Back in 2004, on Black Friday, the steady and sane Andrew Sullivan wrote a short piece lamenting Christmas greed.
“The sheer frenzy, the entire mania of consumerism,” he said, “the notion that meaning is to be found in buying things and giving these things to other people or to yourself – it all leaves me cold. The hysteria is a form of cultural disorder.”
Writ large, the kind of cultural disorder Sullivan describes may have landed us in the economic mess we’re in today.
Remember those good old Black Fridays of Christmas past? It was fun to see folks line up at dawn to hunt for bargains to get free coffee and donuts. The TV camera would always grab a money shot of a shopper grinning over the pile of goodies he was about to buy, most likely with his credit card.
Christmas of 2008 felt quite different. Today, amid the worst economic downturn since the 1930’s, our cultural cycle of manic spending has become a cultural of depressive penny-pinching. And a new kind of frenzy.
The press and store owners were happy to capture the consumer fury, aware that uber-hype was their lifeblood. Unfortunately, such “color” stories, once meant to be light fare, no longer serve us well.
Witness Black Friday, 2008, when frenzy fun turned tragic, a metaphor for our society on the whole.
On November 29, 2008, a Long Island Wal Mart employee lost his life as a running of the bulls stampede burst through the main store entrance, crushing 34 year old Jdimytai Damour.
Damour was thrown to the ground at 5 a.m. as he opened the doors to a swelling, pushing crowd that crushed a metal portion of the door frame like an accordion. According to an MSNBC and an Associated Press report, less than an hour after the incident, ” Dozens of store employees trying to fight their way out to help Damour were also getting trampled by the crowd. Shoppers stepped over the man on the ground and streamed into the store.”
Kimberly Cribbs, a witness to the stampede, said shoppers were behaving like “savages.”
“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling `I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,'” she said. “They kept shopping.”
Was the incident at the Wal Mart on Long Island an anomaly or a symptom of a national psyche run amok? Coming as it did on the threshold of the greatest economic meltdown since the Depression, America’s upper echelon from Wall Street to Citibank, showed itself to be slimy with the patina of a fat, greedy hustler, while America’s workingman stood desperate for a deal, any deal, to survive financially.
We all have a part to play. Finger pointing and sound bite cheap shots are spraying the airwaves like buckshot.
One major step to recovery lies with the press. More than ever, the press must to step to the plate, help advance the country toward home plate. Yes, we are in hard times, yes, too many otherwise responsible citizens have misbehaved. And, yes, as of now, that includes the lipstick pig- loving, scandal-salivating press.
It is time THE PRESS, as they think of themselves, realizes that the American people are worn out by the constant Black Friday frenzy, mega-hype of a media desperate for viewer ratings.
While we do not advocate gilding real news, even the bad hits like the financial meltdown and the Wal Mart stampede, we also feel it is time to ditch the hyperbole.
We have a young new President, Barack Obama, who has the promise of admirable, steady leadership, with approval of 73% of the country. We are blessed with genuine working Americans, from red states and blue states who are willing to hunker down with dignity as they face the harsh realities of our times.
A serious-minded population being lead by a serious minded President is understandably a bore to the press, especially cable news. But as a gift to national sanity, could not Fox, MSNBC, and CNN abate their thirst for conflict?
For example, we believe it is no accident that the Rachel Maddow Show has skyrocketed in the ratings. Agree or not with her, she is steady, she is sane, she is soothing in hard times, much like the sorely missed Ted Koppel. Likewise it is no accident that Barack Obama has been chosen to lead during this stretch of national frenzy. Steady, sane. Can the media adopt sanity as well?
One can only hope. Steady, sane, deep thought would be good medicine in these perilous times.