Every year starting around mid-September, we are faced with a serious threat to our psychological conditioning: the over-marketing of consumer goods. It begins slowly and sweetly with seasonal favorites then it suddenly jumps our bones and sends consumers into frenzies across the country as people are trampled in attempts to score the big sale. The madness seems to revolve around four key players, or horsemen if you will, since their annual arrivals spell out media chaos and consumer-state doom. Grab a pen and take note–the “end of days” of the year is fast approaching and there’s not much time to prepare!
Pumpkin Spice Lattes – Famine
The Armageddon begins with pumpkin spice lattes (never thought you’d read that sentence, did you?). Don’t let these hot, tempting, caffeinated pumpkin spice-infused abominations fool you: they mean serious business and represent the first horseman of the holiday marketing apocalypse. Pumpkin spice lattes remind consumers the holidays are just around the corner, priming us for the season of spending like trumpeters of war. Before the leaves even begin to change every company and it’s mother corporation starts rolling out pumpkin spice everything, from pumpkin spice waffles to pumpkin spice Jell-O, for the one time of the year it is acceptable to flavor our junk food with a type of squash.
It all begins with the pumpkin spice latte and consumers eat it all up (err, sip it up). We’ve become conditioned to making seasonal purchases each year and these sinister sippers get us into the buying spirit well before the winter holidays. Need more proof? Take a look at these 20 pumpkin spice products, including pumpkin spice pasta, and tell me people would buy them year-round if we weren’t already conditioned to seek out these products during the fall. Aliens would have to assume pumpkins are the only thing we can get nutrition from between September and November and because of that, pumpkin spice lattes have earned the title of Famine, the first horseman of the holiday marketing apocalypse. Once they roll out, the unholy procession of sales and advertising has begun…
Thanksgiving Weekend – War
No more “over the river and through the woods” for this holiday weekend–grandmother’s house can bite it. The Thanksgiving Weekend is the largest retail event of the year thanks to Black Friday and Cyber Monday (and a little classical conditioning)–they even sound like doom incarnate, which makes them perfect for this list. Black Friday is famous for inciting stampedes and fights between shoppers that have left people both dead and injured–right after practicing gratitude and counting blessings on Thanksgiving Day. Yay, ironic violence! There’s even a site that keeps track of Black Friday deaths and injuries, so you know the annual advertisements are working. Cyber Monday, on the other hand, only exists because office workers just couldn’t get enough shopping done on Black Friday so they continued their sprees at work the following Monday when they had faster internet access and could make back some of the money they were spending as they were spending it. “Just two more hours of browsing Amazon for Sally and I’ll have that extra fifty bucks to get Riley that new Grand Theft Auto game.” True story, and there are millions of people across the country conditioned into doing this. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are hailed as the biggest shopping days of the year–92 million people hit the stores last Black Friday while more than 131 million consumers shopped online last Cyber Monday, according to press releases by the National Retail Federation. All in all, consumers spent about $57 billion last Thanksgiving Weekend (2013) according to the same press releases–though the numbers have been climbing for decades. In related news, the rising sales figures are inversely correlated with the amount of quality time families spent together to remember the Natives and how they saved the pilgrims’ sorry asses from freezing in the snow.
Retailers spend all year preparing for Black Friday and Cyber Monday by creating marketing and advertising strategies, developing keywords to boost site traffic, buying ad space on Facebook and Google, planning floor layouts, developing sales, selecting their best merchandise and training their sales associates to kill–figuratively speaking. Because retailers are constantly trying to out-compete each other to win relevancy in consumers’ minds during this crucial time of year (you know, when we’re supposed to be kind, spend time with loved ones and have good will toward others), the retail madness we call the Thanksgiving Weekend has been declared the Horseman of War. It’s already too late to escape the holiday marketing apocalypse by the time this horseman arrives: door buster sales, red tag discounts, free shipping, gifts-with-purchase incentives and repetitive Christmas commercials are EVERYWHERE. Your best bet for survival is to unplug from all media and lock yourself in the bathroom with a baseball bat, a yo-yo and one thousand granola bars.
30 Days of Christmas – Conquest
Okay, we get it. Christmas wins and it’s not going to let us forget that. Instead, forget those lames Chanukah, Kwanza, Thanksgiving and Halloween. And DEFINITELY forget the pagan origins of Christmas and how the holiday should really be celebrated sometime around September*. Christmas is here and you jingle-heads better be ready for Santa. To make sure we are, cable networks slam us with Christmas shows and movies that activate our psychological conditioning to make us feel unseasonably warm inside–just warm enough to remember uncle Greg and that sale on a coffee maker. Don’t buy that? Then take a look at two classic Christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street and It’s A Wonderful Life, which are sure to include plenty of elements of capitalism and commerce, the Macy’s references being prime examples. Ever notice how many Christmas movies and shows involve malls?
The mental priming typically starts with Elf, because if there’s anyone who can catch us off guard and warm us up to indoctrinated consumerism, it’s Will Ferrell dressed as Peter Pan making paper snowflakes. Then a clinically depressed Charlie Brown comes along followed by a Rudolph scorned, an irresponsibly naive Frosty, a forever-young Macaulay Culkin, Woodland Christmas Critters and that one elf who just wants to be a dentist. The flood of nostalgic Christmas movies anchors us to our inner child and the holiday mindset simultaneously and now we’re fully ready to accept product advertisements and wait in long lines at malls (y’know, in concordance with the true meaning of Christmas?). Quick, somebody tell Frankie he’s going to put an eye out.
The retail holidays don’t end with Christmas or even New Year’s Day–they end with the last big retail event of the winter, which is Valentine’s Day. Last year, consumers were expected to spend $17.3 billion on Valentine’s Day with $3.9 billion of that going to jewelry, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. Turns out the day we equate to love and romance has quickly become a superficial display of affection to benefit Wall Street as we’re guilt-tripped into splurging on our significant others so we can be thoughtful and romantic for one day out of the year as we’ve been conditioned by society.
“Consumers can expect Cupid’s holiday to resemble the promotional holiday season we saw just a few months ago, as retailers recognize that their customers are still looking for the biggest bang for their buck.” – Matthew Shay, NRF President and CEO.
But let’s be honest here, was Valentine’s Day ever really about love and romance? First off, according to an article on History.com, Valentine’s Day has it’s origins in Lupercalia, a Roman-pagan fertility celebration featuring sacrificial cows and goats, women streaking naked through the streets while being slapped with raw animal hides and the story about Romulus and Remus is told, how they were raised by a wolf and became the founders of Rome. So not much romance there, unless you’re into BDSM story time with raw animal hide and mammal blood.
There is a redeeming factor. Valentine’s Day is named for Saint Valentine, who was executed by the Roman emperor Claudius for marrying young couples. As the story goes, Claudius outlawed marriage for young men because he believed they made better soldiers if they didn’t have wives or families to live for and care about. When he found out Saint Valentine was conducting secret marriages he had him executed…but not before the saint sent the first Valentine’s Day card in history to the jailer’s daughter, which he signed “From your Valentine.”
So at least there’s a silver lining. However, because Valentine’s Day forces romance to make it an empty annual tradition and because it can also be the end of a relationship if handled improperly, Valentine’s Day has been deemed the horseman of Death. It annoys both single people and those in relationships equally, leaving a trail of marked-down candy and envious Facebook posts in its wake. But on the plus side it’s passing means you survived the holiday marketing apocalypse and have a full five months of peace before Christmas in July arrives and brings with it the return of repetitive, tinsel-wrapped advertisements indicative of consumer-state doom. So, congratulations?
*While this article makes a strong case Jesus was born on December 25, it doesn’t take into account that January and February weren’t added to the Roman calendar until 450 A.D. That was about 150 years after the article claims Christmas was first dated in December, which would mean the date is still close to October after the two winter months were added. But I’m no expert…