the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Performance Art of “Buy Nothing Day”

(I do like this poster!)

I’m all for social activism, but there is activism that tries to create change and there is activism that seems more of a useless symbolic gesture.  Social activists have established tomorrow as Buy Nothing Day.  It was founded by Vancouver performance artist Ted Dave and subsequently promoted by the Canadian Adbusters magazine, and I have seen it heavily promoted on Twitter and on blogs.

“Buy Nothing Day is the biggest 24-hour moratorium against consumerism. People around the world will make a pact to take a break from shopping as a personal experiment or public statement.”

I think it is a terrific idea — a day to celebrate something that isn’t connected with “buying.”  Finally, a holiday which hasn’t been taken over by Hallmark!  But to me, creating a Buy Nothing Day on Black Friday is childish, like refusing to go to Church on Easter Sunday to spite your parents.

For 364 days of the year, modern life is filled with advertising and consumer-oriented talk, especially online.    Ninety percent of the internet — and YOUR BLOGS and conferences — seems to be about buying, selling, marketing, and promoting, either a product, some swag,  some friend’s book, some giveaway, each other, or your services.

So I like Buy Nothing Day.  But why not make it on March 2 or August 25?  Because by making it on Black Friday, the concept gets publicity — and in the modern world that is more important than creating real change.  It doesn’t surprise me that a performance artist is involved in this project, and he is able to get his own name in the newspapers.  Why not make this “day” into something REAL — an event that the public can truly participate in — rather than a nose tweak?

It is Christmas time.  The best deals of the Holiday season are in the stores this weekend.  Sure Black Friday is ridiculous, with stores opening up at 4AM, and giving special deals to those who show up in their pajamas.  But money is tight.  Why shouldn’t consumers be shopping now?  If there is ONE DAY they should be shopping is NOW!  There are some stores that make 70% of their profits during the shopping days before Christmas.

And with the economy spiralling out of control, what could be better for our neighborhoods than doing a little shopping in our local stores?  Who does it help when the stores close down in our neighborhoods?  Isn’t it bad when people lose jobs and the crime rate increases?  How does this day make me ponder the rampant consumerism of our country?  The performance art aspect of the stunt makes me want to go out and support the economy so my neighborhood can improve.

I would have more sympathy for this day if it was somehow connected with the commercialism of Christmas.  But this protest has nothing to do with wanting to bring religion back to the Holidays.  It is just anti-consumerism — using the same advertising-driven media to promote itself.

I love the idea of Buy Nothing Day.  I think it should be moved to its own date.  Then it would be ABOUT SOMETHING, and not a publicity stunt.  If it was on less confrontational date, everyone can participate, and we could all ponder a less consumer-oriented America.

Good luck to all of those protesting.   If you are participating, please remember to take off your BlogHer advertising tomorrow promoting JCPenney.

(by the way, if you see any good deals for digital cameras online, please email me!)

And the Blogger’s Arts and Crafts fair is still open for business.  Buying handmade is cool, too.


  1. Backpacking Dad

    It makes no sense to move this to a LESS visible and less contentious day if the point is to eventually undermine the system and not just to check the culture. And I’d be willing to bet that the people behind this idea have the end of capitalism, and not just consumerism, as their goal.

    That’s what you’d have to support if you want to participate with your eyes open.

  2. Neil

    Backpacking Dad — I bet you the day would have tons more people participating, including regular folks, if it occurred on another day. For now, it is an anti-day, rather than a pro-day. What is the alternative being presented to consumerism? Poverty?

    I like how Earth Day works. It doesn’t go against the world. It tries to promote a way of life that is pro-Earth and to raise awareness of a new way of thinking. I am for positive thinking.

  3. Geoff

    Neil, I am with you on the supporting the boycott thing.

    That said – and I am whispering here – if you want to know more about decent digital cameras, drop me a line. I’ve done some research on this lately for my tech column.

  4. Memarie Lane

    I think it’s great. I’m not really that concerned with religion being brought back into Christmas. Even though I’m a Christian, for me it’s a secular holiday. But I think it would be MUCH more enjoyable if it was observed more like Thanksgiving; no toiletry sets or toaster cozies, just good food, good company, and good conversation.

  5. AnnieH(the other Annie)

    I think there are some who would tell you that they shop on Black Friday precisely so that they can get their shopping done and spend time enjoying the rest of the holidays with their families.(The Get-Er-Done School of Thought) The school parties, the work parties, baking cookies, wrapping, The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, the school recitals. I don’t shop on this day because quite frankly I don’t like that many people in one place and I don’t know what to buy yet, but I have friends who revel in it and have made it a tradition. They’re my organized friends. So, I’m ambivalent about the whole boycotting idea. I’m right with you on the shopping local though. We’re trying as much as possible to keep our dollars with the smaller independent stores around us. And the arts. And making sure that College Grrrl has food:>)

  6. La Framéricaine

    Happy Thanksgiving, Neil!

    As said one of your other commmenters, I really don’t enjoy the crowds of the Biggest Shopping Day of the Year.

    That said, I will probably start paying attention to this type of push for non-consumerism right about the time the poster and the push become a public protest for:

    –Universal and equal access to education and educational materials for all the children of the USA regardless of race, religion, or social class

    –Universal access to health care for all the citizens of the USA without the profit-making insurance middlemen and rescinding of benefits when you apply to use them

    –Universal access to housing for all the citizens of the USA in all markets–rather than rich people owning Santa Barbara and importing their teachers, nurses, firemen, and policemen from outside the city due to lack of affordable housing for the middle-class and poor in town

    –Universal access to basic food for everyone on a daily basis

    Until then, I’m not too impressed with protests to stop cash-strapped people from buying large screen TVs, Barbies, or 2-for-1 Chinese manufactured acrylic sweaters.

    Nice post, my man!

  7. teahouseblossom

    I’m so poor these days that every day is Buy Nothing Day!

    I’ve been watching tv all day, and I keep seeing these ads about the stores that open super early tomorrow morning. 4 a.m., sheesh!!

  8. kanani

    I’d like to encourage people to buy plenty at small family-owed businesses. They could really use your business and your dollar spent there will go toward making their payroll, paying rent, taxes and giving them a much-needed profit.

  9. Loulou

    I am bloody loving, as is everyone here, the ‘Buy Nothing Day’ concept. We created our site for exactly that reason so let’s hope that by working together we make an impact.
    If we can all just stop and think about how much we consume without any thought of what we already own (and are ready to discard) then things might be, just a little bit, different and better.
    Please feel free to link to us, or not, it’s up to you.
    Enjoy the non-consumption day!

  10. Danny

    Every year the day after Thanksgiving is Buy Nothing day for me since I’d rather kill myself than go anywhere near a store on such a busy day and I never go shopping anyway except for food–and who needs to buy more food the day after such an eating orgy? However, this year, even though I still won’t be there, I feel comforted at the idea of crowds in the stores since I’m terrified about our tanking economy and I know that many businesses do a huge percentage of their total sales for the year during this time period. Sure, shop wisely, don’t buy crap you don’t need, but I hope the people are out there in droves. I’ll be home digesting.

  11. patty

    The chances of me buying anything today that isn’t a coffee or The New York Times are exceptionally slim. It’s not protest – I simply hate shopping.

    My father called me yesterday to tell me that the local mall was offering valet parking to anyone who drives a certain make of car, which I happen to drive. I asked him if I should pick him up at 3:45 a.m. so we could be there for the 4 a.m. opening. Then we laughed ourselves silly because we’d both rather show up for the 4 a.m. root canal special at our dentist’s office than go anywhere near the mall today. Or, say, ever.

    Considering a Wal-Mart stock clerk was trampled to death in Valley Stream this morning at 5 a.m., Buy Nothing Day sounds better by the moment.

  12. Dana

    “Because by making it on Black Friday, the concept gets publicity — and in the modern world that is more important than creating real change.”

    Often publicity can lead to real change. Not always, but it does have the potential to do so.

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