They storm the stores, they buy and consume as if there were no tomorrow. And they believe unwaveringly that everything will always get better. Although nothing at the moment speaks for that.
Anyone who says “Black Friday” normally means the stock market crash of 1929. Exactly there, where this stock market crash once occurred — that is, in the United States — one means something quite different: namely, the Friday between Thanksgiving and the last weekend of November. On that day, the stock markets do not crash, but the credit cards melt.
Although the turkey from the day before still lies heavy in the stomach together with rich gravy, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, the Americans torture themselves out of bed at daybreak and go out in search of bargains with coupon books and newspaper advertisements in hand.
The stores open at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. on Black Friday, when the lines often already snake around the whole block and are only different from the lines in the former Soviet Union in the sort of product that wait as a reward: X-Box, waffle irons, iPads, chic boots on SuperSaver sale (as long as they, like in the former Soviet Union, are not sold out by the time one has fought one’s way to the front of the line).
Nine percent unemployment, threatening national bankruptcy, political stalemate, pitch-dark economic outlook — one could approach it somewhat more modestly these days? No, only Europeans would think that way. For the Americans, the crisis has brought just one single change: that many stores opened even earlier this year, at midnight, so one could get in line right after the Thanksgiving dessert. To get rid of the money as soon as possible as long as one still has some.
152 million Americans went shopping last Friday, 14 million more than in the previous year. 6.6 percent increase in turnover; added to it comes an additional 24 percent in online shopping. No, they do not allow themselves to be irritated and are certain that things will be better for them tomorrow than they are today, even though nothing speaks for this.
A film that has been just released in movie theaters is recommended for anyone who wants to trace the American’s paradoxical approach to the crisis: Ruth Beckerman’s documentary “American Passages.” There we see an old woman who buys the content of self-storage boxes — and is firmly convinced that she will be able to sell the paltry odds and ends at a profit. There we see a young, drug-dependent woman in prison, who is looking forward to being another person tomorrow.
The America of this movie consists of rainy parking lots, garish, shabby snack bars and interchangeable shopping malls. Yet, the overly indebted people who populate it firmly believe for puzzling reasons that they have their lives in their own hands and that some beginning will come after every dead end that they come up against.
Seen in the context of world history, the century of American dominance has ended. It is apparently so in the U.S. as everywhere else that the principle of growth, growth, consumption, consumption, debt, debt has reached its limit: not sometime, but now. In the wars they recently waged, the Americans have even learned self-doubt and experienced how defeat feels. How can it be that they are not sad?