Every holiday season, I’m struck by the innocence and splendor created at the ending of the movie It’s A Wonderful Life.
As we all know, George Bailey wishes he had never been born. Through the angel Clarence, George is exposed to the utopia that would have existed in a world without him. “Pottersville” replaces Bedford Falls, and is a brilliant combination of shantytown and Las Vegas. Residents live in shack-like homes, pay usury-rate interest on them, and the downtown area is aglow in neon-signs and filled with alcoholic rage. People are detached from humanity; they interact with one another in a survival-like mode.
Upon seeing this Nirvana, George Bailey knows he has to go through with his wish, so Clarence grants it. George is never born, and the world is better for it. Everyone sheds a tear, and the film ends.
That’s not how the film ends. While the description of Pottersville is accurate, the true ending is that after witnessing just how much meaning his life actually had, George lives. People watching the movie are touched because they are witness to the best humanity has to offer,
So, if we are moved by fiction, why do we not strive to make it reality? Do we feel powerless, or that our own lives have no meaning?
When I moved to North Liberty, Iowa, the town was growing. Small, but growing. I liked it, but feared what it could become. Unfortunately, the future is now, and like the fictional Pottersville, North Liberty is a shadow of what it used to be. In the past year a McDonald’s, a Pizza Hut, and a Jimmy Johns have all opened. Because the furthest ones away were, respectively, 5 minutes, 8 minutes, and 5 minutes away. And when you want a Big Mac, heaven forbid you have to drive an extra 5 minutes.
Now, when I walk my dog down the path that connects North Liberty to Coralville, I see nothing but McDonald’s trash strewn about. Yes, there used to be the occasional wrapper or other assorted waste item, but with the arrival of McDonald’s the amount of garbage has exploded. I’m guessing because the kind of person that eats and McDonald’s is also the kind of person who isn’t the best steward of the environment. As you treat your body, so will you treat the planet. And if you want to destroy something, just add humans.
I never wanted to grow old and lament yesteryear; I’ve long believed that reminiscence is a trick of the mind, where you believe what you want to remember, not what actually was. But, that said, I do notice change for the worse, and it bothers me.
In November 2012, the store JC Penney blitzed America with an advertising campaign: Thanksgiving is for family. The retailer announced they would not follow the lead of many companies out there and be open on a day meant for togetherness; their employees would rest, and all stores would open for Black Friday at 6am. A throwback to a form of nostalgia that enthralls many people, “The way things used to be.”
Several months later, JC Penney’s board of directors fired the CEO behind that campaign.
This year, internal memos discuss JC Penney’s desire to “Own Thanksgiving,” and the store will open for business 8pm Thursday night. Cash registers will remain humming from that moment through Black Friday.
Because, you know, fuck family.
I recall a time when everything was closed on Thanksgiving. I remember when stores didn’t stay open overnight in order to cash in on the masses gorging on manufactured savings. I don’t know when things changed, or who decided to open earlier first, but I hold no ill will for whichever company went first. The onus for all that’s gone wrong is on the civilian population. Us. The consumers.
When the first store to open on Thanksgiving did so, we could have ignored it. We could have stayed home and actually not gone shopping. But we didn’t. Or, at least enough of us didn’t. The masses lined up, credit cards in hand, so other stores followed suit and opened earlier and earlier. And here we are today, where every year we hear of fistfights and people trampled to death, just so they can save a few dollars on un-needed trinkets.
The silliest part to the savings game is: most deals run all day. Sure, there are a few special deals that are limited, but those are very small runs. TVs that sell for $300 usually carry the fine print “2 available.” The rest of the bargains run until closing time.
My wife and I went shopping at 6pm one Black Friday. We stopped at a Gap, one attended by the two of us and maybe 5 other shoppers, and purchased some clothes. I asked what it had been like at midnight, as the clock ticked from Thanksgiving to Friday, and the clerk laughed and shook his head.
“Packed,” he stated. “We had a 45-minute line in here.”
What kind of savings did those people get that I missed out on? Nothing. I got the exact same apparel, at the exact same price, I just had no line when I went. The Gap had stocked up well in advance, and therefore kept shelves full throughout the night and day.
The bright side to all of this is: there is always hope for the future.
On the corporate front, as JC Penney continues it’s slow decline into oblivion, better champions of decency are thriving. In 2013, Costco has taken out the ad, “We won’t be open on Thanksgiving.” It’s not a day for greed and consumerism, it’s for other, more important things.
What’s right isn’t always what’s easy; Costco is turning down millions of dollars of business. But that’s the Costco way. In the era of Scott Walker and the Koch Brothers doing all they can to destroy the middle class, businesses like Costco are proving you can be good to your employees and still turn a profit. The more we consumers support the good guys, the better it will be for all of us.