by E.C. Fish on November 26, 2012

GOOD WEATHER AS GUILTY PLEASURE:  It’s weeks behind schedule, but late in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day, the weather finally turned here in Minneapolis, just in time to make the roads a little slick for that traditional-but-less-storied trip though the woods and over the river. After a couple of false starts, it seems to mean it this time. Thanksgiving week began, however, with temperatures at near-record highs in the low sixties, no snow in sight, and some decidedly mixed feelings up here in the Torture Chamber of the Four Seasons.

It’s been a remarkably pleasant year for weather, and the Minnesota soul — conditioned by years of legendarily lousy weather and, truth be told, dependent on suffering through same for a good bit of its collective self-image — has a remarkably hard time with remarkable pleasantness. At this time of year, a fairly common reaction to the observation that it’s a nice day is, “Yeah, but we’ll pay for it later,” and after an entire year during which we seem to have avoided paying for it, Minnesotans are beginning to wonder how big the tab is getting and when it will come due.

This might seem to be merely the sort of attitude one might expect from a people who routinely indict any strongly flavored foodstuff on the charge of its being “too rich” and who tend to use “different” (often pronounced “differnt”) as a pejorative, but in this case, the other shoe really is in danger of dropping, and it’s a size EEE. Last year’s pleasantly bearable winter put us and the states that receive our runoff into a state of snow drought, with profound and nasty implications for agriculture and freshwater supplies, and another one like it could turn the worst drought in sixty years into the worst drought in a hundred.

Unless one is really keen on snowshoeing, skiing, or skating, a Minnesota winter is nobody’s idea of fun, and under normal circumstances, this time of year can feel a lot like staring down the barrel of a shotgun loaded with snow and rock salt. Now comes the jolly news that unless we get whacked, and whacked hard, people are going to start getting hurt. This news is coming in a year when we haven’t even been love-tapped yet, leaving us looking forward to either the usual winter depression or a huge case of the guilts after Christmas.

Have I mentioned lately what a swell place this is to live? Right, didn’t think so.

THE RUNNING OF THE CONSUMERS: What’s always bothered me about Black Friday — apart from its very existence and the nasty things it says about us as a nation — has to do with the old saw about the day after Thanksgiving being the day retailers go “out of the red and into the black.” A business model that runs on credit for most of the year and then concentrates so many of its resources on the last twelfth of the year has always struck me as both woefully inefficient and needlessly precarious. Still, the idea that so much was riding on Black Friday economically allowed me to chalk the whole sorry spectacle up to a silly but understandable desperation, while giving the endless media coverage a kind of urgency that almost justified its stultifying volume.

It’s an odd kind of relief, then, to find out that it’s all a bunch of crap. The American retail establishment is far better at taking money off of people than the legend of Black Friday would have you believe. As for the sorry spectacle, it is just and only that: a media-generated pseudo-event that mostly represents a weeklong “Word From Our Sponsor.” Participation in this event is now considered by some — and certainly by the culture as represented by the media — to be as much a part of our national Thanksgiving tradition as turkeys and pilgrims. It is, in reality, just dancing lessons from the boys in marketing, another Big Big Sale where one can go broke saving money. Apart from empty promises of big big savings, the main selling point of Black Friday (and this year, of Thanksgiving night shopping) is that it’s EXTREME, just like your tortilla chips and your sports videos and your pizza and your Makeover: Home Edition — a kind of shopping-mall version of Pamplona, run with a different kind of bull entirely.

Listen: Black Friday is an empty and embarrassing ritual that doesn’t really do the consumer or the retailer much good at all, and it arguably does some real harm to the national spirit. Maybe that time might be better spent staying home, eating turkey sandwiches and leftover pie, and playing board games. Okay, fine, we can watch TV if you want.

SLOW NEWS IS GOOD NEWS: It’s a bit hard to tell what might have made the news this week if the media hadn’t been treating a bunch of people going shopping like a combination of the Fourth of July and a plane crash, but my instincts tell me we weren’t missing much. The Fiscal Bluff and foreign policy, for all their supposed importance, really haven’t generated much more this week than the empty posturing and phony tea-leaf reading that they generated last week.

The post-election process ground slowly onward, with the state of Florida certifying the long-obvious defeat of US representative and all-around nut job Allen West (R-FL), who has himself been certifiable for years. This would be considered good news if it were, in fact, news. West conceded after a legally questionable recount and a couple of weeks of stamping his little feet and threatening to hold his breath until he turned blue. A decent person would likely slink off into obscurity after such a display. Expect West to turn up on the right-wing media circuit shortly.

And laying the groundwork for the next election has — oh help us — begun in earnest, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) making himself available for an interview this week in which he announced that he isn’t a scientist and neither knows nor cares to know the age of the Earth, stating, in effect, that it had nothing to do with the talking points on the economy that he wanted to deliver. This isn’t news; Republicans say, believe, or say they believe all kinds of stupid things, and Rubio’s wholesale dismissal of science, while bloody freaking dangerous, is a political dog-bites-man story if ever there was one.

I, for one, am thankful. I had a small, quiet, and quite wonderful Thanksgiving with my ex (who, thankfully, still genuinely likes me, and makes a mean sausage pecan stuffing besides) and my sons. Here’s hoping all of you had a good one as well, and that our celebrations with friends and loved ones have fortified us sufficiently to put up with another week of this crap. Stay tuned . . .

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E. C. Fish is the editor and publisher of The Spleen.

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