Sixty years ago, the Philadelphia police dreaded the days after Thanksgiving.
People piled onto Market Street downtown, marveling at the new Christmas window displays, while football fans filed in for the Army-Navy game. Both groups created traffic snarls and other headaches for the local PD.
Traffic patrol officers started calling it Black Friday and Black Saturday, noting all the problems and long work hours. Local reporters assigned to the traffic beat picked up the lingo, running Black Friday headlines.
This happened long before anyone described the day after Thanksgiving as “black” in reference to retail profits.
It’s fitting that the media gave us Black Friday, since they perpetuate some of the myth.
Today we don’t have to brave weather and other people to get a good deal. All we have to do is log in and click. Price comparisons and huge selections are at our fingertips. We can choose to be part of the crowd if we want, but that’s what it is – a choice.
I don’t know anyone who camped in front of a retail store last night, hoping to be one of the first people through the door on Black Friday.
I know it happens, because I see it reported on the news, naturally. But all the stories about shopping that we see are more a function of what does and doesn’t happen elsewhere in the world on the day after Thanksgiving…
Jeff Crilley, a former TV reporter turned public relations pro, wrote a book years ago about free publicity. He instructed professionals such as financial advisors to approach reporters through email and phone calls with ideas about trending topics on slow news days, like today.
This greatly improved their chances of a reporter trying to find something, anything, to talk about. If it worked, the professional would get the best free advertising available: quotes in the news where he was portrayed as an expert.
Beyond knowing your topic and having something to say, the strategy relies heavily on reporters who have zero to talk about today, which is a problem.
Newscasts can’t have dead airtime, or report that “Nothing happened today, so please quit watching,” so on this day they troll through stores looking for people acting like idiots. Someone is always willing to oblige, which is yet another choice.
Later today, we’ll be treated to video footage of someone in a store kicking grandma, pushing kids out of the way, or playing tug-of-war with another customer over the latest must-have gadget marked down 93%.
We’ll be embarrassed for them, and yet keep watching. After all, judging society is a spectator sport and, you guessed it, another choice.
Most of us will be doing this from the comfort of our home, or that of a loved one (or even not-so-loved one), hopefully surrounded by people we mostly like, enjoying each other’s company and relaxing during this long holiday weekend.
Christmas is still far enough away that we can pretend to have a plan to buy gifts in plenty of time. And if we don’t, Amazon is desperate to provide same day delivery.
Even the worst procrastinator who doesn’t like to hunt for a parking spot at the mall can wait almost another month before really starting to worry.
For now, on this not-so-black Friday, I hope you can make the choice that gives you the greatest comfort.
Have a beverage with friends and family.
Read economic missives on the internet.
Go shopping – and box with grandma – if you wish.
You might even find yourself flipping on the evening news, hoping to catch a sensational video or two.
Just remember, what we see on the evening news is puffed up to be the most outrageous situation, because they don’t have a choice. They’ve got to put something on the air, even when occasionally the most reasonable newscaster would tell us to simply tune out.
Have a great weekend.
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