300 dpi Chris Ware illustration of woman surrounded by purchases; can be used with stories about shopping, yard sales, Black Friday, holiday shopping, etc. (Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

The yearly ritual of analyzing yearly rituals is upon us. It’s Black Friday again. This is a focal point of human behavior on a lot of fronts. It gets press in finance, economics, psychology, and as a matter of lifestyle.

Hyper-shopping is one vestige of mainland culture that never really took root on Saipan. For one thing, shopping for the sake of shopping is not a big practice with island residents. Tropical life has far better things to offer. As for the tourists, their slice of retail activity has its own dynamics.

But, worry not: The frenzy of Black Friday can be seen from any corner of the world because the international news media will not lack stories. It’s mostly the same story every year, which isn’t the fault of the media, but is just the nature of ritual.

So Black Friday this year, last year, and next year is “same-same but different; but still same.”

My favorite Black Friday theme, the equivalent of the springtime photo of cherry blossoms in Kyoto, is the annual image of the masses fighting tooth and nail for their coveted big-screen TVs. I archive one such picture every year.

I’ve walked through stores with retailing pros who have explained some of the psychology and strategy behind the layouts and displays. It’s fascinating. There’s an entire universe of experts lurking behind this visible layer of retail commerce.

Still, I never thought to ask an expert whether the masses of Black Friday are attracted to the mass activity, or if they merely endure it for the sake of the sales. I suspect the first explanation is correct, because Black Friday is a thing, an event, like a baseball game, and crowds seek crowds.

I don’t know when the term Black Friday was coined. It sort of snuck up on me. But I did notice, a matter of years ago, when Cyber Monday became a thing.

That should be more my speed, but I usually don’t think about it until the following Wednesday, at which point, of course, it’s too late. It makes me feel old-school. I remember when wrist watches didn’t have operating systems, books were made of paper, and cigarettes didn’t have batteries.

In fact I’ll admit I’m a lousy shopper. To quote my fictional hero, Travis McGee, a self-described beach bum: “I am not properly acquisitive.” Hey, the holidays are here, so it’s time to slow down and enjoy life. Which means we should enjoy another McGee quote.

So here we go: ‘I work when the money gets low. Otherwise I enjoy my retirement. I’m taking it in installments, while I’m young enough to enjoy it.”

I guess we could finger-wag to McGee about the magic of compounding returns in tax-deferred pension schemes, but the author behind the McGee series, John D. MacDonald, was a Harvard M.B.A. and WWII veteran. Perhaps MacDonald knew that youth has value that no 10-key calculator could ever reckon.

It’s not recapturable value, either. You can’t buy back your youth.

Ah, but you can rent. And, as a matter of fact, it has been reported ( that the peak season for Botox injections (typically used to temporarily remove wrinkles from the face) is the Thanksgiving-Christmas period.

With that fact in mind, if any readers are headed to Versailles or Monte Carlo during the holidays, perhaps to secure your future as a trophy spouse, look at the backs of the hands. Aging is harder to conceal there. Oh, and don’t forget to send a me postcard, though if you’re feeling really flush, let’s not forget that this is gift season; a nice pair of gloves is always appreciated.

Back on the Black Friday beat, the Forbes website ( has a whole slew of articles covering the various sales at a number of U.S. retailers.

The coverage includes links to images of Black Friday advertisements that were scanned from print ads. I like looking at ads just to study their techniques; this is the big league of communications. Depending on the retailer, some of these ads are on the order of 30, 40, or even 60-plus pages. It looks to me like print advertising is alive and well, even in this age of watches with operating systems.

So here’s to Black Friday. Same-same, but different; but still same!

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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