For the last week, I have watched social media. Watched, but not much engaged nor commented.
Since the Ferguson decision, I have mostly kept quiet, mostly watched.
My social media feed has been filled with people all over the country. People who vehemently voice their opinions. People who, like me, do not live in Ferguson. People who, like me, probably have never met a Ferguson resident in their lives. People who, like me, were not witness to any of the actual goings-on in Ferguson. People who, like me, have opinions that do not really matter one bit to the plight of Ferguson.
I watch the comments, which can be roughly divided into two columns. There are the people who “stand” with the people of Ferguson, however they define it. And there are the people who turn up their noses and say “tisk tisk” to the people of Ferguson. They say things like “how very sad” and “They deserve what they get.”
It makes me sad, because Friday came just a few days later, and I knew exactly what was going to happen next.
It Does Not Take Much to Provoke “Civilized” People
There may have been a lull in the news out of Ferguson as the snow rolled in and then people paused to break bread with their families. Many of us took pride in how civilized we are as a society. We gave thanks that we live in a modern, enlightened world, that we are citizens of a privileged country, governed by the laws of reason. We raised a glass and toasted and gave thanks that even if other people in the country might be unreasonable, at least we live in a civilized, peaceful place.
But then Friday came.
And it was the same old news that it is every year. The same old photos and video clips from all over the country, of unruly mobs swarming into stores. People being trampled. People brawling and fighting. Cops restraining people and pulling people off one another. Tempers flaring and people looting from each other’s carts. It was anarchy. It was everywhere.
“How odd,” I thought. “All of these people who are so ‘civilized’ as they watch the news out of Ferguson are suddenly provoked to violence and looting.”
Provoked by what? Justice? Equality? No, it turns out that many people require far less provocation. Just dangle a few shiny toys in front of us, promise a couple of bargains, and suddenly, so suddenly we are all, dare I say…equal.
Who Profits From Bad Behavior?
See, we love to turn our noses up at the people who might be from that other place; the less “civilized” people from the “wrong side” of the tracks, the people who “made bad choices” (which we cannot even know). We figure they deserve whatever they get, that we are so much more civilized, so much more educated, so much more enlightened.
But then, the retailers open their doors and prove that we are really no better than the rest of “them.”
Here is my theory: the people who profit from Black Friday, the retailers love the bad news. They love the bad behavior. All news is good news, even the bad news. The people at the top of the corporate ladder gain the most, while the mobs of minimum wage workers are on the front line, trying to maintain order.
Every photo of a fight or injury in a store tells people at home that they missed out, that the deals were worth all of this. Every video of a rushing mob tells people that they’ll just have to get out a little earlier next year, run a little faster, fight a little harder for the deals they want. The retailers have us in a loop now. They have gradually chipped into Thanksgiving, and our protests have subsided. Now, it’s just a matter of whipping us into a frenzy every year for their profit. If people calmed down and put things in perspective, it would be an economic disaster.
When Will We See a Rerun of the Same Story?
I think Black Friday might be illustrative of who really profited in Ferguson, unlikely as it may sound.
Who stands to profit the most from the unrest? Is it the people of Ferguson? Probably not. What about the leaders or politicians?
The people who profited the most were the news organizations. They sell us a product, the news, and the more we watch, the more we engage (either by empathizing, or turning up our noses), the more we hop onto social media to voice our half-formed opinions, the more they profit.
The violence in Ferguson has been the best case scenario for the 24 hour news cycle. All bad news is good news if you are a news organization. If everyone just held hands and stayed calm, it would be a disaster for the news. The best thing that can happen if you are CNN or Fox News is that nothing gets solved. Nothing happens. Nothing changes. People get mad. Then we get tired. And the story gets packed up in a box for a while, maybe a year. And then down the road, something new will happen, and the same story will be unpacked, to reveal all of our weaknesses, all of our division, all of our hate all over again.
I hope I am wrong. What about you?