Consumerism is the reason for the season

Since it’s Black Friday today (one of the busiest shopping days of the year in America), I thought it would be good to remember  the real reason for this holiday season – rampant consumerism.

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What else could possibly explain the long lines of people, sometimes camping out for hours at a time, waiting for stores to open so they can continue the unnecessary accumulation of “stuff”?

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on November 26, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Profound paganism & idolatry…ouch! What wretchedness we have become in this free world society…sob.

  2. “What else could possibly explain the long lines of people, sometimes camping out for hours at a time, waiting for stores to open so they can continue the unnecessary accumulation of “stuff”?”

    Maybe they just want to be able to get something which they wouldn’t normally be able to afford because they don’t have a lot of extra income and want something for the best price they can get it. Otherwise they’d just order it from Amazon.com any day of the year instead of waiting for one special one. Kind of like people at the SBL book exhibit. You call Black Friday consumerism, I call it stewardship… ; )

    • Honestly, I did consider that. And, I even argued that was the case when talking about it with my dad this morning. But, when I looked at the images again, it became more difficult to argue that most of these people were acting out of good stewardship. I’m sure some people were shopping today out of good stewardship, and that’s great. But, I strongly suspect that most had very different motives.

      • Yes amen Marc,

        That’s the point, the mass of society is adrift in get & grab…consummerism. I have lived long enough to remember when people shopped with the sense of propriety and seeking to find gifts of blessing and need. Now we are told what we need, and how we need it.

  3. How would you know what the motives of most people are? What are their motives?

    The stewardship think was a joke, however I think this is no different than the SBL book exhibit that everybody waits all year for. It’s always easier to criticize something else as being wrong when we don’t partake in it. Isn’t it? If I could find a good enough deal on something I want I might be out there today braving the crowds. I wish they had one of those new Nook Colors for like 20% off or something. What would it take to get you out there today?

    • What would it take? – Nothing. I won’t buy into your cynical assumption that everyone has a price on principles.

      “Black Friday” happens in a context. It isn’t difficult to suss out suspected motives by simply looking around, or, you know, living in America. Are we a nation of people who have accumulated more debt than savings over the last several decades? Do we glut ourselves with unnecessary purchases (e.g. home sizes, waistlines, and the creation of rental storage space, along with accumulated debt, are all indicators of this phenomenon over the last several decades).

      • Ironically enough, I write this while standing in line at a store. We were running low on fruit and we didn’t have enough Diet Coke for my mom. So apparently, that’s what it takes to get me to a store today!

        Bryan, I did pick up that you were joking, but I thought you allso made a good point. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t come across as saying that any particular individual was doing anything wrong by shopping today. I’d agree that I can’t (and shouldn’t) to discern individual motives that simplistically. But as Pat points out, I think we can discuss the overall ethos behind the day as a whole. And there are more than enough indicators to notice the consumerism involved.

  4. By the way, I think you SBL comparison is an interesting one. I’m sure many people use that as a great way to stock up on needed resources at good prices. I certainly do. But, I can also say from experience that it can easily slip from this to a consumeristic desire for “more.” Just ask how many SBL attendees end up buying books that they don’t really need and may not even get around to reading. I know I’ve done it.

  5. Does consumerism count with Christian books? lol

  6. Recently, I helped my family conduct an estate sale for one of our relatives. At first, I was appalled at the amount of stuff; it was unbelievable — stuff in the attic, closets, rooms, cupboards, garage, and even a rented storage space. My immediate reaction was to lighten up by donating, selling, and disposing.

    Mid way through it all, it hit me: what matters is not what or how much stuff we have, but our relationship to our stuff.

    Our relative used her stuff to serve others in a care home. One neighbor commented, “We miss her. She was such a caring person.”

    To sum, I suggest that the issue isn’t “stuff,” but our relationship to our stuff. If someone lines up at Walmart at midnight to get a reduced price on a coat for a homeless person, God bless you brother!

    • Absolutely. That’s what I had in mind with SBL as well. The context is the same either way, but a very different attitude makes all the difference. And, although I definitely think individuals can use a day like Black Friday wisely, I think there is a pervasive “attutide” towards stuff that characterizes the day as a whole.

  7. Marc:
    “Just ask how many SBL attendees end up buying books that they don’t really need and may not even get around to reading. I know I’ve done it.”

    Exactly.

    “And there are more than enough indicators to notice the consumerism involved.”

    Yes but who of us isn’t guilty of this when it comes to something we “need”, including books. I mean if I’m gonna be doing a bunch of Christmas shopping and I know that if I do it on a certain day I can make my money go a lot further then I’m going to do so.

    pgroach:

    “What would it take? – Nothing. I won’t buy into your cynical assumption that everyone has a price on principles. ”

    What are your principles that are at stake were you to go out and purchase an item that was on sale today?

    Does money come to you in such a way that you don’t need to look for sales and good deals when you shop? If you see something at full retail price down the street next to you and somewhere a few miles away has it on sale for 30% off you would rather pay full price?.

    “It isn’t difficult to suss out suspected motives by simply looking around, or, you know, living in America.”

    What are those motives? If I buy something today that is on sale what were my motives? If I stood in line before a store opened to buy something what were my motives?

    “Do we glut ourselves with unnecessary purchases…”

    Do you?

    • Bryan, I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I’m not a part of this as well. I’m typing this comment on my smart phone while sitting in front my my LCD TV and watching the Auburn/Alabama game that I recorded earlier today on my computer. (If anyone says anything about the game, I will delete their comment.) I am definitely not above the fray on this one. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t take a close, critical look at this reality that we find ourselves in.

      • I myself speak as a pastor here, looking at our fallen world and culture. But we “all” live within this struggle ourselves also. But to use an old term, we must live in the world, but not be of it as Christians.

      • I hear you Marc.and I appreciate what you’re saying (and especially your tone). It’s just odd that people who are involved in consumerism would criticize others for participating in Black Friday. It would be like a coke head preaching to a heroine addict about how bad his drug addiction is.

        I mean obviously you and I have luxuries. Tv’s, computers, phones, books, etc. Does it make it better that we bought those things any other day of the year than the day after Thanksgiving? Does it make it better that we likely paid more for those things than we would if bought them the day after Thanksgiving?

        This kind of reminds me of the gas protest some were planning a year or two back where they we not going to buy any gas on a particular day in protest of high gas prices. If you just end up getting gas later anyway then what difference does it make? If you are going to end up buying things you want anyway then what difference does it make that you didn’t buy it on a day where you could have gotten it cheaper? That’s just means you have the luxury of being able to choose when and where you want to buy something without it affecting you much.

        Thanks for the discussion.

    • “What would it take? – Nothing. I won’t buy into your cynical assumption that everyone has a price on principles. ”

      What are your principles that are at stake were you to go out and purchase an item that was on sale today?

      <It is not simply about buying things on sale. That would be nice, actually. Black Friday is a day unlike other sale days – which happen year around btw. It is a day that is hyped, promoted, and set up not as a simple "bargain shopping day." People are literally encouraged to humiliate themselves and others by running for and literally competing with other shoppers for products, after being queued up for hours outside. This regularly results in stampedes (cf. Buffalo this year, 2008 a guy in Wal Mart was killed, etc.). My principle – "pro-life."

      Does money come to you in such a way that you don’t need to look for sales and good deals when you shop? If you see something at full retail price down the street next to you and somewhere a few miles away has it on sale for 30% off you would rather pay full price?.

      “It isn’t difficult to suss out suspected motives by simply looking around, or, you know, living in America.”

      What are those motives? If I buy something today that is on sale what were my motives? If I stood in line before a store opened to buy something what were my motives?

      “Do we glut ourselves with unnecessary purchases…”

      Do you?

      • “It is not simply about buying things on sale. That would be nice, actually. Black Friday is a day unlike other sale days – which happen year around btw.”

        If I bought something today that’s what it would be. If I decided to get all my Christmas shopping done today that is why I would do it. It’s as simple as that. If you want to make it mean more that’s your choice. Doesn’t mean that your analysis of what Black Friday ‘means’ is everyone else’s and that we must all see it that way. If you think you’re breaking your pro-life principle by buying your kids some toys for Christmas today then that’s your decision. Go shopping tomorrow instead or do it back in September or something. Whatever makes you happy.

  8. I think it’s possible to discern the general motives of our society, because they are voiced all the time; just watch TV, that’s easy.

    Not only that, we have the Bible that tells us how God thinks of our motives; and then we have those illustrated over and again in the OT, and into the NT. Sure, we can’t say this or that person has “desparately wicked motives,” per se; but in general, I think this applies to all of us. That’s why John ends his first epistle with “keep yourselves from idols;” it’s just what we do, we’re human.

  9. Ugh! Part of my reply was left off…

    Does money come to you in such a way that you don’t need to look for sales and good deals when you shop? … sale for 30% off you would rather pay full price?.

    <You scolded Marc for questioning motives, but readily assume I must be of means to argue like I do. That doesn't really have much to do with the substance of what I am saying – but I'll indulge (glut?) you. I grew up lower middle class, and live on a modest pastor's salary. Now to the actual matter at hand: Black Friday is not about poor people finally being able to buy food, diapers, and medicine on sale. It is not a simple "sale day." Even folks at Saturday Night Live get it!:-)

    What are those motives? If I buy something today that is on sale what were my motives? If I stood in line before a store opened to buy something what were my motives?

    “Do we glut ourselves with unnecessary purchases…” Do you?

    • “You scolded Marc for questioning motives, but readily assume I must be of means to argue like I do.”

      If I assumed then I wouldn’t have asked you a question. It wasn’t rhetorical.

      “I grew up lower middle class, and live on a modest pastor’s salary. Now to the actual matter at hand: Black Friday is not about poor people finally being able to buy food, diapers, and medicine on sale. It is not a simple “sale day.”

      So you’re saying you would rather go buy something for full price or not? I didn’t catch that in what you wrote. Do you not have any luxuries that you bought? Are you not going to buy your kids and your wife Christmas gifts?

      • Actually, I do make choices to spend more money on things when I could buy them cheaper. It is not a simplistic either/or. I also do make choices to not buy things at all as well when I could.

  10. UGH!

    “Do we glut ourselves with unnecessary purchases…” Do you?

    Yes, I do. Is that your argument? Just because I am sinful and broken I have to go along with cultural expressions of greed and avarice when they are present? I can’t critique them? Sorry – the gospel gives both you and I too much freedom to go along on that ride, Bryan.

  11. So you’re basically saying you’re guilty of all this but you think you can criticize others because they choose to do it on a particular day that you don’t? And because of that you’re not giving up your pro-life principles? Do you really think you’re in a different boat than those who choose to go shopping on Black Friday? I’m not.

    • Am I in a different boat than some (not all) because I won’t join in the spectacle of Black Friday. Yes. What have been talking about? Choices matter. You also make choices that put you in a “different boat” from others regarding your consumption patterns too (e.g. you give money to the church, to the poor, etc.).

      And the choices are not just about what day you spend and consume, but how and why – which is the crux of this discussion. I’m not going to bind anyone’s conscience about Black Friday, but I would challenge them – and you – not to simply just accept it us something flat, meaningless, or neutral.

  12. Never one to miss out on a good joust 😉 ,

    Bryan,

    I don’t see pgroach saying he’s any different than anyone else. Instead that both he and they can be (or are often) wrong; whatever day it is. Doesn’t that seem like what pgroach is saying?

  13. I probably should have made this comment sooner, but I referenced “the season” in the title of this post on purpose. My intent was to link the attitude of consumerism demonstrated on Black Friday to the obvious consumerism of the whole holiday season. So, my focus really wasn’t on Black Friday in particular, but holiday consumerism itself.

    But, I still think Black Friday is a great example of this kind of consumerism at work. And yes, it’s a consumerism that infects all of us.

  1. Pingback: The Mire of Consumerism in the Holidays « Crysti·ology

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