A death on Black Friday: Is the media to blame?

Consumerism run frighteningly amok: How can you not think about unchecked want when you watch the video above and hear the delighted cackling of the man behind the cameraphone as he shoots a scrum of Wal-Mart shoppers duking it out over the last Xbox 360 on Black Friday? But Twin Cities native David Carr, writing for the New York Times, wonders if there's more to these kinds of stories -- or, specifically, the story of the death of Jdimypai Damour, a Long Island Wal-Mart worker who was trampled by shoppers who'd stop at nothing to get a good deal. (Almost as an admission of how everything, even a tragic death, is there to be packaged and consumed, Damour's last breaths were captured by a shopper's cameraphone and posted immediately online; I won't provide the link). Specifically, he wonders: Is the media to blame?

"The willingness of people to walk over another human being to get at the right price tag raises the question of how they got that way in the first place," writes Carr. "But in the search for the usual suspects and parceling of blame, the news media should include themselves."

He then lists a series of papers that after-the-fact lamented the death, but beforehand offered sometimes funny, always hyped, stories on Black Friday shopping strategies. "It’s convenient to point a crooked finger in the wake of the tragedy at some light coverage of some harmless family fun," Carr writes. "Except the coverage is not so much trite as deeply cynical, an attempt to indoctrinate consumers into believing that they are what they buy and that they should be serious enough about it to leave the family at home."

Over Thanksgiving, I found myself explaining what "Black Friday" meant to an incredulous relative, who thought it a macabre marketing moniker: Retailers, as the saw goes, see their books go into the black on this day, when holiday sales take them out of the red (although Wikepedia has alternative etymologies). But Carr says media outlets, too, make big bucks on advertising the event that they hype in stories in advance of the big day.

Each year I somehow promote Buy Nothing Day, a symbolic alternative to Black Friday, and each year I find myself deleting angry comments or fielding emails from people who pointedly (and in one case, with threats of violence) oppose my thinking. But each year, as the inevitable Black Friday trampling story is published -- and there have been a few; look below -- I remember why I avoid the mall that day... and why I promote another alternative: Buy Nothing Christmas.

A Lexis-Nexis search for "Black Friday" and trample turns up this list from a 2005 edition of the Baltimore Sun:
--November 2005 -- A man who cut in line at an Orlando Wal-Mart is tackled by security guards as people throw discount laptops through the air.

--December 2004 -- Two women and a teen-age girl are arrested after they get into a fight over a parking space near a Toys "R" Us in West Hartford, Conn. One woman threw an orange peel at the other woman's car.

--December 2002 -- A 41-year-old man is arrested after stealing another motorist's parking space, yelling at the driver and eventually spraying him with mace at a mall in Connecticut.

--November 2002 -- Shoppers stampede a Riverside, Calif., Wal-Mart store, running over a 35-year-old woman and fracturing her foot and hip.

--November 1998 -- Frantic "Furby" shoppers bite one woman and knock another down at a Wal-Mart in O'Fallon, Ill.

--December 1996 -- A Wal-Mart employee in New Brunswick, Canada, is sent to the hospital after a crowd of 300 "Tickle Me Elmo" shoppers tramples him.

--December 1993 -- Drivers abandon their cars in the streets outside a Toronto shopping center, eager to get to the day-after-Christmas sales. A police officer said he ran out of $ 20 parking-ticket slips ticketing the vehicles.

--December 1992 -- A 24-year-old clerk at a Toronto Sport Shoppe in Canada is kicked, punched and bitten by a group trying to grab products from shelves. Four people were arrested, and the clerk was sent to the hospital.

--November 1983 -- A 75-year-old man is knocked down by shoppers trying to get to Cabbage Patch dolls at a Jefferson Ward store in North Miami Beach, Fla. That same month, shoppers in Washington, D.C., offer bribes to store clerks for access to the dolls.

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