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November 2005, Volume 13 Nr. 21, Issue 189

Jesus Takes a Pass On Celebrating His Birthday
Judas Makes a Case for Black Friday

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

Let us for a moment set aside whether the historic figure named Jesus ever existed.  Accepting the premise that he did and that, as Christians believe, "He" is always with them, what would Jesus make of the events depicted in the U.S. national news about Black Friday 2005?  Would Jesus be shopping for great bargains?  Would he be party to the shopping frenzy?  What would Jesus do on Christmas?  The day after Thanksgiving is the day when U.S. consumerism triumphs and conspicuous consumption earns its title.  It is this day on which "even in the sleepy frozen north country of Vermont buyers took the term 'early-bird shoppers' to new levels Friday, lining up as early as 1 a.m. to wait for stores to open..." (Rutland Herald 11/26/05).  Consumers in my state of Vermont and across the United States are damn serious about their shopping, especially when it comes to getting the "gotta have" items.  

Cindy Sheehan, the mom peace activist who lost her son Casey in Iraq, returned to Crawford Texas where George W. Bush was celebrating Thanksgiving.  Meanwhile, much of America was engaged in the annual pilgrimage to the mall.  While Cindy protested the brutal and illegal Iraq war, shoppers protested long lines at the malls.  Scott Krugman, from the  Washington-based National Retail Federation reports that Black Friday 2005 is "...the most promotional Black Friday we have seen." (CNN 11/25/06).  Here is how good it got: Dozens of people in Cascade Township, Michigan stepped on a woman that fell as they rushed through doors that opened at 5 a.m.  A man pushed shoppers to the ground keeping others away from the ensuing entangled bodies.  Troubled Wal-Mart saw people rushing and falling on its wet floors.  In Orlando, Florida, a customer was wrestled to the ground by others when he cut into a line of people waiting to shop.  We are told that we must remember that the Christmas retail buying season that runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving through the end of the year is a most critical time.  Who cares about Jesus and his message of peace when business must exceed last year's profits?  After all, success for capitalists is the bottom line and a return into the black must happen even if it means that people get hurt.  

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), shoppers are  expected to spend more than the $22.8 billion than they spent last year on this Black Friday weekend (CNN, 11/25/05).  Imagine that.  That is what it costs to keep the Iraq war going for about 22 weeks.  We plunge into the holiday spending stupor as our compatriots continue killing and are being killed.  Operation Purchase appears to be our noble cause.  While Iraqis are slaughtered and our young people die for oil that powers neo-liberalism, our citizens shop in Wal-Mart, Target, etc., that exploit poorly paid workers selling goods made in China, Mexico., etc. under slave labor conditions.  These manufacturing jobs and many others are U.S. jobs that have been exported by the same neo-liberals who urge us to go into debt in order to satisfy their lust for wealth. 

God rest ye merry gentleman, let nothing you dismay.  
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day; 
To save us all from Satanís power when we were gone astray.

Just what is this "Satan's power" that leads us astray?  While I do not subscribe to notions of the mythical adversary, Satan, parallels to corporate global power, domination and hegemony are worthy of close scrutiny. 

Imagine the scenario:  

Jesus and his twelve apostles are having a modest Thanksgiving dinner.  

Paul asks, "Jesus.  What should we do tomorrow, Lord?  It's Black Friday".  

Judas, making a pitch for going to the Maul of Amerika, is resoundingly shot down by Thomas shouting, "This is Buy Nothing Day!  We should be protesting - not participating - in the orgy of greed consumerism and conspicuous consumption".  

Judas fires back, "This day is not Black Friday.  It is Green Friday where people in Capitalist countries perform the ritual of worshipping our Lord, Jesus, by buying gifts in His name that no one needs and that they cannot afford.  It's good business and it's good for business".  

In unison, the apostles shout, "Happy birthday, Lord".  Jesus weeps as he realizes neo-liberalism is co-opting his message of living simply so that others may simply live.  

While Jesus' message conveys contentment with living a simple life, neo-liberalism markets a constant dissatisfaction with life.  Our looks, our clothes, our music, toys, status, health, position, cars, food, possessions, body, family, friends, etc., are never good enough.  We never have enough.  We are as church goers constantly being sermonized to and falling for the rhetoric of spending.  We pray and shop our way back to personal satisfaction but it never quite gets us there.  Preachers know that their congregations are best controlled through manipulated discontent.  Preachers and advertisers both tell us that they have the answers that offer respite from the dissatisfaction with and the meaninglessness of life.  That answer, advertisers say, comes through the promise of a better if only we consummate our relationship with neo-liberalism by buying something.  Wall Street offers us salvation within their temples of purchase where its advertising promotes feeling good through spending.  We are programmed as religious adherents to so believe.  The good feeling lasts only briefly, however.  As it must, for capitalism demands that its profits through our discontent be perpetually renewed.  This neurosis is further exacerbated by the monthly arrival of the credit card statements and their 23% or higher daily compounded interest rates.  We then once again realize that we are incomplete.  We are again compelled to go out and buy something else to feel better again.  Wall Street's promised land never arrives but is always around the corner if we just succumb to trying and buying again.  

The Wikipedia website notes that, "some larger retailers (e.g. Toys R Us, Target Corporation, and Best Buy) have begun referring to Black Friday as Green Friday because the majority of events that have Black in their title are overwhelmingly negative".  The term Green Friday has a much better set of corresponding values.  And just what is it that the people are beating up each other over on Black Friday?  People are clobbering each other in order to buy the video game machines such as Xbox and PlayStation 2 and some of the most violent games ever produced. 

Getting back to the Jesus scenario above:

Judas returns from the Maul of Amerika with one each Xbox and PlayStation gaming system.  He must after all have both.  

Jesus asks Judas, "Are you now fulfilled?  

Judas answers, "Listen Jesus, not yet.  I'm wrapping these and a whole bunch of great games up and placing them under the holiday tree as gifts to myself.  Damn if I have to wait until Christmas to play them!"  

And so on the day that Christ was "born" Judas like many Americans plug-in and play video games like "Grand Theft Auto", "World of Warcraft", "Halo 2", "Madden 2005", "Mortal Kombat", etc.  What a fitting tribute to Christmas where children play and practice violence, war and death, after being given gifts purchased on Black Friday.  What goes around comes around as the saying goes.  The spirit of Christmas is as ephemeral as is peace on earth.  The profits, however, are immense.  Dayana Yochim in "Cancel Christmas" on the Motley Fool website writes, "Americans are expected to spend $435 billion on holiday cheer, according to the National Retail Federation. Its annual holiday spending survey found that the average consumer plans to shell out $738.11 this season, a 5.1% increase over last year."  Yochim suggests ideas for saving both "finances and sanity".

Right wing christo-facists like Pat Robertson have been making accusations again that Christmas is being stolen.  During his sermons in recent years Pat Robertson declared, "We are winning the Christmas war."  Is this what America needs Pat, another war?  Perhaps, the Lord that Robertson worships is sick and tired of war.  What can one expect, however, from a follower of Christ that advocates for the assassination of the legally elected president of Venezuelan, Hugo Chavez?  "We have declared war on the left..." says this so-called man of God and follower of Christ.  

The essayist Jon Mooallen points out that, "The most demoralizing form of violence that could visit a Christian right the violence of not being noticed."  And so, everywhere we go we find violence in one form or another.  We are so use to always attacking one another that any other reality is unimaginable.  There is an escape, however, as Dayana Yochim suggests from the madness of Pat Robertson, Black Friday, Xbox, PlayStation, Christmas lights made in China, fruit logs, eggnog, Hallmark greeting cards, shopping, shopping, shopping, and, buying, buying, buying.   And that is to opt out of it all.  Once again this year, Christmas will not exist for me just as Black Friday has ceased to exist being transformed into Buy Nothing Day.  I will be neither accosted by the crowds at the shopping centers nor browbeaten by the proponents of this so-called Christian holiday.  As for Jesus, he's taking a pass on celebrating his birthday as he is nowhere to be found, again.

Well you know that it's going to be alright
I think it's gonna be alright
Everything will always be alright
When we go shopping

So shutup
And never stop
Let's shop
Until we drop

It's never enough
Until you've got all the stuff
When the going gets rough
Just shop with somebody tough

--- from Barenaked Ladies, Shopping (partial lyrics)

© 2005 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, PhD

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