The Better Angels of Our Nature?: Black Friday

If you’re not an American, perhaps you don’t know about “Black Friday.” That’s the Friday after Thanksgiving Day (which falls on Thursday), and that Friday traditionally marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Many stores open at midnight or early in the morning, and have incredible bargains, like waffle makers for only two dollars. Consumers line up for hours to be the first through the doors, for there is only a finite number of bargain items.

This is evolutionary psychology at work, but instead of the meat from a felled mastodon, the modern humans are fighting for consumer goods. People (both consumers and employees) have been killed in the door-opening rushes, and, on a more amusing note, there are tussles over the goods (for videos and more information on these frenzies, go here).  As far as I know, nobody was killed in this video taken two days ago, but it shows the madness of Americans that emerges on Black Friday.

God bless America!


  1. jesse
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I recently read the wikipedia entry on “bandwagon”. It was enlightening.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      And your recommendation led me to this amazing list of our COGNITIVE BIASES – usually you would have to do a psych degree to cover them all.

      • jesse
        Posted November 25, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        Holy cow, what a list! It is a wonder any of us can function at all!

      • jesse
        Posted November 25, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

        I should add that it was an interest in the derivation of term and meaning of “bandwagon” that I landed there on the wikipedia page in the first place. Interesting that it has political origins.

        Jerry’s website has some serious competition with wikipedia for my attention. He’d better up the ante or his URL will be consigned to the scrap heap ; )

  2. Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Canadians have copied this phenomenon and Friday and Saturday were Black Friday Weekend in Canada. I suspect many Canadian retailers and consumers don’t know what the term Black Friday means. However, what it does mean for retailers is it’s a way to stop Canadians from crossing the border to shop.

  3. Fred
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I weep for the nation.

    • gbjames
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink


    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      This is just embarrassing.

  4. Veroxitatis
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Shouldn’t this vid have a caption – “No animals were killed during the making of this film.”
    Once upon a time there were classic sales in the UK, such as that of Harrods which took place on Boxing Day or 1st. Jan. (2nd. Jan in Scotland for obvious reasons!) Now, particularly in light of the ongoing recession, sales / closing sales appear to be a daily event.

  5. jay
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    I think it’s becoming a kind of unofficial secular holiday, a sort of ‘running of the bulls’. And it becomes self fueling process because the people do what they understand they’re expected to do. And with only a few exceptions, they’re not really badly behaved.

    I suspect it is a form of entertainment, though. I know some people who actively plan ahead for this… it’s not the money… it’s the thrill of the chase.

    • Posted November 25, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      I thought of the Running of the Bulls too – or that festival where they throw tomatoes at each other.

      • Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

        Your comment made me think of cheese rolling, and lament that that’s not the model being emulated.


    • gravelinspector
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      “Uno de Enero,
      dos de Febrero

      Siete de Julio,
      San Fermin!”
      To badly remember one of my Spanish language lessons.
      (“San Fermin” is the “Saint’s day” festival on which the classical bull-running takes place in …. ? Pamplona ?

  6. Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Luckily, only 120 were killed in a Bangladesh factory fire while manufacturing garmets for American consumers.

    • gravelinspector
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      That’s good. Less to assuage from the consciences of Joe-Average-Western-Worlder and his/ her/ it’s/ their beer bellies.

    • Linda Jean
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink


  7. Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink


    Now, imagine if there actually was a food shortage…I suspect more than a few of those in the crush would transform from consumer to consumee….


    • RFW
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      A society that acknowledges equity as an social important organizing principle handles such shortages via rationing. The obvious conclusion is left as an exercise for the reader.

      Yes, I have read “Animal Farm”.

      • Occam
        Posted November 25, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        And I have lived in a system where the administration of perpetual scarcity was a central element in the mechanic of power. The adroit dispensation of iniquity under the mantle of universal equity is a frightfully effective truncheon.
        Not to be commended, and Animal Farm, for all its delights, does not even begin to describe it.

    • Occam
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      Echoes of Soylent Green, and not just co-incidentally.
      We, as modern and affluent societies, have exceedingly short memories; but food riots were not uncommon just a couple of generations ago.

      One of the best-documented episodes pre-dating the French revolution was the “guerre des farines”, the Flour War riots in the spring of 1775. Seventy years later, the Duke of Wellington would say about Robert Peel’s repeal of the British Corn Laws in reaction to the Irish Famine: “Rotten potatoes have done it all — they put Peel in his damned fright.” Of the guerre des farines it might be said that it put the Realm of France into its ‘damned fright’ and pre-empted the last timid attempt at economic, financial, and administrative reform before the Revolution. Food riots did it.

      For a detailed assessment of post-revolutionary food riots, see this excellent study by Nicolas Bourguinat, «L’État et les violences frumentaires en France sous la Restauration et la Monarchie de Juillet», available online:

  8. Filippo
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I don’t think I can stand to watch this without a drink of likker.

    • gravelinspector
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      It’s only “reality”. People can think of MUCH nastier things amongst themselves.

  9. Jim Jones
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Shopping — the real religion of America, followed by spectator sports as a close runner up!

  10. Matthew Cobb
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Well there’s one exception to this wave of consumption – the Johnson family, who have produced no waste in three years… Béa Johnson, a French woman, lived the life of overconsumption until one day (pardon my French): “au bout d’un moment j’ai ressenti un grand vide, un profond malaise et une immense insatisfaction, comme si une partie de moi mourrait”
    That’s exactly what I felt today when I had to go to the local shopping mall.
    More in this Le Monde article:

    • jay
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      No horse hair shirt?

    • Matthew Cobb
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Ceiling Cat has told me to translate, so here’s a non-literal translation:

      “After a while I felt empty, sick and hugely dissatisfied, as if something inside me had died”

      • Posted November 25, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        I would alter it to present the sense of heartfelt angst better: Out of nowhere, I suddenly experienced a great emptiness, overwhelming sickness, and gnawing dissatisfaction as if a part of me had vanished and was no more.

  11. jose
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    What’s evolutionary about this? Isn’t this just an american thing that has been around for just a few decades?

    • Occam
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      My American friends should not bask in negative exceptionalism.
      Thanks to the internet, Black Friday and, to some extent, CyberMonday, are now global phenomena.

      French websites report soon after midnight the Black Friday reductions on Apple gadgets in New Zealand, guestimating the corresponding reductions on European Apple Stores coming 8 AM. Amazon advertises BF globally. So do a number of other US resellers, from Adorama and B&H to OWC. Want cheap RAM in France? Don’t miss on Black Friday, cheaper even than OWC. Ditto for apps. Even conventional brick-and-mortar stores in Old Europe are increasingly confronted to customers asking about Black Friday rebates, whereas traditionally the price-slashing season used to start after Kurisumasu.

      As to evo psycho at work: maybe, but don’t drag the poor mastodon into it. What we know about prehistoric hunting of large animals indicates that this was thoroughly organised and structured business. For what it’s worth, modern observation of hunter cultures — before they were destroyed, forcibly sedentarised, or missioned to death — usually shows a well established ranking order followed in the distribution of meat.
      A far cry from First World consumer madness. That is the privilege of societies bathing in cheap abundance, but terrified by the spectre of mounting precarity.

  12. Posted November 25, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Surely one of the more depressing sights that the modern world has to offer. This only compounds my woe from earlier when I was listening to people question why universities should be publicly funded – “what value is it to us?” If your values comprise being a wage-slave, coming home every night to be entertained by the idiot box, and being indignant at anything that does not increase your wages or maximise your entertainment, you’ve got the wrong f**king values!

    • gravelinspector
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      The majority will probably prove your values wrong, with a length of rope and the nearest convenient tree. How dare you cast doubt upon the ghods of the age?

    • jesse
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      I tried writing a short agreement to your comment here, but failed at expressing myself well, so did not post it. However, I just now read this article by Roger Ebert and thought you might be interested in what he wrote. I, myself, noticed in the 1980s that getting a good liberal arts education here in the U.S. didn’t seem as important to college students as “getting a good job”.

      I don’t know if this is what you had in mind when you wrote your comment, but, anyway, here’s the link to Ebert:

      • Posted November 27, 2012 at 5:08 am | Permalink

        That’s exactly it – thanks for the article. On this same topic, part of the university-questioning program I saw had young people in apprenticeships and they were asked, “is there anything you’re not doing which you think universities are good for?” They were absolutely clueless. They just said that by the time they’re in their mid-20s, they could have a flash car and a decent house, so what more to life is there? It’s so saddening…

  13. Mark Joseph
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Am I misunderstanding something? The day after Thanksgiving is Buy Nothing Day:

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, I knew about ‘Buy Nothing Day’, however not that it was associated with Black Friday.

  14. Stephen P
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I suppose that, given the choice between American shopping hooligans and European football hooligans, I’d prefer to take my chances among the Americans. I’m not sure they come out better in many other comparisons though.

  15. Dawn Oz
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Australians have a similar syndrome on Boxing Day. Our community values are also assaulted by a mindless consumerism (own up to loving my iThings). My other objection is that these shopping days are right after a major family day, the responsibility of which often falls on the women in the family, and then they turn up to work the next day. At one point, the shops were closed on Boxing Day so that families could recover. However, the relentless business forces convinced the government that there was a day wasted for ‘the economy’. The people that make the laws are unaffected by them.

    • AvianIsTheTerm
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      On the plus side, at least our boxing day sales are a *tad* more civilised than this.

      Nevertheless, in many ways it is an emulation of the American Black Friday sales, and I don’t think it’s something we really should be trying to emulate…

    • Miles_Teg
      Posted December 2, 2012 at 5:37 am | Permalink

      The Australian Boxing Day sales were a con. Most of the discounts were on small numbers of items, and once they were gone they were gone, you had to pay the normal price, or get some smaller discount. I think shop opening times should be left up to the shops concerned, but I wouldn’t go. As a guy I’m just not interested. I do the minimum amount of shopping consistent with survival.

  16. bacopa
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I doubt people ever fought like this over mammoth meat. You’d know everyone in your band and they would know you. There would be long term consequences if you didn’t stay cool.

    The anonymity of crowds and bog box retailers makes Black Friday chaos possible.

  17. Maple
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Funny, I was at Black Friday sale here in Canada, one of the big deals were $11 high tech sport socks, 2 for $5, 5 for $10, or 20 for $20. Nice black socks (apparently they where supposed to be white, hence the big sale).

    So you might expect people to grabbing 20 at time, but no lots of people where taking only 5, saying things like “I really only need a couple of pairs and I can gift the extra.” People at the back were asking about sizes and people up front would hand back to anyone who asked…all very civilized and polite. Everyone got something, some a bit more, some a bit less depending on their need–no Greedy Gusses, everyone happy.

    Just an observation.

  18. Pray Hard
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Brings to mind hyenas at a fresh carcass …

  19. fullyladenswallow
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    I question the post being filed under “LOLz”…”shame and disgust”, perhaps, would be a better tag.

  20. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    I shop on price (my wife drives me crazy because she shops on brandname), but I can’t see the point of going through all that just to save a few bucks. Like the queues at gas stations the night before a 4c per litre rise in the price of gas – they’re showing the exact same behaviour. That’s going to save them $2 on a tankful. Would I queue for five minutes for the price of half a hamburger?

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