Black Friday violence: Competitive shopping's troubling new edge
Some Black Friday shoppers have been cutting in line, grabbing carts, coming to blows, and wielding pepper spray. What the Black Friday hunt for the perfect Christmas present says about the shopper within.
Aisle-bumping, line-cutting, and parking lot rudeness is to be expected on Black Friday, the annual post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza. This year's event, however, saw more mayhem than usual as throngs of competitive shoppers tussled and growled over waffle irons and Xboxes, with altercations turning violent in at least seven states.Skip to next paragraph
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As in years past, stories of "competitive shopping" gone bad abounded, but with a new edge.
In Los Angeles, a woman pepper-sprayed at least 20 fellow shoppers to save some money on an Xbox console, paying up and getting out before cops arrived. In Ohio and Michigan, women "came out swinging" over discounted bath towels. The results were at times serious, with several shootings reported and one confrontation ending with a grandfather lying bloodied and unconscious.
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With economic growth still moribund and unemployment uncomfortably close to double digits, the growth in Black Friday mayhem hints at both desperation and hope on the part of corporations and consumers looking to bust out of the pseudo-recession and salvage Christmas. Stores pushing start times up to midnight for the first time helped to dial up the emotions and the stress, which inevitably find occasional outlets in shoving and screaming.
"People are putting in all this effort getting up early, cutting out coupons ... then they get there and they find out the goods are gone because they are out of stock or because there were not very many to begin," Sharron Lennon tells TheStreet.com website. "They are going to be angry, and some of them might be the ones who engage in the consumer misbehavior."
Cue YouTube. One short clip depicts a huddle of shoppers climbing over each other, tossing around boxes of a $2 waffle iron, with, as Reuters reports, "one woman seemingly unaware that her pants were sliding down her backside."
For some, such scenes prompt existential musings about the state of humanity.
"There is a point in our culture beyond which camp and kitsch no longer make the least ironic sense, where consumerism loses its last mooring to civilization, where even seemingly legitimate protest devolves into farce. That point is Black Friday," writes Andrew Leonard in Salon.
But the focus on snippets of consumer deviance doesn't quite give the event a fair shake.
Only eight percent of people in an ebates.com poll said they cut in line, for example, and given that 158 million people said they were heading out on Black Friday – compared to 138 million people last year – the sheer crush of humanity has only grown as retailers like Wal-Mart and Kohl's extended the start hour to 12:01 Friday morning, quite a stretch from when 6 a.m. starting times were seen as outrageous.