Here’s a typical look at Black Friday, via the Twitter Machine:
— Annalyn Kurtz (@AnnalynKurtz) November 28, 2013
In reality, Black Friday isn’t even a thing anymore — the stuff can start a week or so earlier (some Wal-Mart stores were beginning specials last Saturday on various items, jumping Black Friday by a full six days). And when you’re opening doors (“doorbusters”) at 6pm Thursday, creating that whole don’t-make-people-work-on-Thanksgiving narrative, that’s technically not Black Friday either. So maybe the concept has become a bit quaint, and in the next decade, we’ll start to see Christmas deals around Halloween (that’s when Christmas channels now start to proliferate on Pandora). All this said, what exactly are the origins of the term “Black Friday?”
Well, there’s different ideas and timelines — HISTORY IS AN INEXACT SCIENCE, PEOPLE — but it all goes back to one central place (Philly) and one central time (the early to mid 1960s). Wikipedia claims the first appearance was in a 1961 public relations newsletter (or, you know, the financial crisis of 1869 that rocked Grant’s presidency). The Huffington Post has a piece on the origins too; in their re-telling, the Philadelphia Police Department started to refer to the day after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday” around 1966. They wanted to give it a negative connotation so that people would opt out of the idea, because the traffic jams, crowds, and potential fighting near or at stores was making the cops’ job harder. CBS Philadelphia did a piece on all this in 2011 with “retail scholar” Michael Lisicky. He claims that after the cops tried to negatively associate it, Peter Strawbridge — a prominent Philly retailer — flipped the script on them and changed the connotation back positively, claiming it meant stores would be operating “in the black.”
The other important tie here is the Army-Navy game; currently, that’s typically played on the December Saturday that the Heisman is awarded (so, one week after the conference championship games; this year it would be December 14). That switch, though, only happened in 2009.(One of the reasons for that switch was so that the Army-Navy game could be the only college football focus on the day it was played.) Before 2009, though, the game was typically on the weekend after Thanksgiving, so … back in the 1960s, those people in town for the game (a) added to the congestion and traffic, leading to more groused-out cops (calling it “Black Friday”) and (b) tended to flood the department stores on Friday and Saturday because they were in town for a good time anyway.
There are some other decent reads on the origin of the concept — here, here, here and here, for example. Here’s what I find amazingly ironic in a way that only threads of U.S. history seem to be: Philadelphia is essentially the birthplace of American democracy, no? (I suppose one could also argue Boston, but Philadelphia has the more official status.) It created the greatest thing that America has — ostensibly, freedom — and it’s also the birthplace of a term now associated with rampant capitalism (that we can probably do without). You tie in the service academies to this motif and it’s almost too perfect: America prides itself on freedom and defense, concepts inextricably linked with Philly, and another concept America has become associated with — essentially, the trampling of your common man to get a new PlayStation — is also born of Philly. That’s kind of amazing in a way, no?
I feel like someone should take that base video and re-cut it with the worst Black Friday footage imaginable to send a comical message about how all the true cornerstones of America — freedom, defense, and mass capitalism that knows no bounds — were borne of one city along I-95. As for that worst footage, well, let’s see here… we could look back to… oh, no, this happened last night:
Thank you, 1960s Army-Navy goers, and thank you, Peter Strawbridge, and thank you, Philadelphia police of the early 1960s. The narrative has come to this now. But hey, at least I can get myself a sweet-ass blender:
This is how Black Friday works now: a $200 blender gets listed for $335 with a 40% "discount" making the price $201 pic.twitter.com/QibomndPUY
— Alexis C. Madrigal (@alexismadrigal) November 29, 2013