The holiday sale season has officially kicked off in the USA with Thanksgiving and Black Friday. As we head into December, I will be creating content about the relationship between holiday ritual and consumption, and how as minimalists, we can challenge this.
Before we get too far, I would like to clarify that I am not against shopping, or buying things at discount, in general. What this post and the videos below are about is people buying excessively, and seeing rampant consumption as something to aspire to.
Go outside, kids!
As someone who has never made a habit of watching haul videos, or Black Friday haul videos in particular, I was curious to see what happens in such a video.
Below are two videos I have made in reaction to some popular Black Friday haul videos.
After watching this series of haul videos, I have noticed some commonalities in how this style of content is presented. In this sense, there are developed ‘conventions’ to videos within the haul ‘genre’. If a media text is formulated and repeated over and over again, it is usually because it has proven to have good results for its creator. What does this mean? It means that these videos are not simply reflections of a specific person’s wacky shopping adventures, they are intentionally created media products, that are intended to attract a specific audience.
The thumbnails of these videos are extremely colourful, with the words ‘Black Friday haul’ clearly emphasised. They feature the faces of either one or two young females (most often), with shocked or surprised expressions. They also feature a number of shopping bags, sometimes with brands obviously showing.
The titles contain the words ‘Black Friday’ in clear capitals, and they often also contain some sort of an adjective that implies how ‘crazy’ the haul was. Sometimes they feature brand names, or some sort of indication of the price paid. I’m assuming the videos that seem the ‘craziest’ get the most attention.
The videos I watched started off with a short montage of the ‘crazy’ events that occur during the progress of the video, generally implying the whole things was a ‘fun adventure’. The YouTuber will then present themselves surrounded by shopping bags, describing just how tired they are from shopping so hard. The video will often feature the creator’s friends. It will typically have some sort of a try on. The purchases made are usually characterised as ‘dirt cheap’, and there is a kind of pride in revealing the ‘bargains’ obtained.
- A vast majority of the videos I watched were created by teen aged females, some as young as twelve years old. This surprised me, as I assumed that haul videos were most likely to be made by women in their 20s, because this is who we consider to have the expendable income.
- I’m assuming that the audience for these videos would be at a similar age to the creators. The thumbnails certainly looked like they were designed to attract younger viewers.
- A vast majority of the comments sections seem to be supportive of the activities in the video, and in many cases showed extreme excitement for shopping, and an aspiration to be like the creator.
- There was no acknowledgement of the production methods behind the items purchased, showing little concern for sustainability or the ethics surrounding their manufacture. In fact, the products featured were completely detached from any sort of a manufacturing process whatsoever.
- There was limited interest in the quality of the items purchased, including information about the materials used to manufacture them.
- The videos showed little regard for economic disparity in the audience, with the tone of the creator generally assuming that the audience would have the same economic circumstances that they do.
- In some cases there was mild ‘embarrassment’ at the consumption, but it was all forgiven with the ‘quirky’ characterisation of the adventures that were part of the consumption.
- The videos fetishised the purchases as trophies.
Recurring messages to the (mostly young female) audience
- When you buy on sale you are ‘saving money’.
- Consistent consumption of material things is the norm.
- Consistent consumption of material things is something to aspire to.
- Being attractive equals purchasing things.
- Being attractive equals having a large variety of things to choose from.
- Being accepted means engaging in the social consumption of material things.
- The act of shopping is a bonding experience.
- The act of shopping is an enjoyable ‘pastime’ or ‘hobby’.
- The source of material things is not important.
- The longevity of material things is not important.
- The fate of our material things is not something to worry about, now, or ever.
- Money is made to be spent.
- If you don’t have money for this kind of activity, you are excluded.
We have a problem.
I hate to sound like I’m a million years old, but I have to say that material consumption has really escalated since I was a teenager in the 90’s. If it sounds like there is a big generation gap, it’s because there is. I honestly feel that teen values have changed since I was a kid.
Mainstream culture seemed different in the 90s. I distinctly remember two episodes of influential teen targeted series, Full House, and Beverly Hills, 90210, featuring narratives where the middle class teen female protagonists were enchanted with some sort of an expensive material purchase. Through the episodes, both females had to learn the value of money, and not to place value on material things. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Brenda Walsh went out and got herself a job to save up for those $100 patchwork jeans, and in the end decided the money wasn’t worth it, and upcycled a pair of old jeans in the style she desired. It sounds corny and moralistic, I know, just like that character on Dawson’s Creek who basically died after drinking some alcohol, but these fables were embedded in the mainstream subconscious of that time.
In addition, while technically subcultures, the rock and grunge movements in the early 90s really encouraged a negativity toward consumerism, and glamorised second hand items as adornment of the real ‘individual’. Everyone knows that Kurt and Courtney went second hand shopping. Who didn’t want to be unique?
The message I received as a teenager certainly was not ‘go to H&M and Forever 21 and see how many things you can get for $500’. There was a general respect for material things, in the sense that they actually had ‘value’. Things were not throw away items.
To be fair, fast fashion was only really beginning to develop at that time, and our values are shaped in part by our constraints. This means that the values of these young females and their audience are most likely influenced by the availability of fast fashion. The extent of the availability probably makes it seem like a totally normal and acceptable part of life, much like the unrelenting lips of a Jenner.
I’m not sure if you can relate, but when I was a teenager, even if I had wanted to, I would not have been able to find the exact items I desired in my size and in my city. Internet shopping did not exist. Also, I had no money, because my parents insisted that I focused on my school work rather than getting a job, and gave me enough pocket money to appease my processed carb and cheese addiction, which is where the extent of my desires stretched to.
When I finally was interested in shopping, I had no choice but to save my pocket money, make logical shopping decisions, and purchase secondhand if I wanted something more ‘unique’.
Sound familiar? Chances are, that if you were a child before the 2000s, you were probably brought up with some form of minimalist values.
I am concerned that these sorts of messages about material things are no longer in the mainstream, but lost to the weird obscure corners of the internet, where you and I, with our ‘subcultural’ ideas, hide.