Willfully Ignorant: The End of Black Friday…

…As we know it. See what I did there? Anyway, I think it’s time to call it, folks: the time of death for Black Friday was 10:00 AM EST, November 1st, 2023. That’s when Walmart posted this ad to YouTube:

Yes, you’re seeing the core cast of 2004’s Mean Girls, reunited to sell *checks notes* discount televisions & Levi’s jeans. I’m not gonna dissect the thing, as A) it’s been a while since I last saw the movie, so I’m gonna miss Easter eggs, and, 2) you can just watch it yourself. The main takeaway here is that Walmart’s Black Friday sales start, online, next Wednesday, November 8th. Hmmm…Now, I didn’t exactly create the Gregorian Calendar, but that’s neither a Friday, nor does it fall the day after Thanksgiving. I hate this commercial. It panders to nostalgia for some weird moment in time, it doesn’t really do anything, and it’s way too long. But let’s back things up a bit, shall we?

I know I have at least one international reader here, so let’s look at what “Black Friday” even means. In America, the day after our November holiday, Thanksgiving (that’s the one where storybooks make it sound like the pilgrims and Native Americans had a nice little feast together. Ya know, before the weaponized smallpox and other little, wacky episodes), retail establishments tend to have big sales to signal the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. While “Christmas Creep” has started earlier in the past few years, this used to be known as the day when you could not only start your Christmas shopping, but also score some great deals on items. Though an older phrase, “Black Friday” started picking up steam as a concept after The New York Times referenced it in a story in 1975. Prior to that, though, it had mostly negative connotations. For example, in the 1950s, the industrial sector labeled the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday” because it was common for factory workers to call out sick that day, in order to score a 4-day weekend. In the following decade, police in larger cities used the term because that particular Friday experienced traffic congestion associated with the kickoff of holiday shopping. It wasn’t until the 1980s when the marketing spin was put on it: Under the assumption that retailers operate at a loss all year, this was the day when they’d “right the ship” and get their budgets out of “the red” and back into “the black” in their ledgers.

Growing up in the 80s & 90s, Black Friday was a big deal to me. I was a big Washington Post reader, going back to when I first learned to read (Don’t worry, I was pretty much just reading the Style section), and one of my favorite features has always been the Sunday circulars, with all of the sales that would be starting at all the stores any given Sunday. Well, the Post also inserted a special edition of these circulars in the Thanksgiving edition of the paper, letting you know of all the sales that would, sometimes, even start that very night. Yeah, we looked forward to the Toys “R” Us Big Toy Book catalog and all that, but there was more of a sense of urgency to these. That thing had arrived in the mail weeks prior, and I’m not sure if y’all remember this, but the TRU deals and sale prices actually ended *prior* to Black Friday – like, the Wednesday prior. It was always stressful dealing with pissed off parents on Black Friday, showing you the price of something in that catalog, and having to tell them, “Sorry, but that sale ended 2 days ago.”

Anyway, the Black Friday circulars were basically saying, “The thing you’ve been wanting is a ‘doorbuster’ at Kmart, and you will not get it for Christmas unless your mom gets it TONIGHT!” As you can understand, this put undue stress on children and parents alike! Now, there are actual Black Friday Families, who make something of a sport of it. They make strategic plans, and wear coordinated outfits and everything. We were NOT a Black Friday Family, so all of my anticipation was in vain. My mom wasn’t going to a toy store, on her own volition, at a “decent” hour, let alone at midnight, right after hosting a large meal. I’d circle everything I wanted in those sales papers, but it didn’t matter, because it wasn’t gonna happen. Still, I typically managed to get most of what I’d asked for, so maybe the Black Friday hype was unfounded?

As I got older, I didn’t even really experience my first Black Friday until after college. In fact, I think it was while I was working at H&M, and I was sort of disgusted by the ways folks were seemingly degrading themselves to get deals on what amounted to sweatshop-produced clothing and accessories. I encountered some of the worst people in that particular setting. Karens & Nepo Babies before we had a name for them. If my thinking toward Black Friday hadn’t already taken a turn for the worse, this certainly didn’t help things. It was also around this time that I noticed a pivot: up to this point, Black Friday had been marketed as this boon for gift-giving – get deals on the items your loved ones had been wanting – but now it was becoming a more selfish enterprise. Folks weren’t shopping for gifts for others, but rather for themselves. The companies don’t care, as long as the money’s green, so they just went along with it, but they knew nobody really cared about their “fellow man” much at this point.

Oddly enough, this was also the time I entered the arena as a contestant. My family was all older, so they had that “I don’t need you to buy me anything, ’cause I’ve got everything I need” mentality. So, I was free to blow money on myself. And, apparently, that’s what everyone else was doing at that point, too. I’ve always been a big physical media guy, going back to the CD era. By this point, I was Mr. DVD, and Black Friday at this point was famous for discounted TV season sets (That’s right, kids! You used to have to buy shows a season at a time, for roughly the same price as a modern-day complete series set). When Black Friday rolled around, I knew I could stroll into Target, and finish up my Nip/Tuck collection for a cool $10 a season (Yes, I’m dating myself). Anyway, that’s been my Black Friday experience for roughly the last 15 years. I’ve done it in Maryland, Virginia, and even Colorado. That’s my ultimate Movie Restock Day of the year. I have items I got on Black Friday in 2009 that I still haven’t opened, but that has never stopped me before. I’m sick, and I need help!

These aren’t greatest times for the physical media collector, however. Every studio and retailer is encouraging the public to move to streaming, despite its many pitfalls. The general argument is that physical media takes up too much space, and that “everything is on streaming”. Sure, Jan. This isn’t the article to delve into all that, but just go try to find where Blossom is currently streaming, and then get back to me. Physical media collectors are finding each other on social media, like the survivors of an apocalyptic event. I’ve carved out a place on TikTok merely through my weekly Physical Media Monday posts. We’re still out there, and we’re looking for product! Most of our time is spent in the Goodwills, Savers, and closing FYEs of the world, but we still look to big box retailers for mainstream product – especially on our high holy day of Black Friday. So, imagine our trepidation when it began to be noticed that Target was removing physical media (except vinyl, friggin’ hipsters…) from their stores. Then, Best Buy doubled down, and said “Hold my beer!” Starting in 2024, Best Buy will neither carry movies in-store nor online! So, for new physical media releases, Walmart is going to be the only “reliable” brick & mortar outlet, and that’s not too promising. And that’s when it hit me: This is going to be the last Black Friday.

Now, hear me out: You’ll still be able to get the same “deals” on TVs and Chromebooks and whatever, but Black Friday, as we know it, will be over after this year. Things had already begun to change in recent years, as kids moved away from toys, and the deals became more tech-focused. Since Apple products and video game consoles pretty much have firm prices set by the manufacturer, Black Friday usually came down to who could provide the best *bundle*. Target would sell you the latest Apple Watch, but then throw in an AppleTV or something. You could buy an Amazon Echo Show, but to keep you from just going straight to Amazon for it, Best Buy might throw in an Echo Dot. This carrot dangling will still continue, but they’re going to get even more desperate, mainly because the jig is up. Folks now know the best prices aren’t necessarily found on that day, and there’s been research to prove it. It’s like how soap operas and comics present the “semblance of change” without actual change, to keep you on the hook. These stores are giving the semblance of deals, without you actually saving much money. While the day has become synonymous with tech, it is also probably the worst day to purchase those items, especially when Cyber Monday – Black Friday’s mixed-race, younger brother – is just 3 days later. Not only can you get great deals then, but they’ll also ship that shit right to your house!

Plus, when companies, like the aforementioned Walmart, are starting things 2 weeks early, then what does “Black Friday” even mean anymore? Where’s Purple Tuesday? Red Wednesday? Where does it end?!

No, the true gem of Black Friday over nearly 2 decades has been the movie and TV deals, and those will become a thing of the past after this year. Those were the glue holding the whole thing together. Sure, you went in for the TVs, but you stayed for the Jurassic Park collection that was listed in the “$15 and up” section of the circular (“and up”. That’s how they get ya!). So, if any of y’all have been hunting for a good deal on all the Hunger Games movies (like I have), then may the odds be ever in your favor, ’cause you’ve got one last shot at this! After this year, Black Friday is over.