Traditions are fluid; what will be the next to go …

As a young little terror, there was nothing better than waking up early on Saturday mornings and shuffling into the family room to power-up a 28-inch screen, relentlessly bending the antenna until a long block of cartoons made its way through intermittent static. There you’d sit, soaking in every last bit of pop culture until your brain felt like mush.

It was like what Black Friday is to many adult Americans now. It’s a day to wake up far too early, drive like a maniac to the nearest store and then consume every bit of nonsense the country has to offer until you’re physically exhausted and emotionally beaten down with nothing to show for it.

A really important holiday ritual.

Financial analysts say the largest shopping day of the year is gone, however, at least physically. Like Saturday mornings, it too has been pushed into the annals of history, as something that once was. Two long-standing traditions of America are no longer a driving habit of a consumer-obsessed nation.

I had to see it for myself.

Fighting better judgment, I ventured out on Black Friday this past weekend. It’s something I haven’t done in well over a decade, back when I worked retail and had to be there against the threat of losing my job as a store manager. I prepared myself for chaos. As a former employee of many different malls, I once saw the worst suburban archetypes leaning into one another for deals, even witnessing a few pathetic fist fights in the process.

But as far as I could tell, none of that happened this year. Stores were dead. People were acting decent. Black Friday, as I knew it, was seemingly gone.

Not completely, of course. News reports claim there were still a few lingering lunatics willing to fight their neighbors for getting a hundred bucks knocked off a television. In fact, only a few stories of shopper violence made their rounds on the newswire this morning — a couple shootings, completely unrelated to shopping. One brawl in Modesto, CA. None of them really appear to be directly linked to Tupperware deals, though. It just didn’t happen this year. Violence like that is nothing out of the ordinary for this country, anyway.

Even still, sales numbers for Black Friday are down — with more and more focusing on days like Cyber Monday or forgoing day-specific holiday sales completely to compensate. The maddening day breathes, but is slowly losing impact as it gets older. Such is life.

“It wasn’t too bad this year,” says Jeannie Watson, an unusually upbeat Walmart employee I spoke with that day. “It wasn’t any worse than any other weekend afternoon, no pushing or shoving, no people fighting. Right now it’s the quietest I’ve seen this store in months.”

Dan Brooke, a 23-year-old electronics expert at Best Buy, agrees. “We’ve had our sales going on for two weeks now, it kind of splits up the people,” he says. “As far as I know, our sales are down from last year — everyone’s going online. I don’t blame them.”

He’s right. According to Fortune, an estimated 108.5 million Americans shopped online this past weekend, compared with 99.1 million who ventured out to brick and mortar stores. The site says that equates to about 10 million less people in stores this year than in 2015. It’s a continuing pattern retailers are seeing in every state, one that’s pushing a new shopping identity for the holidays.

It's on the outs, just like the cartoon marathons we all loved growing up. The Children’s Television Act of 1990 helped dismantle those long ago, mandating networks to show more educational programming and limited advertisements to younger children. With changes in advertising laws, so too did the way everyone experienced the world. In 2014, NBC — the last network holding out — announced it would stop broadcasting its remaining block of cartoons on Saturday mornings, effectively ending a long-standing convention for good.

Many millions of kids around the nation — including myself — loved being perched in front of the television for hours on the weekends, all completely oblivious to what was going on right in front of us. It was billed as entertainment, something programmed for the common good. Yet behind the scenes, chunks of shows were (and still are) meant as a means of economic control. There was nothing altruistic about it. There never is.

Many people still love to shop the day after Thanksgiving, too, as a right of passage into the holiday season. Much like Saturday mornings, it’s an act sewn into the fiber of being an American. But the two were clearly fluid, ever changing in the face of economic diversity.

Both Black Friday and Saturday Morning Cartoons were driven by consumer interests. Which is a sobering way of looking at the world around us all.

That’s life. Things change. Right now, retailers are working towards a new paradigm where their most successful day of the year is no longer a point of focus — and advertisers are searching for new ways to catch the attention of snotty 8-year-olds by reaching into the online sphere. It’s been going on for years. To keep profits up.

American traditions are dying. If something as seemingly innocent as cartoons can leave us, or as important as the biggest shopping day of the year, then what next?

The country is changing. What’s next to go?

Cover Photo:Ray Tang / REX