The Mayan Apocalypse is Coming – Shop Early
“There are those like Norfolk who follow me because I wear the crown, and there are those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth and I am their lion, and there is a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves – and there is you.”
- King Henry to Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons
Abraham Lincoln’s pocket knife, now part of a collection in the Smithsonian, was in his pocket when he was murdered, and reminds us of a time when no man was fully dressed without his pocket knife.
And how many times can one reasonably use “pocket” in once sentence?
No one seems to know what brand President Lincoln’s knife was, but it looks much like a Schrade. Just as this nation will never be blessed with another President Lincoln, neither can one ever again buy an American-made Schrade, since the company folded (no pun intended) years ago, and Schrade is now Chinese.
We can be reasonably sure that when President Lincoln bought his pocket knife he rode his horse to a store for the express purpose of buying a pocket knife because he needed a pocket knife. He was not defined by the act of shopping.
President Lincoln, upon proclaiming Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, did not then camp out for a midnight opening, join in a gang fight, punch someone, discharge a gun, run over folks with his horse, throw merchandise, or wear a “Black Friday” tee shirt.
He ought to have re-thought that hat, though.
A recent news show featured a poor woman who didn’t know what to do with the four television sets, among other merchandise, still in boxes on her floor. She bought the televisions because they were on sale, and she is a shopper. She revealed all this to the reporter with no sense of embarrassment or irony. She didn’t need the televisions and she wasn’t buying them for gifts; she was buying them because buying things defines her.
Americans are often stereotyped as being obsessed with material things, but material things in themselves are usually good. A pocket knife, a television set, a new shirt, a music album, a fountain pen, a coffee cup – these are all good and useful, not obsessions.
But we may well call an obsession the repeated act of purchasing things one doesn’t need or even want – the four televisions come to mind.
The images of people camping, waiting, shoving, quarreling, and shopping on a schedule dictated by popular culture reinforced by advertising suggest that the possession of an object is not, well, the object; after all, one can buy a pocket knife or a television almost any time. The purpose seems to be the camping, waiting, shoving, quarreling, and shopping in themselves; that is, one submerges himself in a cause and thus finds an identity, not unlike someone wearing the colors and adornments of a sports team. The team doesn’t know who the individual fan is, and wouldn’t care if they did know, but that’s not the point – the point is that the individual, alone and lonely in a mysterious universe, finds comfort and identity within a crowd, and almost any crowd will do.
The desperate need for an identity is perhaps understandable up to a point, but to connect one’s identity with something as transient as a group activity scheduled by advertising is not. The collectivist concept of Black Friday did not exist until several years ago; Grey Thursday was invented this year. For a popular culture living in an eternal Now, though, reality means nothing; Grey Thursday exists, has always existed, and will always exist because the stores have decreed it so. Orwell’s terrifying socialist Oceania couldn’t have duped millions of people as easily as modern advertising.
And the people said “Woo! Woo!”