In Stuff We Trust 

The grotesquerie of Black Friday

An average of one person has died from Black Friday-related incidents every year since 2006 and this year, two are dead after a man shot his "girlfriend or ex-girlfriend" at a Chicago Nordstrom where she was a seasonal employee. He then turned the gun on himself. It was the 22-year-old woman's birthday, and she had plans for dinner with her family after her late-evening shift ended.

Three days earlier, protesters looted in Ferguson, Mo., following news that a grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed 19-year-old Michael Brown in August. One looter, quoted by, called it "the real Black Friday." Another put a finer point on the destruction: "Why should we really care about some sh*t that's not bringing us no money, that's taking money from our pockets."

Stuff played a central part in both events: In Chicago, a woman worked a night shift on her birthday because thousands of people wanted to shop and she needed the money. That's where the man who shot her knew to find her. If not for Black Friday, she would likely have been at dinner with her family. In Ferguson, people lashed out at the tangible symbol of their frustrations: the material wealth of an economy, community and culture that has systematically denied them equal access.

Do yourself a difficult favor and watch the music video for Mr. Oizo's "Ham." Viewer discretion is advised—not because it's violent (it is) or gross (it's repellent) but because in three minutes, "Ham" shows us our Portrait of Dorian Gray: obese, diseased, cruel and avaricious. Timed for release on Black Friday (irony not lost on this observer), the video depicts motor scooter-riding grotesques fighting over a discount-store stuffed animal. Though satire, its images of consumers going into the heart of darkness over a piece of cheap junk is uncomfortably real.

Every year we're treated to a round of finger-wagging over materialism, but to shame consumers is to shame the victims of an economy that has created the severest income inequality since the Gilded Age. Whether it's door-busters at Wal-Mart or window-breakers in Ferguson, we're witnessing desperation as much as greed, and the former is far more dangerous.

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