It’s Black Friday – Again!

After yesterday’s post for Thanksgiving Day it seemed only natural to give you a companion piece for today, as I have done in previous years. Whilst we here in the UK have mostly resisted celebrating Thanksgiving – we don’t have a public holiday for it – the ever-burgeoning commercial juggernaut of Black Friday has been gleefully leapt upon by all manner of companies seeking to separate us from our money. The internet makes it all too easy to give in to temptation (Oscar Wilde was right!) but there will still be many braving – if that’s the correct word – real shops for bargains on things they never knew they needed.

Being the day after Thanksgiving, this is a public holiday in about half of US states, and many private employers give their staff the day off too. It marks the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season, and has been part of US tradition for nearly 60 years: the name was first given to it by the police in Philadelphia (Philly PD, as they’re known in Body Of Proof) some time around 1960, to describe the pedestrian and traffic chaos that it caused. Judging from some of the scenes we’ve seen on the news in recent years it is an apt name, more for what goes on inside stores than on the roads! Like this

Or this

It must be a TV thing!

I had pondered whether to illustrate this piece with a music video, as I’ve loved the Steely Dan song Black Friday since it was released on their 4th album, Katy Lied. But when I checked the lyrics – always a good idea, to be on the safe side – they didn’t really seem to fit, somehow. I did find several other Black Friday songs, including those by Faith No More (not sure what it was about, to be honest), Megadeth (the usual portentous sounding, overblown heavy metal bollocks about killing – come on guys, it’s not that bad!), and finally by Lil Kim (a foul-mouthed rant, seemingly aimed at Nicki Minge). You’ll be glad to know that at that point I would have given up on the idea, but then I found this:

It isn’t exactly full of artistic merit, nor does Rusty Cage have a good (or even acceptable) singing voice, but he does sum the day up rather well, I think.

Amazon is credited, if that is the right word, with introducing Black Friday here in the UK a few years ago. Since then, their own promotion has grown enormously and it was only a matter of time before other major retailers followed suit – Walmart owns ASDA, so they were an obvious candidate for this, although they decided back in 2015 not to take any further part here in the UK. Officially, this was because they wanted to spread their offers across the whole pre-Christmas buying season, to give their customers the best possible value. Or, back in the real world, what they really meant was that they had decided that the previous year’s news reports of customers apparently attempting to murder each other in ASDA stores to get the best bargains weren’t good for business! Judging by their website, they have kind of watered down that decision in the years since then, as they have a set of offers both instore and online under the banner heading of ‘RollBlack.’ Who do think they are kidding? Or maybe their customers really are that dim.

My inbox for the past week or several has been bombarded by Black Friday offers from just about any company I’ve ever bought from. It stands to reason, really. They are in business to make money – our money. They may even be making these offers at a loss, but hope to convert us into buying more from them that has less or no discount. Or perhaps they are attempting to offload the crap that they over-ordered for previous promotions, in order to make room in their stores and warehouses for…..yes, you guessed it, more crap to throw at us. That’s capitalism for you!

It may be hard for you to believe but I like to think of myself as intelligent and, being the proud owner of an MBA in Marketing (from 1981, back in the days of pre-history), I would hope to be able to see through the rampant commercialism. But I do like buying goodies. And I need to get some presents for Christmas. It would be silly to turn down today’s offers and pay more for the same things another day, wouldn’t it? Maybe I could just take another quick look? You never know what you might find that you didn’t know you needed, or that you hadn’t thought of as a gift. There must be someone I know who needs a bicycle repair kit, or some radiator cleansing fluid. But it kind of makes sense to try it just in case, right? Then again, there have been surveys here which report that many of the supposed bargains aren’t exactly what they seem, and better prices are often available from the same retailers at different times. Broken promises by retailers? Surely not? They must have been taking lessons from politicians!

So, if you are shopping today, and however you are doing it, good luck! I hope to see you surviving to be able to read my next post 😂

Halloween – Again

I’ve written several times over the years about how stigmatisation of mental illness can be very damaging, and in particular have focused on it at this time of year, as Halloween approaches.

When I was a kid Halloween wasn’t an event we marked in any way. Here in the UK we were busy making our guys for the forthcoming Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night celebrations on 5th November, and hadn’t yet imported the commercialisation of Halloween from the US. So I’m sorry to say, American friends, that your celebration for this rather passes me by! That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognise its importance to you, but it does seem to me to be a little artificial for it to be ‘celebrated’ here. This is, perhaps, a little ironic as the origins of Halloween can be traced back to this side of the Atlantic, in a pagan festival mostly known (in Ireland and Scotland, anyway) as Samhain, though there are different names for similar festivals in other Celtic regions. The name ‘Halloween’ has been in existence since around the mid-18th century, and is a derivation of All Hallows’ Eve, i.e. the day before All Hallows’ Day, on which remembrance of the dead takes place. In the past, celebrations have included mummers and costumes, which I guess has been handed down to us through the generations in the way that people dress up: witches are an obvious outfit, but there are many others available, most of which leave me wondering what relevance they have!

But, as I said earlier, this was a tradition that hadn’t travelled to the part of England in which I spent my childhood. Not until modern day marketing and commercialism took over, that is. At some point over the past 25 years or so this has become a bigger event in this country, probably as a result of the way in which American popular culture has been transferred over here by TV programmes. Never one to miss an opportunity to make money, retailers have been falling over themselves to profit from Halloween. But in their doing so, the boundaries of taste have often been forgotten. I wrote five years ago about Asda – and to a lesser extent, Tesco – selling costumes that mocked mental illness. The message that these were giving children, that it was somehow acceptable to make fun of people with mental health problems, was appalling, and the retailers had to give in to the outcry and withdraw the products from sale. But even after that outcry you can still find such costumes for sale this year among the specialist online fancy dress retailers. Here are a couple of examples I found without too much effort. Firstly, from partybritain.com:

And secondly, from escapade.co.uk:

No doubt there are others deserving to be named and shamed but I was too disheartened to look any further. How can anyone believe this to be acceptable? This is a shameful way to make money, but I guess that as these companies are much smaller than the likes of Asda and Tesco they have managed to slip under the radar. That doesn’t make them any less guilty in my eyes, though.

Another depiction of mental health issues which I find objectionable is to be found in horror movies. To be honest, I have a very low gore threshold and don’t watch a great many horror movies, and don’t really understand the fascination they hold for so many. Each to their own, of course, but where I really draw the line is where someone who is mentally ill is the main character in a movie and their illness is used in a stigmatising way. You’ll know which movies I mean, I’m sure: how anyone can see these as entertainment is beyond me, though I do like Jamie Lee Curtis!

I have no problem with anyone wanting to celebrate Halloween, though I imagine most, either in the US or elsewhere, would be hard pressed to explain exactly what it is they are celebrating. But as these little posters from the admirable Time To Change organisation remind us, these celebrations should have absolutely nothing to do with mocking mental illness. These were actually created a couple of years ago but their message is still very valid and, sadly, remains relevant. There is nothing remotely funny about costumes and behaviour that mock those with mental health issues as ‘nutters,’ ‘mad’ or just ‘mental,’ when the word is used pejoratively.

 

Remember, Halloween is supposed to be the modern day version of an old pagan custom, which had nothing to do with mental illness. It is also significant in a religious sense – the day before All Hallows’ Day, which has been a Catholic day of note for centuries – and that also isn’t about mental ill health! The Time To Change website has eight helpful tips on how to enjoy Halloween without perpetuating the stigmatisation of mental health. They even include a little bit of historical knowledge in there so that you can impress your friends by knowing the meaning of the Halloween tradition. If you’re interested these tips can be found here and are well worth a look.

So please, by all means enjoy any celebrations you may be having, but don’t mock those who are unable to defend themselves against unfair stigmatisation.

Happy Halloween!

Black Friday

After yesterday’s piece on Thanksgiving Day it seemed natural to follow with a companion article on another US tradition which has made its way to these shores: Black Friday. Being the day after Thanksgiving, this is a public holiday in about half of US states and many private employers give their staff the day off too. It marks the unofficial start to the Christmas shopping season, and has been part of US tradition for well over 50 years: the name was first given to it by the police in Philadelphia (Philly PD, as they’re known in Body Of Proof!) some time around 1960, to describe the pedestrian and traffic chaos that it caused. Judging from some of the scenes we’ve seen on the news in recent years it is an apt name, more for what goes on inside stores than on the roads! Like this

Or this

It must be a TV thing!

I had pondered whether to illustrate this piece with a music video, as I’ve loved the Steely Dan song Black Friday since it was released on their 4th album, Katy Lied. But when I googled the lyrics – as you do – they didn’t really seem to fit, somehow. I also found three other Black Friday songs, by Faith No More (not sure what it was about, to be honest), Megadeth (the usual portentous sounding, overblown heavy metal bollocks about killing – come on guys, it’s not that bad!), and finally by Lil Kim (a foul-mouthed rant, seemingly aimed at Nicki Minge). You’ll be glad to know that at that point I gave up the idea.

Amazon is credited, if that is the right word, with introducing Black Friday here in the UK a few years ago. Since then, their own promotion has grown enormously and it was only a matter of time before other major retailers followed suit – Walmart owns ASDA, so they were an obvious candidate for this, although they did decide not to take part in the 2015 event here in the UK. Officially, this was because they wanted to spread their offers across the whole pre-Christmas buying season, to give their customers the best possible value. Or, back in the real world, what they really meant was that they had decided that the previous year’s news reports of customers apparently attempting to murder each other in ASDA stores to get the best bargains weren’t good for business! Judging by their website, they have stood by that decision, as there is absolutely no mention of Black Friday at all, but apparently it is the ‘ BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!’

My inbox for the past week or two has been bombarded by Black Friday offers from just about any company I’ve ever bought from, both instore and online. It stands to reason, really. They are in business to make money – our money. They may even be selling their offers at a loss but hope to convert us into buying more from them that has less or no discount. Or they are attempting to offload the crap that they over-ordered to make room in their stores and warehouses for…..yes, you guessed, more crap to throw at us. That’s capitalism for you!

It may be hard for you to believe but I like to think of myself as intelligent and, being the proud owner of an MBA in Marketing (1981!), would hope to be able to see through the rampant commercialism. But I do like buying goodies. And I need to get some presents for Christmas. It would be silly to turn down today’s offers and pay more for the same things another day, wouldn’t it? Maybe I could just take another quick look? You never know what you might find that you didn’t know you needed, or that you hadn’t thought of as a gift. There must be someone I know who needs a bicycle repair kit, or some radiator cleansing fluid. But it kind of makes sense to try it just in case, right?

It’s decided then! I’m off to launch myself into the frenzy, from the safety of my armchair, of course. Happy shopping, and try not to get trampled in the rush!