Globalizing Black Friday

All last week I found myself bombarded with television, radio, and online advertisements for one of the biggest spectacles of the year: Black Friday. Every year stores open earlier and earlier with bigger sales and more aggressive advertising. Recently I’ve wondered what Black Friday means to the rest of the world. The media coverage of violence and riots over half off flatscreens no doubt reaches other nations. Are people intrigued by this day when millions of Americans line up to shop in the middle of the night or even at dinnertime on a national holiday?

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Not surprisingly, this consumer tradition has begun to spread to other nations. In the past few years alone, Black Friday has gone from a strange happening in the US to a major retail day in the UK, France, China, Brazil, and more. While it isn’t as established as it is in the US, large chains and a few prominent stores have begun to participate in Black Friday. In the UK, online retailers were especially optimistic about this year’s Black Friday, expecting record-breaking sales. According to an article on the Economist, Amazon “claims that it introduced Black Friday to Britain in 2010, but it was only last year that it really took off” when other retailers started to join in.   In France, “Le Black Friday” is gaining momentum. Companies in Germany and Sweden are also enticed by the promise of unprecedented profits, some making the commitment to en entire Black Week of discounts. Nigerians are enjoying sales on US products as well thanks to Mall for Africa, which ships products purchased on American websites to Nigeria.

Black Friday is a crucial shopping event in Brazil where imported goods and foreign brands are especially sought after. The rising popularity of this “adopted holiday” is largely due to increased Internet access and a greater knowledge of costs and discounts abroad. An analyst for Euromonitor International, Alexis Frick, explains “In Brazil, we always had high prices and difficult access to international brands, so there’s pent-up demand. There’s even more pent-up demand now because [thanks to higher Internet penetration] we have more information about prices abroad. This is driving awareness of events like Black Friday” (wsj.com). Even though Brazilians have a new way to save money on their favorite products, the event does not come without drawbacks. Thousands of shoppers complain about false discounts, invalid coupons, and other tricks retailers are playing on their customers. Similarly, Costa Rican authorities warn shoppers about counterfeit goods during “Viernes Negro.”

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As the Black Friday spectacle spreads around the world, countries import more than discounts and advertising. Shopping frenzy induced violence results in injuries, arrests, and chaos just like it does in the US. Stores abroad are finding themselves needing increased security and sometimes police supervision on Black Friday. If spectacles are thought to encourage a promotional culture of advertising and consumerism, Black Friday may be considered an ultimate form of commercial spectacle. People are made passive by overwhelming amounts of advertising for huge sales. Meanwhile, the event is obscuring labor relations on the local and global level and also distracting the public from greater news events. Media coverage of Black Friday in the US and now other countries has been an undeniable factor in promoting the event abroad. Based on advertising, media coverage, and increased awareness of events abroad, the spectacle of Black Friday is a highly visual one. Truly all aspects of Black Friday- good and bad- are being recreated as the retail industry exports this American consumer tradition.

Sources:

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/black-friday-shopping-is-not-just-a-us-sport-2014-11-26

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-26/-le-black-friday-now-global-with-deals-just-a-click-away.html

http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/11/economist-explains-22

http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2014/11/28/wary-brazilians-embrace-black-friday-shopping/

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Street Harassment In the US and Egypt

369572_1280x720By now we’ve all probably heard about the latest viral video, “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” where 24-year-old actress Shoshana Roberts documents what being in public spaces is like for half of the population. In 10 hours she records over 100 instances of street harassment, averaging one every six minutes. Some women praise this video for being an accurate depiction of their everyday lives and the unwanted attention they receive for simply trying to get from point A to point B. Others have criticized it for counting comments as street harassment that they think are just friendly greetings and compliments. When I watched the video I saw how people could disagree with “Hello!” and “Have a nice day, miss!” being catcalls. But as I kept watching, some things really got under my skin: men yelling at the young woman, telling her to smile, and even following her. One man walked extremely close to her for several minutes, despite (or maybe even enjoying) the obvious discomfort and fear he caused her. Another man shouted, “You should say thank you more!” Unfortunately, many of the video’s viewers still don’t see why this behavior does not warrant thanks of any kind. The video’s message- that violating a woman’s personal space or making her feel unsafe is harassment- should not be controversial, yet, it is.

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“10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” inspired me to find out how people around the world are discussing street harassment through visual culture. In my search I found Qahera, a webcomic about a hijab-wearing Egyptian female superhero. The comic is produced by Deena Mohamed who is a 19-year-old graphic design student in Cairo. Mohamed wanted to share her experiences as a young Egyptian woman living through the Arab Spring and today. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world have visited her website and have responded to her work very positively. The themes of her Qahera comics cover a range of topics including street harassment.  In this particular comic she shows experiences that Egyptian women (and women of all nations) are familiar with when walking down the street.

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(For the full comic go to Qahera: On Sexual Harassment.)

The fact that the protagonist is not just a female, but an Egyptian woman who wears a hijab, speaks volumes. There are two distinct yet equally important messages to take away from Mohamed’s use of the hijab for her heroine. First, hijabs do not protect women from harassment and what women wear does not cause harassment. The police officer tells the young woman from the beginning of the comic that he can’t blame the man on the street for groping her. After all, look how provocatively she’s dressed (in a button down and pants). Meanwhile, superhero Qahera walks by covered from head to toe in a hijab and loose fitting clothes- and even she can’t escape the violating effects of the male gaze.  As a superhero, Qahera is lucky enough to have the ability to fight harassment when it happens to her, but the same is not true for all the other women out there. As viewers, the shadowy, dangerous looking men in the comic have more power than the woman they stare down. The viewed woman is either a helpless subject of an aggressive and even violent male gaze, or she is attacked for trying to be brave and stand up for herself. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether a woman wears a hijab, a high-necked collared shirt, or anything else; she can still experience harassment.

The second, more uplifting statement that Mohamed makes with Qahera’s hijab is that it can be a symbol of empowerment. Many women worldwide do not wear the hijab because they are forced to, they wear it because they choose to. In fact, there are powerful feminists fighting for equality who wear headscarves and other coverings- just look at Malala Yousafzai. Making Qahera wear a hijab was a very deliberate choice on Mohamed’s part. Writing in English, she targeted Western audiences from the beginning, eager to shatter misconceptions about aspects of Middle Eastern life like the hijab. In the West, especially in countries like France, the hijab is employed as a symbol of oppression and the mistreatment of women. In the US, it is used to justify military involvement in the Middle East and to brush aside talk of inequalities that exist for women here. For Mohamed, it was important to show Westerners that not all women who wear hijabs are oppressed. A powerful Islamic female superhero who stops street violence against women certainly proves that hijab wearers can be strong, autonomous people. Qahera shatters Orientalist assumptions about women in Islamic clothing being weak and passive. The comic also refuses to buy into the dichotomy of West and Middle East and practices of “othering” that are so prevalent in visual culture. Egyptian women in the Qahera comic face the same problems walking down the street that American Shoshana Roberts did in “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman.” Though we often fail to recognize it and represent it in visual culture, people in Western and Middle Eastern nations share some of the same problems- and they look strikingly similar in both regions.

Sources:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1XGPvbWn0A

http://qaherathesuperhero.com/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-25254555

NO MORE: Mobilizing a Nation to End Violence Against Women and Girls

I first came across the No More Campaign during one of my (many) Law and Order: SVU binges last summer. I was about to start fast-forwarding through the commercials when I saw No More’s “A Call to Men” PSA. It addressed domestic violence and sexual assault in a way that was unlike anything I had seen before. Many people perceive domestic abuse and sex crimes as issues that almost exclusively effect women and girls, and are mostly talked about by women and girls. Yet, here was a man directly addressing other men on the subject.  Christopher Meloni, a former actor on SVU, was not talking to the victims of violence- he was talking to men.  “We’re not abusing anybody. We’re not part of the problem,” Meloni says, “But are we part of the solution?” He goes on to tell men across the country that they can’t be content knowing that they’re not doing any harm- men have a responsibility to stop others from hurting women and girls too.

No More’s “Anthem” PSA is another impressive message, especially visually. Actors, journalists, news anchors, and other cultural icons are displayed close up and in your face saying “no more” to a slew of excuses we make to sweep violence under the rug. They look directly and unapologetically into the viewers’ eyes as if to say “Listen up! I’m talking to all of you.” Some of them speak with such authority and force that viewers feel uncomfortable watching, making the PSA even more impactful. The celebrities in “Anthem” are women and men of different ages, races, and backgrounds. Their diversity reflects the idea that violence is an issue for every one of us. We all need to take a closer look at how we deal with abuse and assault in our lives, even if we’re not victims or abusers ourselves.

This PSA also did an excellent job of making viewers question the black-and-white structures of “us” and “them” in violence.  It broke down the misconception of “us” the people who aren’t doing anything wrong or who aren’t affected by violence, and “them” the abusers and rapists or “them” the victims. The No More Campaign’s message is that there isn’t an “us” group for which violence is not an issue and a “them” group for which it is; abuse and assault are problems that are everywhere and that matter to everyone.

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The No More Campaign made a series of posters that highlights some of our worst excuses when it comes to dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault. We’re told not to blame the victim, but we still ask: “How could that have happened to her?” and “Who cares? It was just a misunderstanding.” Though they are still and silent, the posters are personal and intimate, a bold wake up call. They force viewers to confront the fact that the issue of violence against women is not something we can make excuses for any longer. They also remind us that the perpetrators aren’t always faceless strangers- they’re the people who live down the street from us, the people who go to school with us, the people who worship next to us.

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The campaign’s overarching goal is to turn audiences into viewers when it comes to violence and abuse. Audiences are passive and while they may hear anti-violence messages and agree with them, they do not actually do anything about the issue. In contrast, viewers are proactive receivers who actively engage with the material in the No More Campaign. We can all agree that violence needs to stop, but No More shows us that the ways we think about instances of abuse and assault can contradict our beliefs. (“Why doesn’t she say something?” or “She seems fine.”) The PSAs and posters not only encourage viewers to take responsibility for how they contribute to the struggle against violence, but they also enlist viewers to take action when notice abuse and assault in their communities. Speaking up and not allowing ourselves or others to make excuses for violence is the first step that we as a society can take to solve the problem.

It was a bittersweet moment for me when I discovered that the NFL had started to air No More’s “Anthem” PSA during games. This decision comes at a time when news about the NFL is dominated by the Ray Rice elevator footage and other abuse scandals. It is unfortunate that it took so many appalling events piling up for the NFL to begin to air anti-abuse and anti-assault messages. Still, this is a significant opportunity for the No More Campaign. Thanks to high ratings for football games, the PSA will reach a wide audience when it broadcasts on CBS, FOX, NBC and ESPN. No More has the potential to spark a national conversation on men and bystanders’ responsibility to not let violence continue. By airing the PSA on so many networks at such important times, the NFL is sending the message that that domestic abuse and sexual assault are problems that matter not just to victims, but to everyone. These are not victims’ issues or women’s issues- they are national issues.