How the meaning of Black Friday is changing: evidence of a cultural shift towards a more sustainable consumer society
“Black Friday” as we know it today was born in 1970s US. Since then, the day after American Thanksgiving has become an ever more global symbol of consumer culture. It earns its name from accounting: Black Friday for many businesses marks the moment where they begin to turn a profit, moving from “in the red” to “in the black”.
But the meaning of Black Friday is no longer what it was. As the phenomenon has grown it has shifted from a symbol of profit, success and rewards of the holiday season, to testimony to excessive consumer culture. In recent years “Green Friday” has become an opportunity for businesses to mark the day with a new sensibility, identified with new hashtags like #buynothingday. These businesses advocate for more sustainable consumerism and care for the environment in their messaging, and at best, in their business models too. For example, Everlane, a US, sustainable, direct to consumer brand, is using Green Friday 2020 to raise awareness and $300.000 for Oceana, fighting to end single-use plastic.
At STURMundDRANG we are tracking the signals and undercurrents to cultural shifts, and looking at Everlane’s Green Friday initiative, we find it interesting to note how the tide has turned not only on consumerism, but also on plastic. In the 1950s, Roland Barthes, the renowned French intellectual wrote a short article on plastic as part of his Mythologies collection. In it, he marvels at the pervasion of plastic as a new kind of artificial material, that he sees as symptomatic of his era. Where previous artificial materials sought to imitate luxurious and rare natural substances, such as diamonds, silk and feathers, Barthes finds that plastic has no such ambition. Not only does it not imitate nature, it is entirely disinterested in it. Instead, it is defined by its workaday practicality. Sincerely prosaic, it reduces the beauty, tactility and diversity of nature into focused and efficient function. In the future, Barthes muses darkly, “the whole world can be plasticized, since we are told, they are even beginning to make plastic aortas.”
Our vision of the future says a lot about our present. Where in the 1950s the cultural swell was pulling towards a world made of plastic, today brands like Everlane are dreaming of a future with none at all.
So, on this Friday November 27th, 2020, what’s your ideal future? And is it black or green?