In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge refuses to give a pair of fundraisers money, "Are there no prisons, are there not workhouses?" he asks. Of course there are, say the fundraisers, but most would understandably rather die than throw themselves into the cold and merciless system that accounted for welfare in Victorian England. "Then if they are to die, it's best they do it and thus decrease the surface population," Scrooge retorts.
I though of that last turn of dialogue when I watched the news tonight and saw people lined up in the wee small hours of what's supposed to be a holiday to buy things they probably don't need at prices so low it should make any reasonable person wonder why anyone paid the full amount the other 364 days a year. That feeling was compounded when I heard one store manager say that there were people lined up at midnight to get into his store early the next morning. And that's why I feel comfortable saying, and without any humour, that if you were one of those people that camped out overnight in front of the Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Future Shop, et al, I hope you die and thus decrease the surface population.
Is this an anti-capitalism screed? Somewhat. I certainly have no problem with people buying things, even if it is a cheap 42-inch flat screen TV - a device used only to keep you glued immobile in front it, but there's something about this frenzy created by bargains for the sake of bargains that I find really distasteful, whether it's Boxing Day here, or Black Friday south of the border. For that matter, I'd like to sweep those that line-up for the latest Apple product into this rant. There were two new iPads and a new iPhone released this year, each new device accompanied by the type of display that used to accompany live appearances by The Beatles.
But despite the media coverage every time more than three people stand in front of a store, the one question I've never heard an answer to is why? And I don't mean "because I have to be the first to have one," or "because this is a great deal," I mean what possesses people to leave their homes in the dead of night and wait outside some store for stuff. I mean the underlining psychology of it, like how a serial killer will murder people to feel good, but that doesn't really explain why they pick up a knife or a gun. It isn't a total societal norm, not yet anyway. So why do some people go crazy for technology and act like Romans at the dawn of the common era, eagerly lining up along the roads to see the conquering army return to the city? Even our own local paper offers no real insight.
There's no greater media context for this either. For example, Liberal leadership hopeful Justin Trudeau spent his Boxing Day visiting Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who's in her 15th day of a hunger strike just a stone's throw away from Parliament Hill. While thousands of Canadians lined up for electronics they probably don't need, Spence subsists by eating fish broth and living in a teepee to bring attention to the dire poverty of First Nations' peoples across Canada. The Attawapiskat tragedy, which quickly faded from media memory after the Harper government "solved the problem" by appointing someone to look at the reservation's books to see where their spending goes wrong, is now a distant memory it seems.
Spence is awaiting a meeting with Stephen Harper and Governor-General David Johnston to discuss the concerns of herself and thousands of other First Nations peoples taking part in the Idle No More movement, which include not just poverty concerns, but environmental ones as well. The main thrust of the latter is the budget omnibus bill that loosens regulations in the exploitation of the Alberta oil sands and the construction of pipelines to funnel it to places across North America. Surely, there's some kind of correlation that could be made with these activists protesting the tearing up of their lands for oil, which will be turned into gas that will go into the gas tanks of people who will use it to drive to the mall at 5 am on a holiday.
There are some serious issues in the world (and in Canada) in other words, and squandering precious air time and column inches on "Let's all go to the mall because..." does a real disservice to the Chief Spences of the world who are literally suffer to foster change. Not suffer by spending the night in a sleeping bag because you want $10 off an iPad, but suffer by not eating food for going on three weeks for goals no where near as certain to come to fruition.
Perhaps part of the problem is, like so many commentators have noted in the past, is that years ago, if you were poor, you didn't know it. TV and media didn't make you feel worthless if you didn't own the latest thing, and certainly the media never enshrined a culture of mass consumerism in a manner usually reserved for a religious idol. I think this is what's driving a lot of this holiday shopping frenzy, people are afraid that if they stay at home they're going to miss... something. They don't know what, they don't know where, and they don't know how, but they definitely know that if they don't get out to the mall on Boxing Day, they'll miss it.
Of course, what they really get is a chance to buy more things they probably don't need. The news covers it like the world's changed and meanwhile a woman that's trying to affect actual change continues to dine on ashes in her teepee unless someone of the stature of Justin Trudeau comes by. It's also worth pointing out that it took a week for most of the mainstream media to notice Idle No More after the national tragedy that was the IKEA monkey. We love to look and laugh at what happens in America on Black Friday, but if you've seen any footage from Canadians at Boxing Day events, are we really that far behind that curve?
In an interesting side note to all of today's "Boxing Day madness," stores in Atlantic Canada, for the most part, were closed on Boxing Day. Meanwhile, in Quebec, labour laws limit the time that stores can be open on Boxing to between 1 pm and 6 pm. If you read the comments on stories covering both angles on the CBC and CTV, you'll see some kind of unanimous approval, but still, a Pollara survey said that nearly two-thirds of us went out to shop for Boxing Day. At least hypocrisy doesn't take a holiday.
*Of course I don't actually hope people die, but this is my visceral reaction to when I see people fall over each other to get into a store at an hour that if it were any other day, wouldn't even see people out of their beds let alone out of their houses. For the record, sometimes I start these rants angrier than I am by the time they're finished, so thus I am not crossing my fingers for some kind of mass extinction. For now.