was stepped on. As he gasped for air, shoppers ran over and around him.

“He was bum-rushed by 200 people,” said Jimmy Overby, 43, a co-worker. “They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too…I literally had to fight people off my back.”…

Before police shut down the store, eager shoppers streamed past emergency crews as they worked furiously to save the store clerk’s life.

I posted this on Sojo last week:

All of you who have a pulse know that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the single most crazy shopping day in the United States.  It is simply called “Black Friday,” and the lines to get into most places are ridunkulous.  And is it just me or does it seem like there’s a lot of posts on the blogosphere recently about Buy Nothing, Make Something, or simply Do Something – so I thought I’d write something.  I got in line on Black Friday once seven years ago to get a digital camera for the church in hopes of saving our church a few dollars and I will NEVER do it again.  Heck, I love the church but not that much. If it was a camera for Jesus, I’d do it, but not for the church.  To give you a glimpse of how crazy things can be, check out this Wal-Mart stampede clip on YouTube from a recent Black Friday.

So, I’ve been a fan of the Buy Nothing Day movement for several years but have had some recent reservations, or at least reflections.  If you don’t know what BND is, it speaks to the issue of OVERCONSUMPTION:

Buy Nothing Day is an informal day of protest against consumerism observed by social activists. In 2007, Buy Nothing Day falls on November 23rd in North America and November 24th internationally. It was founded by Vancouver artist Ted Dave and subsequently promoted by the Canadian Adbusters magazine.

The first Buy Nothing Day was organized in Vancouver in September of 1992 “as a day for society to examine the issue of over-consumption.” In 1997, it was moved to the Friday after American Thanksgiving, which is one of the top 10 busiest shopping days in the United States. Outside of North America, Buy Nothing Day is celebrated on the following Saturday. Despite controversies, Adbusters managed to advertise Buy Nothing Day on CNN, but many other major television networks declined to air their ads. Soon, campaigns started appearing in the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, New Zealand, Japan, the Netherlands, and Norway. Participation now includes more than 65 nations…[from wikipedia]

So in years past, I’ve attempted to do my part — not just on Buy Nothing Day but to simply consume less. I know numerous folks — friends, neighbors, churchgoers, and fellow bloggers that are supporters of Buy Nothing Day.  I get it, support it, and stand with them — sort of.

Why my reservations?  I’m still moved by a conversation I had with a friend a couple years ago that challenged my support for Buy Nothing Day.  This friend who is African-American said some interesting stuff [paraphrasing]:

Buy Nothing Day is basically a thing of and for white folks and comfy middle class and rich folks who have had the privilege of consumption their whole life.  And now, they can afford to start things like Buy Nothing Day.  True, it speaks to the issue of overconsumption, but how much of it is to appease their guilty consciences?  I’m also very skeptical and cynical of Christians who’ve jumped on this bandwagon — the “enlightened evangelicals” who also come from a place of privilege.  Stuff like this sickens me because it has completely no idea about the plight of the poor, low-income folks, and some minorities that are just trying to survive.

The thing that got to me was the story he shared about some of his family and friends from different racial backgrounds who simply need to make many of their major purchases on that day.  Specifically, he shared about his uncle and aunt.  They get in line every year in the frigid cold in the Midwest hours before the retail store opens at 5 or 6 a.m. because it’s the only way they’re able to get their kids the necessary technology gear to keep up.

I’m not dismissing the cause behind Buy Nothing Day, Make Something Day, and [insert cause] Day.  We need to speak to and address this because us Westerners, and particularly Americans [including me], are just plain gluttonous.

But let’s be real here.

Black Friday shopping means different things for different folks. For many of us, it’s a game, a sport, a blog topic, and an event we mark, but for others it’s a matter of necessity.  This is why I have reservations about Buy Nothing Day.  Perhaps the majority of us should sincerely adopt Buy Nothing Day and let those who truly need the “doorbusters” be the first in line — for a change.

Filed under: politics, religion, ,

20 Responses

  1. Carl says:

    It makes me sad that our consumerism is so pervasive that it makes people (rich & poor) find our self-worth in our ability to buy stuff we don’t really need.

  2. Katherine says:

    This portrays a window to our sick state of our society.

  3. Aaron says:

    It is ironic to me that the day set apart to give thanks is followed by a day of gross overconsumption. I have decided not to buy gifts/go shopping today (I can not say buy nothing since I need to get gas)… I am also considering spending about 1/2 of what I did last year on gifts and giving the other 1/2, as this challenge was presented to me.

  4. Wayne says:

    my sentiments exactly. BND is tinged w/ a sort of fashionable elitism that doesn’t understand that this is the one day some folks can actually afford to buy some stuff we privileged enjoy any time of the year. whoever offered that critique of the BND phenom is spot on – and i’m guessing I know who it might be; but it’s easy for us who have “things” to feel smug and self-righteous about buying nothing for only one day a year.

    in the end I know Long Island. I know the folks there. It’s a tragedy but it’s also disingenuous for us to criticize a cultural phenomenon we don’t fully understand in its contexts. My question is if any Long Islanders have even heard of BND? I don’t mind being proved wrong, but I’m willing to wager that most of the BND buzz is coming from a whole lot more affluent towns than (Long Island).

  5. Mike Todd says:

    The first recorded human sacrifice to our deity, the God of Consumerism.

  6. […] And some good thoughts and reflections on the subject from Eugene Cho at Beauty and Depravity […]

  7. Milan says:

    ‘Buy Nothing Day’ strikes me as a pointless tokenistic gesture. Everyone who participates nonetheless uses things they bought on other days. In the end, there is no significant impact, and no meaningful statement made.

  8. danw says:

    I was once reading a book on anabaptists and pacifism, and the author made the comment that “when you are being attacked is not the moment to decide whether or not to be a pacifist.” In other words, being a pacifist isn’t something you do every once in awhile, when the situation calls for it. Instead, if your whole life revolves around peace-making, then when you’re attacked, non-violence will be the only natural response. I think there’s a parallel here. If you’re guilty of over-consumption 364 days out of the year, but choose BND to make some kind of social statement, then it’s worthless. Those who really want to make a difference will already be fighting consumerism and consumption in their lives, in which case BND is a no-brainer; you wouldn’t go shopping that day anyway, because you’d already know it’s more important to be with family or friends, or seeking to be a blessing in the world. Otherwise, it’s a silly token gesture.

    otoh, my choosing to avoid shopping on Black Friday is my way of denying those on Madison Avenue who have created this mess in the first place. Their priorities are perhaps more screwed up than the shoppers – they’re the ones who have created a “you must have more!” culture, convincing us all we’re worthless low-lifes if we don’t buy a new XBox every year for Christmas. Or a car. Or a diamond necklace. So my “protest” has less to do with “the masses” as it is a protest against the marketing machine behind it all.

  9. Maxine says:

    That is so sad. I can’t imagine what that family is going through. Thanks for providing another, sobering, perspective on Black Friday.

  10. diane says:

    I’m just speechless. I feel two types of pain – for the victim and for the killers. We are so self-centered it’s a wonder that any of us will make it out of this era of over consumerism.

  11. Tom says:

    Something to be said for organized public protest as a tool of social transformation, including Christian efforts to make life better for others.

    Milan’s comment may reflect a fairly widespread current American rejection of public protest, though it’s hard to understand why that kind of thinking has taken hold among so many Americans. If you look at the historical record and the current record of public protest in the US and around the world, its pretty impressive as part of a useful tool box for eventually changing hearts and minds.

    No room here, obviously, to go into the details, but if you think back on almost any significant movement for social change in the last hundred years in any part of the world, ‘symbolic’ public protest has played an important role as a part of a larger and varied approach.

    I liked danw’s comment because I think it points in the right direction. If you don’t have a community of people committed to being the change, public protest can often be an empty gesture. My guess is that Milan understands that too but may not know any alternative community like that.

    Movements for social change probably don’t work without some basic conditions.

    Gotta have a coherent and compelling intellectual and moral alternative to whatever you’re trying to change.

    Gotta have dedicated leadership willing to suffer to bring about that change.

    Gotta have networks of ‘alternative communities’ where people can live out the change in loving defiance. Those communities become ‘labs’ where change agents get to experiment with a new way of living since they have to shed the old ways like everybody else.

    When those conditions are in place, public protests can be very effective in reaching new people and spreading the message of change. No matter how individualistic we might be, we’re all moved on some level when we see lots of people taking a public stand, particularly when they’re willing to suffer for it and can back it with well tested experimental examples of a new way of doing things.

    I guess the question is whether Christian communities are in any place to back up public protests against consumerism (and let’s be honest, relatively unchecked current capitalism) like Buy Nothing Day.

    I think some are.

    Are enough Christian communities ready to get into the change mix so that public protest makes sense?

    I don’t know. That seems like a judgment call for Christian leaders leading alternative Christian communities who want a new economics.

  12. VA says:

    This is intolerable. Human decency and regard for life is apparently secondary to the need for consumption and greed. My thoughts and prayer are for the family of this young man. Let us all pray and proclaim a prophetic Word!

  13. CH says:

    Tragic and an unseemly reminder of the depravity of which our society is sometimes capable.

  14. Joe says:

    It seems that, sadly, disgustingly, tragically, this happens every year, somewhere. Something is wrong, very wrong, with this picture.

  15. prfx says:

    I see the words “appalling”, “intolerable”, “disgusting”, “depraved” and “tragic” and I share in the sentiment but not in the shock and outrage. After we finish stuffing our faces we go purchase a bunch of landfill, what else is new? It’s very Pahlaniukian.

    to Mike Todd who commented: “The first recorded human sacrifice to our deity, the God of Consumerism.” This happens almost every year dude. Where have you been?

    and to all the people you brought up Christianity: can you please step out of your indoctrinated, egocentric heads for one second? do you really need to partake in symbolism to establish right and wrong? grow up.

    Blessings,

    Maxwell

    on a lighter note here’s a joke:
    What does a Christian hipster call their blog?

    (page up for answer)

  16. Michelle says:

    Amen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. ajlouny says:

    It’s crazy how so many people can trample a man and not feel that they are stepping on him…all this for a flippin deal.

  18. brie says:

    ive gone black friday shopping and been in the front but i have yet to push someone over to get at a cheap computer.

  19. CS says:

    A terrible, senseless death….sadly, isn’t the first, won’t be the last, and not just an American phenomenon….

    Ikea’s in Saudi Arabia and England

    http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=50867&d=2&m=9&y=2004

    http://www.crowddynamics.com/Disasters/Ikea%207.htm

    Carrefour in China

    http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/11/10/asia/AS-GEN-China-Supermarket-Stampede.php

    Not to mention the hundreds of equally senseless stampede deaths that’ve occurred from the blind, mad zeal over a music band, soccer match, or religious ritual….

    http://www.crowddynamics.com/Disasters/death_by_human_stampedes.htm

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10 days ago. Unforgettable slow boat journey in the Delta rivers of Myanmar. Lots of reflecting and praying. Came to the conclusion - again - that in the efforts to change the world, I especially need to be changed by God's love, character, and justice. #Myanmar #slowboatreflections #onedayswages The 2nd baby turns 14 today. Oh my. How time flies. Every birthday now is bittersweet. So amazed at the young woman she is becoming ... and that much further away from being that little baby. Happy Birthday, @trintaay! The world is fallen, broken, and messy. This is the truth.

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