Consumer aggression is an American tradition. The ghost of H.L. Mencken was in sardonic ecstasies this past weekend over video clips of Black Friday berserkers punching, pepper-spraying and shooting their way through crowds of competing shoppers to win deep discounts on unnecessary purchases. Everyone loves a good slugfest.
Watching it all from my father’s recliner, I recalled that Homeric scene in Tom Jones when Molly Seagrim, taunted by the crowd in the churchyard, took up a thigh bone from an open grave, “fell in among the flying ranks, and dealing her blows with great liberality on either side, overthrew the carcasse of many a mighty heroe and heroine.” Rather than a thigh bone, today’s Molly Seagrim swings an iPhone or a Blue Ray player.
Of course, it’s equally traditional to be shocked – simply shocked – by such behavior. Like court-appointed advocates for the defense, journalists and economists speculated in the aftermath that The American Consumer had been suffering from “austerity fatigue” and was possessed by the demon of “pent up demand.” This kind of insanity, they mean to say, is just what we need.