During the Tickle Me Elmo craze of 1996, throngs of Christmas shoppers mobbed stores for a shot at buying a vibrating Muppet toy. There were injuries and arrests, and one Wal-Mart clerk was knocked unconscious by a surge of 300 shoppers. He suffered a broken rib, jaw, knee and back injuries, and had the crotch ripped out of his pants, not the kind of tickling Elmo was supposed to do.
People were much kinder back then. The troubles of 12 years ago seem quaint by the bleaker standards of today. We have sunk lower than Tickle Me Elmo. We have sunk all the way to Trample Me Jimbo.
"Jimbo" was a nickname for 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour, a temporary worker killed early Friday when shoppers burst into a Wal-Mart store in the (Orwell would approve) Green Acres Mall on Long Island. Damour was knocked down and used as a human speed bump in the dash for a handful of cut-price television sets. He was not a small man: According to one report, he weighed 270 pounds but was knocked down and walked over at 5 a.m. on "Black Friday" by the human equivalent of a buffalo stampede. When employees tried to clear the store, some of the brutes with blood on their boots didn't want to leave. They had waited hours to get a jump on Christmas.
Instead, they jumped on Jdimytai, whose last name, Damour, derives from "love," the thing Christmas was about before it turned into a media-hyped effort to lure crowds of greed-seekers to turn out for a chance to be on TV and to buy a new TV of the type that makes it impossible to watch your favorite news anchor without counting his nose hairs.
This country is becoming too stupid to live.
But you can't say we didn't see it coming: Over the past decade, Thanksgiving has been converted into little more than a pregame meal, a last chance to sit down and have a bite to eat before diving into the disgusting and disturbing crassness of Christmas -- upon which the economic future of the country now rests.
It's patriotic: We should shop til we drop, or until we drop someone else, so the economy doesn't end up flat on its back. If I were Santa, I'd be ticked, and the only presents we'd get would be hand-knitted. Or come in coal.
One person who has warned we have let Christmas put the X in Wretchedly Excessive is William Doherty, a family social science professor at the University of Minnesota. On Friday, Doherty led a gathering at Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul in an effort to "reclaim" Black Friday and make it a day of reflection and renewal.
About 300 people attended the event, which Doherty hopes will become an annual counterobservance to the excess of the season. It was called "Feeding the Spirit on the Feast Day of Consumption."
Doherty says the term "Black Friday" didn't originate as a reference to hopes that retailers might end up "in the black" after a big day at the cash registers. He says Black Friday was coined by cops disgusted by the dangerous behavior of bargain-crazed customers when the predawn, post-Thanksgiving shopping rushes first began. The trampling on Long Island, he says, was sadly predictable.
"It's the commercial culture's equivalent of the hockey dad who murdered another dad at a hockey game," Doherty said on Monday. "It's a sign of something out of control in our culture. The media cover the Black Friday excess like a sporting event: It's all about competitive high-powered shopping, the crazy drive to compete, to outdo others in the frantic living, hyperconsumption and debt of the day."
Not exactly the Christmas story as we remember it. By the way, for a reminder that this battle has been waged a long time, watch the bravely anticommercial "A Charlie Brown Christmas," the 1965 Charles Schulz special, which airs next Monday at 7 p.m. on ABC and repeats Dec. 16. Charlie fights back, and Linus helps him remember why.
TiVo through the commercials.
At Doherty's Black Friday event, it was suggested we stop asking kids what they are going to "get" for Christmas and start asking ourselves what we are going to give. A parable was also told of a man who put a new hat on his head each day, without removing any of the previous hats. Eventually, he could no longer stand.
We can't wear it all or have it all.
The name Jdimytai Damour should be remembered in a country so obsessed by materialism that we know the price of everything and the value of nothing. On Friday, a crowd was so revved up it couldn't remember the season that brought it out in the dark. Love died, trampled for a TV.
And Black Friday earned its name.
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