Universal Translator

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Black Friday, Everybody!

If you are at all like me you already know that actual history is about 1,000 times more interesting that the bland, pre-digested stuff they serve up as "history" when you are a kid in the United States.  I couldn't stand studying American history when I was in school because it was just. so. god. damned. boring.

Decades later I discovered Howard Zinn's classic A People's History of the United States:  1492 to the Present.  Holy crap!  Now this was what I was looking for:  a story rife with conflict, winners and losers, fights between vested interests, manifest cruelty and injustice and - yes - occasional victories for the progressive forces of good.  This was a history I could believe in, one that explained why things are the way they are and how they got to be that way and it was filled with characters whom I could recognize as people, flawed and self-serving and occasionally bright and brilliant.  These Real Life beings bore no resemblance to, for example, the pure and perfect "Founders" that I was told in school I should revere, but they were better:  they were people I could believe in.

Ever since, I've delighted in discovering new, quirky details about American history that give the lie to the bland "official" record of our continual, uninterrupted progress.

Today, Kevin Drum has an interesting post up about the history of Black Friday.  I always had swallowed the official story that the day takes its name from the fact that for many retailers the holiday shopping season is what ensures their profitability for the year.  (Although, if you think about it, this does seem rather unlikely.  Seriously, retailers operate at a loss 11 months out of the year and only make a buck during the last four weeks?  I marvel at my own credulousness.)

Anyway, click on the link to read Drum's article in its entirety, but here is the gist.  "Black Friday" apparently started as a pejorative term coined by department store clerks in the Philadelphia area about 50 - 60 years ago to describe the "hoards of obnoxious brats and their demanding parents" that would descend upon the stores following Thanksgiving.  Later it seems to have been adopted by the Philadelphia police to describe the terrible conditions and traffic jams occasioned by the Army-Navy football game played  in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving.  

And as late as 1985, "Black Friday" apparently wasn't known at all outside of Philadelphia; its now national use seems to have been the creation "sometime in the 80s of an overcaffeinated flack trying to put lipstick on a pig that had gotten a little too embarrassing for America's shopkeepers."  You'd think -- having been alive back then -- I would have remembered that prior to the mid-80s nobody ever used the term, but like everybody else I apparently am inclined to accept at face value whatever the TeeVee wishes to report.

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