Everything I need to know I learned from Asian Cinema

It's the Christmas shopping season again. And I just couldn't keep quiet any more. The day after Thanksgiving sales, according to John Woo. The first in an occasional series.

This evening on the news, I watched footage of the shopping antics that took place during the day. It is the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year. To get more people than you could possibly imagine to the stores, many of them offer what they call "door busters," a super bargain of limited quantity, waiting near the front doors, itching to be bought. Perhaps they are a pile of Bass-O-Matics for only $2.99 each. Or a crate of Fiddle Faddle for only $5.00. Whatever it is, people start lining up at around four in the morning, like the wise me queuing up for Jesus, wallets full of offerings to give for the Sale of God. These aren't specialty stores, either. We are talking Target, or WalMart, places that we should know by now never carry anything particularly worthwhile, certainly nothing interesting enough to shake off the deep, tryptophan induced slumber that can only be enjoyed but once a year (or twice, if you put away another big turkey for Xmas). When the doors open, people rush in, in some cases getting knocked down and nearly trampled. The Who never saw crowds like this. The shopping frenzy has begun.

Every year this happens, and every year I am repelled. Why? My friends and family rush out to shop on the day after Thanksgiving, mouths frothing in anticipation, their eyes glazed over, staggering around the shopping mall like the zombies from DAWN OF THE DEAD (George Romero, USA). To them, my disgust is simply another weird quirk of a friend/relative they have been ignoring ever since he took them to an Ethiopian Restaurant, and their food was piled in the center of the table, to be picked up with your fingers or bread and eaten. "He's just different," they tell each other now with a shrug, when they get together for one of their all night discount parties, their fingers bloody from hours of frenzied coupon clipping. And maybe they're right.

But seeing the early morning lines, the rushing crowds, of the day after Thanksgiving shoppers, I am reminded of a seemingly unrelated scene from A BETTER TOMORROW (John Woo, 1986). Mark (Chow Yun-Fat) has become a useless cripple, dressed in torn, filthy clothes and washing cars with a rag, hoping to earn a few coins from Shing (Waise Lee), the nasty triad bastard who has become the man in charge, ever since Mark's best friend Ho (Ti Lung) took the rap for him back in Taiwan. Ho gets out of jail and sees his old friend Mark, wiping down Shing's car. Shing, decked out in his white suit, condescendingly throws a few coins to Mark. He doesn't give the coins to him. He throws them on the ground, so Mark would have to crawl around the ground in front of him to pick up the meagre pocket change. It is heartbreaking. It is demeaning. Mark is not treated like a human being. He is treated like a dog.

WalMart is the biggest, most profitable business in the world. Sure, Bill Gates might still be the richest man in the world, but Walton and his children take five of the top 10 spots, all off of the fortune of the WalMart stores. They force distributors to reduce the cost of their products year after year until profit margins disappear. They drive out of business all of the local, mom-and-pop shops, hire few people full time to avoid having to pay any employee health insurance, and pay such crappy wages that the only place that employees can afford to shop is WalMart. Then, when the business is at the top, strutting about like Shing in a fancy White suit, it offers big discounts on the day after Thanksgiving, and the public scramble in to buy the discounted products it has scattered on the ground in front of them. We are treated as dogs.

Have some dignity, people. We are not dogs. There is no sale worth pawing at the feet of the World's most powerful men. Just think about Ho. He took a fall for the team, spent years in jail -- a simple life. So forget about sales, cut down on all those possessions. You can't take them with you. Ho found out what is truly important in life: Friends, family, honor. And opening a can of whup-ass on some triad baddies. Not necessarily in that order.

Of course, it's OK to shop at these places. But lets all take a deep breath and step back and look at what we're doing, can we? I did so several years ago and have never looked back. Instead of groveling at the feet of retailers for the next month, break the cycle. I recommend starting by replacing the day after Thanksgiving sale rush with Buy Nothing Day. Then, spend the holiday season shopping at your leisure, on your time. Walking upright.

Posted by Peter Nepstad on November 28, 2004.

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