Every November morning, I open my inbox to find tempting emails from every brand I’ve ever browsed daring me to check out their seasonal deals. I delete them all before I’m persuaded to click further into the consumerist cave; though I’ll admit to checking out a clothing discount here and there, and allowing for a brief outfit movie montage in my mind before I force it into the virtual trash can and get out of bed. A simple swipe to delete is a savvy tool to resist temptation, though the urge grows stronger as we near Black Friday. 

Just hours after we’ve cooked a beautiful meal with loved ones and professed our gratitude during Thanksgiving dinner, we are catapulted into Black Friday and prompted to purchase as much as possible. This holiday marks the start of a season which is simultaneously glorious and gluttonous: decorated with snow, song, and gratitude, the season is also a time of ravenous consumerism and waste. This dichotomy irks many who love festivity, cheer and giving but fear for the future of our planet. 

Companies capitalize on Black Friday and the subsequent holiday season by exploiting our traditions for profit. Even the greatest proponents of capitalism sometimes sneer at the way Christmas has been crafted into corporate heaven. Companies advertise so aggressively that we begin to believe we should own more than we need or even want, and always desire the latest product and abandon the last. This cycle drives an increase in consumer demand, frequent overturning of items, and massive amounts of waste. There are a number of issues with this culture, one of which is consumerism’s incredible impact on the environment.

Consumption is a leading contributor to climate change: the food we eat, household items we buy, and the clothes we wear all play a powerful role in exacerbating the climate crisis. According to the World Bank, the average person purchases 60% more clothing today than in 2000, and McKinsey reports that we keep these items half as long as we did 15 years ago. This is not to say individual consumers are most responsible. Several dozen corporate behemoths bear the greatest responsibility, and as conglomerates, they both encapsulate hundreds of consumer-favorite brands and dictate consumer culture. 

Black Friday is a cultural event which marks the start of a season emblematic of the culture these corporations have created. Throughout the holidays, we purchase so much more than we want or need that we get rid of over half of it. An NPR report detailed that in 2021, roughly $500 billion of product was returned, an estimated half of which may have ended up in landfills, creating 6 billion pounds of waste. Corporations are ultimately the largest contributors to the climate crisis in this consumer ecosystem. They cannot act alone, however, and the wasteful cycle is perpetuated by individuals. 

We cannot abandon responsibility and write off our harmful actions as insignificant in the grand scheme of corporate emissions and waste. Consumers, to a great extent, also drive the culture in a cyclical way. Companies create products based on consumer demand, which, today, is driven largely by culture on social media. When users take to TikTok to share pages-long reviews of the best products and deals this season, they may influence hundreds of thousands of people to purchase them. Rapid trend cycles sparked by influencers’ indulgence in new items percolate through various realms of TikTok and other social media apps and contribute further to overconsumption and waste.

As content consumers and creators, we have a choice in how we engage in the media ecosystem and how that contributes to consumerist culture. For many of us, the choice to engage with certain content promoting Black Friday deals, or to engage in the deals themselves, is a choice that could affect others’ media engagement and purchases. Content consumers who become product consumers drive brands and corporations’ success on Black Friday and influence their decisions regarding future production of goods. Individual choices lead to collective action which drives change. For those of us whose participation in Black Friday is a tempting but unnecessary choice, to resist overconsumption is to begin harnessing our collective power for good.

For some, however, Black Friday is not just a time to impulsively indulge in tempting discounts but a day in which they can finally afford necessities. Perhaps this desperation is why there is a history of physical injury and even death as consumers literally fight for deals – a phenomenon which prompts analysis of the economic model that necessitates such aggression and desperation. The holiday can be a scam, however; the Associated Press reported that as many companies offer the same price reductions year round, meaning that many Black Friday deals are financially insignificant marketing traps. And, due to inflation, items will likely cost more this year than last, even with discounts.

Different economic and cultural milieus’ participation in Black Friday this year will be interesting to track, especially as a recession looms, inflation rises, and general consumption rates for many are set to decrease. Disparate participation in the holiday – of planned purchases versus excessive indulgence – represents the severe disconnect within the United States’ economic classes. Some plan ahead to purchase items they are otherwise unable to afford while others utilize the day to hoard troves of items they fleetingly desire, and Black Friday becomes not a day of merry deals marking the start of a festive season but a dark representation of desperation versus greed.