After a brief flirtation with Occupy Wall Street, the American people returned this week to Occupy Wal Mart, a movement with which they are vastly more comfortable. Notions of closing the gap between the country’s financial overlords and the sinking 99.9 per cent vaporized as it came time for the annual orgy of gorging that celebrates the highest American values: over-consumption and football. By Friday, Zucotti Square on Wall Street was empty of people exercising their Constitutional right of free assembly. Herald Square in front of Macy’s department store, on the other hand, was jammed with six thousand people exercising their right to buy cheap stuff.
Thanksgiving — like those other two High Holy Days of American culture, Christmas and Halloween — has been un-moored from its origins and meaning so that it could be bent to the shape of the industrial consumer economy. What began as a communal giving of thanks for blessings has become just another successful marketing campaign by the turkey and sweet potato industries.
Every year the admakers trot out the Norman-Rockwell-inspired images of pious families carving resplendent turkeys, and we respond by flocking in our millions to somebody’s house (probably not Grandma’s, she’s in a home being cared for by professionals, more likely Stepdad’s McMansion) “for Thanksgiving.” That’s how we say it: “for Thanksgiving,” not “to give thanks.”
[Yes, I do know that there are families who gather to celebrate their ties and their history, and I give hearty thanks that mine is one of them. I do not perceive, however, that we are in a majority. If I am guilty here of making generalizations from the way our culture appears on TV, I would simply ask this: where else do we get any information about our culture?]
We overeat, courtesy of the food industry. Then we medicate for indigestion and heartburn, courtesy of the pharmaceutical industry (my personal favorite: the drug you take before you overeat, to prevent heartburn). Then we zone out, courtesy of the football industry. Then, that night or Friday morning, we raise the true flag of American consumerism and we storm the emporia of cheap Chinese crap to exercise our right to shop.
People congregate in squares and on sidewalks by the thousands, camping out in sleeping bags, going to the bathroom God knows where, in order to be among the first to be admitted to the temple of Black Friday (We call it that, without a trace of comprehension of the irony). Fistfights break out. Occasionally someone is trampled when the doors to Incredible Savings are flung open. But do not look for the lines of police officers in riot gear, or for a police officer strolling along spraying pepper spray in the faces of the lined-up people. That’s not what the police are there for.
[UPDATE: Think I exaggerate? Check out the Wal Mart occupier who used pepper spray to discourage fellow shoppers.)
That’s how we pivot from one High Holy Day to the next. And Zucotti Square is deserted, the sleeping bags that were there safely confiscated and sequestered in landfills, the people who were there nursing red eyes and swollen faces from pepper spray. Once again the Republic of the One Per Cent is safe to observe its High Holy Days. Let us give thanks.