Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Friday, reshaping the Lebanese collective memory

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If you live in Lebanon, you probably received dozens of messages on your mobile phone announcing the Black Friday sales. If you don’t have a mobile phone, you surely saw all the billboards and the TV ads. It seems there’s no escaping Black Friday, even if the overwhelming majority of Lebanese have no idea what it is and where it comes from.

Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving in the United States. “Since 1932, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the U.S., and most major retailers open very early (and more recently during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales”, Wikipedia says. So what does it have to do with Lebanon?

To understand this new artificial trend – a trend that has no bases in Lebanon’s history and traditions – we need to look at how advertisers / retailers and advertising agencies think. Retailers always need to find new names for their sales promotions. And advertising agencies always need to create new concepts to escape the usual “On Sale” or the very generic “Up to 70% off”. In that regard, "Black Friday" is the golden goose. It’s a catchy name, and even if doesn’t mean anything to the Lebanese, it does the job, until the next promotion, until the next catchy name.

But by branding their sales promotions "Black Friday", most advertisers / retailers and their advertising agency are helping reshape the Lebanese collective memory. One of the most horrific episodes in Lebanese modern history is called “Black Saturday” – el Sabet el aswad. On December 6 1975, a group of militiamen randomly killed civilians based on the religion written on their ID card. An estimated 350 people were murdered that day.

Knowing the major events in their country’s history helps people learn from the past. Black Saturday is a day every Lebanese needs to remember so similar tragedies will never happen again. By calling their sales promotions “Black Friday”, advertisers not only make a mockery of the victims that fell on Black Saturday but also boost the overall amnesia that’s been plaguing Lebanon for too long.

Sadly, most advertisers and advertising agencies just want us to be good consumers. It doesn’t matter if we forget our own history, what matters most is we buy what they have to sell – in other words: enriching a few individuals while impoverishing our collective memory. Ironically, a few days ago, on Independence Day, the same advertisers branded their ads with the Lebanese flag, all competing to convince us of how much they love Lebanon.

A nation without history is a no nation at all. Knowing the past is paramount to forge the future. By plastering their Black Friday ads everywhere, there advertisers and their advertising agency are showing their utter disdain for Lebanon’s past and future, and proving that they only care about the profit they can make out of their sales promotions.

Obviously, the Black Friday sales will be a success. An impoverished population will rush to profit from the good deals on offer. Which ads to the utter immorality of the whole operation. Having said that, I hope this unfortunate attempt to reshape our collective memory is not intentional and is actually rooted in ignorance rather than driven by malicious design.

© Claude El Khal, 2016