Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Black Friday (oy, why us?)

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 23: People shop at the Macy's flagship store on 34th St. on Black Friday on November 23, 2018 in New York City. The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday is considered to be the start of the holiday shopping season, with shoppers heading to stores and online for deals.(Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 23: People shop at the Macy's flagship store on 34th St. on Black Friday on November 23, 2018 in New York City. The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday is considered to be the start of the holiday shopping season, with shoppers heading to stores and online for deals.(Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Black Friday is a curse. Black Friday is a boom.

The term Black Friday was first used in the United States to describe a financial crisis. On September 24, 1869, a Friday, James Fish and Jay Gould tried to take over the gold market in the New York Gold Exchange.  (“History of Black Friday”, Info Please). Several decades ago, the Black Friday shopping day in its current form was “born”; it first took on more positive aspects, as being in the “black” meant the time of the year to celebrate, when merchants actually turned a profit.  However,  this  day after “Thanksgiving” (leading up to Christmas) eventually became one of gluttony for many Americans.

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24th September 1869: Panic on ‘Black Friday’ in the New York Gold Room

Many say that the roots of all this started in the mid 1950’s when American President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his economic advisors created a miraculous feat of “social engineering”. To “buy” was to be considered patriotic. To “buy” was to contribute to America’s well-being and survival. This stimulus actually worked, but at the same time created a monster throughout USA and eventually one imported worldwide. In the late 50’s the Age of Advertising also flourished, especially with the advent of modern day television. An onslaught of new visual and aural stimuli encouraged people to “uber-mench” their buying. Advertising was the fuel for the fire!

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And NOW, Black Friday has now arrived to Israel’s shores!  In a Shabbat weekly magazine there was an ad for “Black Friday all WEEK“.  Who wants it? Who needs it? Should Israel now re-export this week long mutation back to the good ole USA?

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Of course buying has always been an American national pastime, whether through the original Sears Roebuck Catalogue, (or it’s current version Amazon.com) or through family outings to a maze of shopping malls. Eisenhower’s vision certainly continues, empowered through credit cards with exorbitant interest rates.

Over the years we witnessed horrific battles and even shoot outs during Black Friday, between frustrated shoppers groping merchandise and each other. These scenes are indicative of the primal level of this shopping, this do or die, at any cost.

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So NOW, how on earth did Black Friday become an Israeli pastime?  We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and only a minority celebrate Christmas, though we do have Hanukkah with cute candles and chocolate money.  Who decided to import this meaningless ritual, and why?  Who needs it?

Of course, people should have a choice as to what brings them happiness, including buying the latest IPhone or a new sofa. But looking back, how our values have changed from our forefathers’ original dream! where is the passion for a better society, sharing, cooperating, giving for the greater good!  Is this now an impossibility? Some of us were taught that a democracy’s first concern is the caring for those who are needy and to provide everyone with equal opportunity and equality. Black Friday is the sign of the times!

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(Ahad HaAm; A.D. Gordon)

And finally, why is Black Friday still BLACK? Why not something like Fuchsia Friday? But wait! We’re in luck! Tomorrow in the USA it’s Cyber Monday.  It sounds as if automated snakes are out to get people, like in the cult film “Snakes on a Plane”.  Beware! Tread Lightly! Americans, we still need you!

Note: To counter all this, a movement in the United States called “minimalism” is growing. It urges people to try to choose the thirty-three objects that are most valuable to them, and to live with no other possessions. It sounds extreme, but those who have tried it, say that it has lead to a miraculous personal transformation. Credit for this goes to two brilliant and passionate young writers, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, and their book Minimalists: Live a Meaningful Life (self published; also see TheMinimalists.com)

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Conclusion: The 20th century visionary Erich Fromm compared a “life of being” to a “life of having”. In his book, To Have or To Be (written 1976; published by Great Britain: Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1978),  Fromm synthesizes the thoughts of many philosophers and social scientists in evaluating what he sees is an urgent world crisis. His words still ring true. To summarize his thinking would take a year of “blogs”, but I think the following quotes can be illuminating. In the following words Fromm 1) contrasts “having from “being”, and then 2) explores how artists, thinkers, writers and those experiencing love and joy, model a new society of “being” rather than “having”:

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1) “To those who believe that to have a most natural category of human existence it may come as a surprise to learn that many languages have no word for “to have”. In Hebrew, for instance, ‘I have’ must be expressed by the indirect form yesh li (‘it is to me’). In fact, languages that express possession in this way, rather than by “I have” predominate…..This fact suggests that the word for to have develops in connection with the development of private property… In the having mode of existence my relationship to the world is one of possessing and owning, one in which I want to make everybody and everything my property, including myself…

In the being mode of existence, we must identify two forms of being. One is in contrast to having..and means aliveness and authentic relatedness to the world. The other form of being is in contrast to appearing and refers to the true nature, the true reality of a thing…

2) Being is not necessarily outside of time, but time is not the dimension that governs being. The painter has to wrestle with colour, canvas, and brushes, the sculptor with stone and chisel. Yet, the creative act, their “vision” of what they are going to create, transcends time. It occurs in a flash, or in many flashes, but time is not experienced in the vision. The same holds true for thinkers. Writing down their ideas occurs in time, but conceiving them in a creative event outside of time. It is the same for every manifestation of being. The experience of loving, of joy, of grasping the truth does not in time, but in the here and now. The here and now is eternity, i .e. timelessness. But eternity is not, as popularly misunderstood, indefinitely prolonged time.”

Finally, in its concluding remarks in To Have or to Be, Fromm leaves us with a visionary “blueprint of mankind”, what he perceives as a better world based on being rather than having (here are some samples of that blueprint):

a) We must put an end to the present situation where a healthy economy is possible only at the price of unhealthy human beings….

b) The first crucial step towards this goal is that production shall be directed for the sake of ‘sane consumption’…

c) ‘Sane consumption’ is possible only if we can drastically curb the right of the stockholders and management of big enterprises to determine their production solely on the basis of profit and expansion…

d) To achieve a society based on being, all people must actively participate in their economic function and as citizens. Hence, our liberation from the having mode of existence is possible only through the full realization of industrial and political participatory democracy…

e) All brainwashing methods in industrial and political advertising must be prohibited…

f) To combat this ever-increasing danger, we must prohibit the use of all hypnoid forms of propaganda, for commodities as well as for politicians….

g) Many of the evils of present-day capitalist and communist societies would disappear with the introduction of a guaranteed yearly income.

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About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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