“Small business Saturday” is America’s newest way of shaking a knowing finger at our own most frightening expression of capitalism: black Friday. A day that for all conjures images of deadly stampedes, soccer mom mace fights over video games, gun brawls over that last American Girl doll. It marks the day after Thanksgiving, when something we call the “holiday shopping season” is launched to a rabid start.
This year America gets a special treat to follow Black Friday, and to precede Cyber Monday, because we don’t have enough special national days devoted to accumulating goods (all scheduled on the heels of a holiday where we’re supposed to be expressing gratitude while commemorating genocidal annihilation). It’s called Small Business Saturday, and it’s brought to you by…American Express.
Every year around holiday shopping time I, and many of my friends, pass around graphics and pictures encouraging people to shop locally, buy from privately owned business, and from online craft retailers like Etsy. Some of my friends are crafters and artisans who make a living from selling their wares, and rely heavily on this invented period called “the holiday shopping season”. So I’m loathe to criticize the whole thing, but criticize I must.
I love getting gifts as much as the next guy. I also really love giving gifts. It’s not just the giving of, but also the shopping for (or making of) that I enjoy. It feels great to give a great gift. To see the recipient go, Oh wow, I love this, and everyone feels good. There’s that quintessential paper all over the floor, footy pajama revelry that harkens the most delightful moments of childhood. But we’re kinda fucked up about this whole giving/getting thing, and we can’t deny it. Now, most kids I know get whatever they want all during the year. The holidays are just a day when they get a whole bunch of shit all at once, on top of getting a whole bunch of shit all spread out over the year. There’s an entitlement and an expectation, and most of the stuff gets ruined, or forgotten, or thrown away in less than six months. The whole affair feels all around less joyful than it used to. We’re consuming more, and we’re becoming all the less happy for it, and it’s never more exemplified than at the holidays.
There are so many questions around it, like why are we aligning so much false and fleeting joy with the giving and receiving of goods? Why, when the kids are grown, and the joy is ostensibly gone from the ritual, do we continue to give things we’re not even sure if the recipients like, want, or need? Why are Christians okay with a complete capitalization of their second most important observance? What do eight magical days have to do with gift certificates for pedicures? We are so far gone, people, but I don’t want to rant. I don’t want to preach.
To see Amex sponsor this thing…it’s a day of shopping that looks and feels so nice because it supports the little guy, right? The little guy who, it should be said, might peddle utter crap, too. The big chains do not have the monopoly on this planet destroying, worker exploiting, cost externalizing, natural resource ravishing, globalizing, cluster fuck of a cycle. “Small Business” doesn’t necessarily indicate handmade lotions made from homegrown lavender, or hand knitted tea cozies from hand combed wool sheared from someone’s own personal organically raised, free-roaming lambs.
Small Business Saturday really seems like something that all the people who facebook-like and facebook-share those “shop locally” banners, myself included, can really get behind. But it’s Amex, the junk in our consumption needle. And it’s talking to us as we tie off our arm, and tap to raise a vein. It’s saying…do it. It’ll make you feel good.