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Understanding the potential for violence on Black Friday, 2009

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(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

How can people even begin to understand the barbaric behavior that is loosed in people on Black Friday? Last year, a Valley Stream Wal-Mart employee was killed by 2,000 crazed shoppers, who pushed the door off its hinges to get into the store. According to the New York Daily News, when employees tried to close the store because the man had been killed, shoppers refused to leave. A witness reported, “People were yelling, 'I've been on line since Friday morning…They kept shopping."

In an exclusive interview with this author, Psychologist Tim Kasser, author of Psychology and Consumer Culture: The Struggle for a Good Life in a Materialistic World and The High Price of Materialism addressed the question.

He said, “It is not unusual to hear about people getting crushed by the crowd at rock concerts or football (soccer) matches in Europe, or even among Muslims at Mecca…What you have in these kinds of situations [and Black Friday] is a person surrounded by others who have the same beliefs and goals…and you have a limited resource…that the people are in competition for.

“The competition combined with the social reinforcement that what I’m doing is worthwhile … seems to take hold of people’s minds and push out other concerns, including the health and safety of others…”

Retailers now know beyond a reasonable doubt, that by creating a situation on Black Friday, where there is a limited resource and drawing a large crowd of people on one day who are in competition for the resource, they are laying the groundwork for a dangerous situation. They are equally as culpable as the Black Friday shoppers for the violence.

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