Black Friday – Part of the Neoliberal Plasticuff

November 26, 2010

Reality

Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?

–David Foster Wallace, a great author who hung himself on September 12, 2008
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/11/just-asking/6288/

Yesterday, I was thankful.

Today, I have a right to be not-so-thankful.

Today is Black Friday.

Black Friday is to capitalism as the International Worker’s Day (May 1st) is to socialism:  a celebration of a system of ideological assumptions premised on labor and material relations long expired in the modern era.

International Workers’ Day celebrates global labor and the workers’ struggle for solidarity against capitalism.

It was established as a holiday of mourning, emerging from the egregious 1889 Haymarket massacre, that transformed into a righteous holiday of solidarity of protest.

The holiday has transformed over the years, from hard-bitten strikes to Stalinist spectacles to raving Berlin street parties.

Black Friday, on the other hand, is a relatively recent invention celebrates individual initiative and the availability of large-ticket items at local chain stores.

It takes the name of another 19th Century capitalist disaster – the Fisk-Gould run on the U.S. gold market in 1869.

The black mark on economic history shoved to the back of our minds was brought to the foreground in the 1980s, when accounts at businesses spread rumors that it was only after this point in the year that businesses began to earn a profit.

What could have become a statement on the instability of capitalist-competitive enterprise instead became a “holiday” for consumer greed.

“Is this because you’re bitter because you’re not out there hunting for bargains?” you ask.

No.

There is a purpose to my jeremiad, though I’m certain, for example, the general mid-crisis malaise that has stricken academics like myself is not an isolated phenomenon.

It is a malaise that affects us all.

Nor is it all that separate from, say, Americans’ outrage over the new TSA devices.

See, Black Friday is part of neoliberalism colonizing the American Self as well as the political sphere.

Corporations capitalize profits and socialize losses.

That means Americans are no longer needed by those who have any money.

Yet ardently we position ourselves to look like we’re still making a buck, we’re still viable.

And as consumers, we storm the barricades to demonstrate to ourselves that we still matter – when we do not.

From an academic’s point of view: we do research only to be denigrated for not spending more time doing PR, we have students who could care less about the academic enterprise because they (rightly) assume little money is to be made from it, and the whole academic project is suddenly abandoned by administrators and the public alike at the historical juncture when a knowledge economy has become more important than ever.

From an anti-TSA protester’s point of view: we are now being virtually strip-searched and groped not because it makes us safer, but because the rich need to turn a profit on fear, and our bodies are no longer important to them.

From a Black Friday shopper’s perspective: if we don’t get that deal for myself and my family, someone else will.

Black Friday takes on the sad role of dividing and conquering us, when in fact we should be uniting and conquering the minuscule minority that daily benefits from our misery.

We are trapped in an untenable situation only broken through what one would call “socialist” measures.

Socialism may be capitalism’s best friend, in fact.

Others agree with me.

Neoliberalism’s plasticuff constricts movements, shatters lives, constrains economies, disciplines bodies, punishes the innocent, and benefits the very few.

Can you feel it tightening?  Is it a belt or a noose?  Is there a difference?

For those who care about others, it is a Black Friday indeed.

Fantasy

Tekkon Kinkreet (dir. Michael Arias, Japan 2006)

From the director of The Animatrix (2003) comes a tale of surreal dreams and violence in the heavily allegorical city of Treasure Town.  This global Asian megaplex is apparently protected by two Cats named Black and White, who live as two orphans in a beat-up car under a bridge.  The movie plants the seeds of rich metaphors in our minds about gentrification, the relationship between creation and destruction, tradition and change, relations in the animal kingdom, order and chaos, the reality of realized dreams and the fantasy of undreamed reality (I’ll let that one sink in), and such, but chooses to abandon this wondrous creation for a few pat metaphors and plot resolutions.  Too bad – it could have been a winner; instead, it’s merely pretty.  Remind you of anything?

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