The Friday following American Thanksgiving is widely known as Black Friday. But to some, it is celebrated as Black Friday’s antithesis, Buy Nothing Day.
Black Friday “has become another holiday that marketers can orientate toward in terms of marketing strategies and techniques … to promote consumption around that particular day,” Dr. Sonia Bookman, sociology professor at the University of Manitoba, says.
Artist Ted Dave started Buy Nothing Day 25 years ago, as one day of the year to protest consumerism by refusing to buy anything at all.
The event was subsequently publicized by Adbusters magazine to protest a consumerist mode of life. Protesters participate in demonstrations, zombie walks and credit card-cutting at the site of Black Friday sales, which usually include shopping malls.
According to straight.com, Buy Nothing Day took place in September for the first few years, which meant it wasn’t intrinsically associated with either Black Friday or Christmas, but rather reflected the ubiquity of over-consumption.
Black Friday has expanded with the existence of Cyber Monday, the online mega-sale that occurs the following Monday. While this marks Black Friday as less of a special occasion, Bookman believes that this extension of the sale works to the advantage of marketers, making the internet simply another space for the consumption process.
“It speaks to the emergence of informational capitalism, where knowledge and culture are central to circuits of production, circulation and consumption,” she says.
Bookman explains that consumption is ingrained in Western culture, since it is integral to our identities, our social interactions and our common social world.
“We live in a society that’s really defined by consumerism,” Bookman says.
Since capitalism is based on profit via mass-produced goods (post-Industrial Revolution), the purchase of items is required to maintain the cycle of production. This is true for consumption by both the collective and the individual, Bookman says.
Kalle Lasn, editor in chief at Adbusters magazine, disagrees that capitalism requires mass consumption, explaining in a 2009 CNN interview that the economy would only be affected in the short term by events like Buy Nothing Day. The consequences of the current lifestyle outweigh the momentary hit to the economy.
“You have to think about the long-term consequences of the business culture that we have built up,” Lasn says.
A Uniter article from 2009 speculates the effectiveness of the Buy Nothing protest, since it only addresses the issue of overconsumption on one day of the year.
“Buy Nothing Day is a way for people to pat themselves on the back by not participating in consumer culture for one out of 365 days,” Rebecca Froese, a former economics student and current entrepreneur, says. “How much effect does foregoing one latte have, if you’re just going to buy two the next day?”
She believes that the people who participate in Buy Nothing Day tend to be the people with limited purchasing power, such as students.
However, Lasn stressed that the impact
would be greater the more people participate.
“A lot of people just need to wake up to the ecological, psychological and political consequences of this opulent, kind of hyperactive lifestyle,” Lasn told CNN.
“I think at least having that break where you’re forced to kind of pause and reflect is really important,” Bookman says. She has observed posters of the event and demonstrations around the city in past years, but she believes that the apparent lack of events this year may simply be due to a lack of media publicity.
While the impact caused by one day of holding back on buying seems marginal, Buy Nothing Day offers something rare: a space free of consumerism.
“We need those spaces, that reminder,” Bookman says. “(Consumerism) becomes ingrained in part of our everyday. It’s something that we just take for granted now.”
Buy Nothing Day takes place on Nov. 24 this year.