A Jesuit and expert in marketing has hit out at the “voracious consumerism” surrounding ‘Black Friday’.
– Thanksgiving sales a “festival of consumerism” in which companies aim to get people “into as much debt as possible”
Genaro Ávila-Valencia SJ wrote a powerful reflection in the Spanish edition of the Vatican News website analysing the media and commercial phenomenon that has grown up around the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the US, traditionally celebrated as the start of the Christmas shopping season.
Ávila-Valencia criticised Black Friday as “a festival of consumerism, a parade of ‘specials’ and a waving of credit cards that are swiped to the rhythm of “interest-free months’ until they get people into as much debt as possible because, as they say: he who owes nothing, has nothing”.
– The point of view of “a victim and a victimiser”
The Mexican Jesuit’s take on Black Friday is powerful above all because he identifies as “a marketer by profession and a religious by vocation”. That unique perspective, he wrote, affords him the possibility of looking at the reality of the sales “from a particular and sometimes contradictory point of view”.
“I have been a victim and a victimiser in an economic system based fundamentally on the exacerbated consumption of products, services and experiences”, the Jesuit declared.
In that regard he shared that “I have witnessed the endless cycle of production that consumerism generates: from the ideation and design of the product to the obtaining of raw materials [and] their transformation, distribution and final sale only to repeat the process again and again”.
He explained that from that point of view he was offering a few words on Black Friday “in the hope that they will help us as an antidote to the inevitable consumerist fever that leads us to consume even ourselves as if we were also simple goods or objects”.
– Ignatian spirituality the “antidote” to the manipulation of our desires
Ávila-Valencia’s first point in his “antidote” to Black Friday consumerism was the transformation of shoppers’ “desires”.
“The central point that generates and sustains consumerism is not the satisfaction of needs but the enjoyment of desires”, the Jesuit pointed out.
He warned that on that basis marketers, publicists and advertisers “seduce” our natural desires to the point that they become almost like needs to us, thereby “disorientat[ing] us to such an extent that we run the risk of losing our senses, our intelligence and our will; then we become the slaves of our most capricious and often primitive desires, seeking to fill a barrel that has no bottom” with our consumption.
To combat that manipulation of our desires, Ávila-Valencia proposed a turn to Ignatian spirituality.
The Jesuit said that that spiritual practice acknowledges that “God dwells in desires”, but at the same time recognises “the importance of discerning and knowing how to distinguish… the silent voice of the Lord”, in this case “amid the noises of the tumultuous market of offers and promotions”.
In Ignatian spirituality we have a way “not to let ourselves be carried away by a consumerist culture based on stimulus-response that only seeks to anesthetise our existential emptiness and our emotional deficiencies”, Ávila-Valencia wrote.
– Solidarity with the poor the solution to COVID economic downturn, consumers’ existentialist black hole
Referring to the coronavirus pandemic, the Jesuit acknowledged that “we live in tough times and, it is true, our economies have been greatly affected”.
“However, I do not believe that the answer is to promote a voracious consumerism that generates indifference and cancels out our capacity for compassion”, he added.
As a further argument against consumerism and a consumerist recovery from COVID-19, Ávila-Valencia pointed to the fact that what often lies behind economically successful countries and citizens “are many voices that cry out in silence and many shoulders that carry the weight of a system based on excessive consumption”.
As another way to resist the consumerist frenzy surrounding Black Friday, then, the Jesuit recommended an approach of thoroughgoing solidarity.
“The key is to let ourselves be moved by poverty and not become insatiable consumer accomplices” of economic, social and environmental injustice, he wrote.
“Hopefully, we will listen to the invitation to reach out to the poor which implies consuming less and sharing more so that we do not pretend to fill the weariness of our grey days with products and services that promise us a very ephemeral happiness”, Ávila-Valencia continued.
“To reach out to the poor is to be aware that in these times of pandemic, there are people having a very bad time.
“Let us ask for the grace to feel the invitation, gentle, delicate and subtle, that invites us to be compassionate with the poor and to share with them what we have, whether it is little or much”, the Jesuit concluded.