Circuses Not Bread

Circuses not breadIt strikes me that Black Friday sales videos — featuring people stampeding into stores, trampling one another, or fighting over limited-inventory sales items (sometimes even fighting each other) — are comparable to the spectacle of the Roman coliseum, no? For, much like those ancient events, the desperate people who are put into an outrageous situation are not what it is about; instead, it is us, the ones comfortably watching those brawling shoppers, at a safe distance, who ought to attract our attention.

For in the viewing of the event desperation and comfort are concocted — along with satisfaction with one’s lot in life — all created through the juxtaposition of detached viewer and the frenzied who are viewed in the midst of their struggle to attain their society’s dream (of being either a consumer in good standing or, in the case of those ancient fighters, free).

So perhaps we should be asking what does the annual spectacle, played out online or on the local television news, allow us to experience about ourselves, in relation to those others who perform for us?

Russell Mccutcheon's tweet about Black Friday salesTop image: detail from Jean-Léon Gérôme’s “Pollice Verso” (1872)

2 Replies to “Circuses Not Bread”

  1. From a fighter’s perspective this is quite disturbing. Those who put themselves in these situations have been primed to desire a reward which does not really exist. The TV is nothing. The toys are nothing. The “deals” don’t exist in the same way that money doesn’t exist except as beliefs. For those of us who put ourselves in the ring, the reward *is* the experience of testing ourselves. The medals and trophies are for the spectators. What you are describing seems like the inverse. Do those who “struggle” and “fight” for virtual resources provide us with something to test ourselves against, if only from our armchairs? I realize that I’m not exactly the “average” person, but when I see these videos it makes me glad that I’m with my family. It makes me think of exercising, or getting out some place where there are very few other humans, or working on one of my skills or projects.

  2. “… but when I see these videos it makes me glad that I’m with my family.”

    I think that sums up my post rather elegantly, in fact. Normalcy is created in the viewing by juxtaposing one’s own distanced position to those who are desperately trying to attain what our society teaches us to value. Now, whether one can retreat to family because one is already satiated as a consumer (“I already have a cool espresso maker”) or one is able to understand oneself as above all that, might be of little consequence for both positions could be understood to exemplify how the spectacle allows some of us to distance ourselves from these misguided others, and in the distancing create a sense of self…

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