Monday, November 25, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: The Shame Of Retail Thanksgiving

Are Filled With Terrible People
Not sports, not sorry, read or don't.

If you are fortunate enough to take Intro Psych or Philosophy, or have been exposed to the following concept, you'll find the start of this little rant to be, well, primary. So be it. The concept of a Prisoner's Dilemma is simple, but it's best explained as a hypothetical. And if I had my way, it would be taught in freaking middle school. Let's move on.

Let's say that you and I, Dear Reader, are both accused and arrested for the same crime, where we acted as partners. (Whether or not we did it isn't germane to the concept.) The authorities have us in separate rooms, and are offering us the same deal. We don't know about what the other person is being told. The deal is this: confess and testify against the other guy, and we'll give you a reduced sentence. If we both said nothing, we'd both walk for lack of evidence. If one gives the other up, they get a year and the other guy gets 10; if both confess, we both get 10. So your dilemma, Prisoner, is that behaving honorably puts you at severe risk, since you can't be certain that the other Prisoner is also going to do the same.

This is, basically, where we all are with shopping on Thanksgiving Day.

Shoppers who go out that day are convinced that the only way to The Best Deals is to shop when they should not shop. Retailers are convinced that if they don't open on the holiday, they are going to lose that business, and eventually their existence, to their competitors. And it's all coming at the expense of not just any holiday, but the one holiday that is supposed to make us feel more or less equal. Turkey is not an expensive meal, and the trimmings can be made for not much money, either. If you've got an oven, a table, and friends and family that aren't truly difficult to be around for a few hours -- honestly, for the cost ballpark of delivery pizza with toppings -- you can and should feel grateful for your existence. For almost a whole day. After all, you're alive, you're fed, you made it to another one, there's football or not on the television, and no one went so broke that they couldn't have a good meal today. All's not so bad with the world, right?

Except now, a subset of the group is eating early and marching grimly off to work, as if it were Just Another Freaking Thursday... only it's The Worst Thursday Ever, since they are exclusively dealing with The Worst Bosses and Shoppers Ever. Except now, some part of that group doesn't even make it to the table in the first place, early or not, because it's not just the meal, but also the travel, and they couldn't get the time off. Except now, even more of those people are working as security, or at all of the various subsidiary stores (gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, etc.) that will open up in the wake of all of the other action.

And sure, the Glibertarian Asshats (I'm being redundant here, all glibertarians are asshats) among us will talk about how everyone involved has a choice to work or not work. Why, if they just worked harder during the year, they would have seniority, or an office job, or savings to just say no to that gig. In other words, Thanksgiving is just for the wealthy, the privileged, and the people who, well, need to be reminded to be thankful for their lives about as much as we need tax cuts for the 1%. (And if you think I'm overreacting to this trend, or that this will never spread to more than retail workers... um, just wait. It's not as if other countries all work on this day, or that more and more jobs aren't going to international competition. And if our firm works on Thanksgiving, that makes you more competitive than the others in your industry, right? Races to the bottom are fun.)

One more thing about this. I grew up in a single parent household, with a mom that usually had to work on Thanksgiving. (She tended bar. Imagine, for a moment, the happiness in a bar that was open on Thanksgiving.) We had the holiday meal on Tuesday most years, and then on the actual holiday, my mom would drop us with my grandparents to have dinner there. Weren't we lucky -- we got Thanksgiving twice! And doesn't your heart break with retroactive sadness and pity for the Shooter Mom, who never complained to her kids about how she was being cheated out of having her own damned holiday, or that she had to feel like a charity case to her parents every year? (Seriously, I know we're not going to agree on this, Dear Reader, but I have the best mom ever. It's not even close.)

But the thing about a Prisoner's Dilemma is that you actually *do* have choices. You can choose to behave honorably no matter what, even if this means that you pay a little more for something later. You can refuse to shop that day. You can not play the game, or recognize the rules as such. You can also tell everyone you know that you won't be doing this, and that if they are, you'd be willing to give them the difference between the sale price for their doohickey and the Black Friday or Stupid Saturday or just freaking online price, just so they won't ruin the holiday for everyone else. Right out of your own damned pocket. Preferably in single bills, to make the shaming longer. And you can give every retailer the growing and pervasive doubt that ruining a holiday to sell stuff at terrible margins for the worst people in America, at the inevitable long-term cost of serious staff turnover for all but the least capable employees, isn't exactly the right thing to do for business.

In short, you can shame people for shopping on Thanksgiving, and ruining it for everyone else.

Because the stores that are doing this are convinced, and possibly rightly so, that everyone is venal, awful, and willing to screw over the working poor just to save a few bucks. Even if they don't really need to save the money.

Because if you go out and shop that night, you are, in fact, venal, awful, and willing to screw over the working poor just to save a few bucks.

You should know this about yourself.

Everyone should know this about you.

Everyone should also tell you that you are venal and awful for doing this, since you seem unaware of the fact.

And if you are, in fact, so poor or desperate as to have to do this...

Well, then we should all feel that sorry for you, really.

And insist that we're not going to accept any gifts from you this year, since you are in such a bad way.

And that in lieu of gifts, we're going to send you canned goods and blankets, to get you through the winter.

And, in the final analysis?

We should be thankful, ever so thankful, eternally thankful...

That We Are Not You.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

1 comment:

snd_dsgnr said...

I don't have very strong feelings about this since I work in a hospital, as did my mother, and so when we celebrate(d) holidays has always been pretty nebulous.

I think for the most part I don't have a huge problem with stores being open on Thanksgiving, but I do think that they should be required to pay workers time and a half for being there.

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