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Black Friday and Paul Bunyan

A false folk hero
Did you know that the first shopping day after Thanksgiving was known as “Black Friday?” Neither did I!
 
Apparently “Black Friday” is so named because it’s the first day of the year that retailers can recoup enough from their sales to put their balance sheets into the black. As opposed to “in the red” which is bookkeeping jargon for running at a loss, which is what retailers do for the rest of the year, apparently.
 
Boy did this sound like malarkey.

Certainly the term Black Friday sounded familiar, I thought it referred to the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression. It turns out that there have been many other Black Fridays through history. But none of them refer to this retailer/accountant/insider lingo. The only early reference to a retail Black Friday had to do with the deluge which the day after Thanksgiving wrought upon the average retail clerk.

This new economic twist looks more like somebody’s Psych Op to revive retail sales.

This bit of Madison Avenue myth-making sure seems to cover the bases. First, if you’re a retailer you shouldn’t worry about having run at a loss (in the red) all year, apparently that’s normal. And if you’re a consumer, it looks like it’s your duty to bring that retailer’s figures up (and into the black!) Never mind that you’ll probably be putting his profit onto your credit card (into the red). For you we can call it red friday.

Paul Bunyan
I’m reminded of good ol’ Paul Bunyan, that American legend who heroically did more than his share to chop away our nation’s wooded overgrowths. Not a very PC hero to be sure, it never occurred to me to doubt his credentials.

One day I was looking through an older children’s book about American folk heroes. There was Johnny Appleseed, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Pecos Bill, everyone was there except our giant friend Paul. Sure he was fictional, but he’s a historic legend, why was he not in the lineup? The book was dated 1920.

It turns out that Paul Bunyan was the creation of a magazine columnist hired in the 30s to create a positive PR figure for the timber industry. This was an industry still smarting from Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation programs.

If the Jolly Green Giant could sell you frozen foods over fresh, tales about a monumental lumberjack and Babe his blue ox could do more. A fictional reverence for a giant of folklore could sell America on admiration for westward expansion, manifest destiny and the obvious imperative of clearing our continent of its trees.

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