How Black Friday has tainted TV (and Thanksgiving)

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Monday, November 27, 2017 - 5:46pm

Ah, Thanksgiving. The beloved American holiday where we celebrate being grateful, stuffing our faces with as much food as humanly possible and sitting in front of the TV for 10 hours straight. In my house, gathering around the TV has become as big of a Thanksgiving tradition as breaking the wishbone and dodging the annual, “So, do you have a boyfriend yet?” interrogation session from grandma.

I have vivid, joy-filled memories of waking up a few hours earlier than normal, turning on the Thanksgiving Parade and being joined — slowly but surely — by the rest of my family in the living room. After Santa officially rings in the holiday season and closes out the parade, my brother hijacks the remote and switches to the football game, where the entirety of the state of Michigan gets revved up just to watch the Detroit Lions lose (again). This is the part where I usually retreat to my room, having minimal interest in the game more than finding out which pop star would be singing the National Anthem this time around.

Staying very on brand, I use this escape to indulge in some of the Thanksgiving-themed TV greats, ranging from the quintessential “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” to the treasured “Friends” episode when Joey gets a raw turkey lodged on his head. Once most of my family makes their way into the kitchen to prepare for the future feast, it becomes my rightful time to be in control of the remote. Admittedly, I stay back and flip on the National Dog Show (which the rest of my family loves to hate), but come on, who could possibly resist the opportunity to gawk over a pageant of puppies? And finally, after a long day of stress-cooking and the consequent stress-eating, the whole family once again returns to the living room as the TV adds essential background noise to our night of storytelling and pie eating.

Year after year, the familiarity of the Thanksgiving TV lineup has been a central uniting and calming factor of an otherwise chaotic holiday. But Thanksgiving TV has changed in recent years — and not for the better.

I can’t help but notice more and more Black Friday advertisements taking over the airwaves and rudely interrupting that regimented family viewing time. Shouting voices announcing “Black Friday Doorbuster Sales” and “50% off the entire store!” Fluorescent lettering and strobe light effects. Sirens and explosion sounds. Now, yes — mission accomplished — those ads have surely captured the attention of millions. But the frequency and overall loudness of Black Friday commercials not only annoyingly impedes our regularly scheduled programming and familial bonding, but also perpetuates a harmful holiday message. After all, nothing says “Happy Holidays” quite like ditching Thanksgiving dinner to line up outside of the mall and fist-fight a stranger for the last flatscreen on the shelf.

Black Friday has become its own “holiday” of sorts, except it celebrates consumerism, retail rage and the art of snagging a deal. In the days and even weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, our inboxes, screens and minds are infiltrated by ads encouraging us to jumpstart the holiday season by opening our wallets, defeating the true purpose of the most wonderful time of the year. Not only does Black Friday completely overflood and drown out media in November: I also see it as gradually working to make Thanksgiving go extinct. With retailers opening earlier and earlier on Thursday and the demand for the hottest big-ticket items growing, Black Friday has begun to cut the Thanksgiving festivities and memories short for both consumers and the sacrificing employees who have to handle the feisty squads of shoppers.

All of a sudden, a day dedicated to quality time with family and reflection makes a total 180° and turns into a night dedicated to materialism and urgency. Much to my bewilderment, there is even a real-time website that tallies and accounts for all Black Friday related deaths and injuries since 2006. Must it really be said that any man-made phenomenon that requires those kinds of statistics shouldn’t be embraced? Because it just shouldn’t.

While there’s no way of overcoming consumerism as a fundamental aspect of American culture, there must be a way to ensure that the integrity of Thanksgiving and its traditions is upheld. I can sleep easy at night knowing that Cyber Monday and online shopping is gaining momentum on Black Friday, while promoting sales that take place a few days after Thanksgiving, and from the comfort of your own home. Because those ads are mainly prominent online, the sanctity of huddling around the old TV on Thanksgiving and watching the same schedule of specials with minimal interruption still has the potential to be preserved for years to come. That means that there is yet some hope that the tradition of harmonious Thanksgiving TV watching is not entirely tainted for all of eternity; and for that I am truly grateful.