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Boycott the Shopacolypse
Every year as Thanksgiving approaches, we begin hearing from retailers about Black Friday specials. As the day gets closer, news stories appear. Analysts speculate about whether the biggest shopping day of the year will be even bigger this year. Retailer success depends on it. A recent Washington Post story was headlined “Target’s Plan to Win Christmas.” Apparently Christmas is a war, and Black Friday is the first battle.
Is a system that celebrates and depends on more consumers doing more consuming really healthy and sustainable?
This led me to the research that eventually informed my documentary film, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. In 2011 I raced the clock to finish the movie in time to release it on the day world population reached the 7 billion milestone. It was standing-room-only at the world premiere in Washington DC on November 2 – two days after we hit 7 billion. World population had already climbed another half a million in those two days, and – of course – showed no sign of stopping.
Many audiences walk away from a screening remembering the overpopulation messages. Perhaps that’s because it’s so black and white. It smacks you in the face and you can’t deny it. But half the film explores something many of us have never wondered about – the unsustainability of our obsession with economic growth. Consumerism and overconsumption are part of that. In our current system, we must build more houses next year than we did this year, and we must buy more crap at the mall this Black Friday than we did on Black Friday last year. Otherwise, the system collapses. It is, indeed, a Ponzi scheme. And we all know a Ponzi scheme cannot grow forever.
In producing GrowthBusters I got to sit down with some of the smartest people on the planet. If you watch the film, you get to hear some of the best thinking about our place on the planet, from people like Paul Ehrlich, Bill McKibben, Juliet Schor, Dennis Meadows, Lisa Hymas, Bill Rees, and Jerry Mander. We have a page with some impressive quotes from the film here.
As you know, over the last few years we were suffering from Black Friday Creep. Retailers at first began opening doors at midnight. Then they started backing up that opening into Thanksgiving Day. Finally some employee backlash developed, and the trend this year is toward a little compassion. Several malls and big retailers have announced they will leave Thanksgiving alone.
REI is giving employees the day off and encouraging all of us to skip the mall and get outdoors. This reminds me of one of my favorite ad campaigns of all time. Back in 2011, Patagonia made news with its campaign encouraging sanity. It launched with a full-page ad in the New York Times asking people to buy less. The company offered this thoughtful explanation: Don’t Buy This Jacket, Black Friday and the New York Times. Incidentally, the company posted a very thoughtful post-election blog yesterday: The Day After.
What I like to do on Black Friday is boycott “the shopacalypse” (a nod to Reverend Billy Talen and the Stop Shopping Choir for that term).
I want to acknowledge Adbusters for the idea. That Canadian organization came up with “Buy Nothing Day” in 1992 and has done some excellent creative work to promote the idea. In recent years we organized a worldwide screening of GrowthBusters every Black Friday as an alternative to participating in the frenzy at the mall. Here’s the fun trailer I put together to promote that in 2015.
This year, we’re expanding the notion and making it even easier for you to see and share the film. For ten days, from November 23 to December 2, I’ve arranged for you to be able to stream GrowthBusters into your living room whenever you like – for free. This means you can gather the family to pop popcorn and view the film on Black Friday. You can invite friends over for a screening on Saturday. Invite local elected officials to a screening the week after Thanksgiving. Have fun. This film is a conversation-starter.
Get a free pass here right now. It will allow you to stream the film as often as you like between November 23 and December 2.
Director, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth
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