April 30, 2004

It’s the smell, if there is such a thing.

Filed under: analog — mhoye @ 2:27 am

As a service to an infirm friend of mine, I recently had to spent some time in a Wal-Mart, and I don’t see how a human being with an ounce of empathy in them can walk out of a place like that and not be on the verge of tears.

The Wal-Mart chain is the Dresden of class warfare. The relationships between education and prosperity, between basic nutrition and prosperity are drawn stark in every aisle, so mercilessly clear that floors seem painted in the blood of the desperate and the resigned. I felt like Noam Chomsky was punching me in the kidneys. The line of doughy, slow-moving, slow-looking people queueing up to the mini-McDonalds near the entrance, the stacks of chocolate snacks and half-height cans of Pepsi destined for children’s lunches at the checkouts put a horrible gloss of inevitability over the experience that I’m still trying to shake.

There are people who protest, sometimes successfully, usually not, the impending presence of a Wal-Mart in a community, saying that it will put local businesses out of business, which it will, that it caters to the lowest common denominator, which it does, and that it will destroy the “civic life” of a community, something that’s never all that well defined, but if it means “getting out of the house, talking to your neighbors and playing some role in the fabric of your society”, yeah, it’ll probably do that too.

But none of that matters, because Wal-Mart is not the disease. Closing all of them, every last one, and all of their Price-Club, Costco ilk, would not change a damn thing. Wal-Mart is a symptom, not an illness, a very late symptom; burning them all right to the ground would feel good for a few people, for a short time, and that’s about it. By the time the conditions exist for a Wal-Mart to take hold in your community, you have already lost. Protesting the opening of a megastore is like treating malignant melanoma with makeup; all you’re doing is marching in favor of your right to keep your head in the sand a little bit longer. That store is a sign that can’t argued or denied that says “This is your fault. You’ve done this to yourself, and now here is the collective result of your decisions. Now get in line.”


  1. Costco is NOT the same as Wal-Mart. Costco has

    employees that do more that just restock the


    Wal-Mart on the other hand, expects the prices

    that it pays for items from its vendors to

    decrease FOREVER! No matter what happens the

    price to WM must always be reduced. Or else they

    will find someone in China to make it for them &

    YOU will no longer do business with WM.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 1, 2004 @ 11:19 am

  2. “”, if that is your real name, get a clue, the post was not about how much or how little CostCo is like WalMart.

    And Mike, right the hell on!

    I have been inside a Walmart once, and it was the most depressing store I’ve ever been inside of. (Costco wasn’t that bad) In case you think it’s a snobby thing for me to say I don’t go to Walmart, or a matter of principle, no, I do shop at Target and Ikea.

    People get “all up in my grill” as the kids are saying, about how we should stop building/enlarging freeways and about how the place is getting all paved over, and we should just stop building. Well, those decisions are being made in the backseats of cars every night and all we can do is build parking spaces for the results.

    People always take the easy way out. The administrators of Walmart take the easy way out when they note that sugary soda will be bought by parents taking the easy way out when they decide what goes in the kid’s lunch.

    Occasionally there is a flash of insight. From that we either get a new way to do some crap easier, or we get something that makes the world better. Maybe someday we’ll figure out how to get the world off this merry-go-round.

    Comment by Mike Enright — May 1, 2004 @ 2:47 pm

  3. Mike,

    I originally read this a few days ago and was struck by recognition of the feeling you describe. It’s because of that feeling that, prices be damned, I just can’t bring myself to visit WalMart.

    This morning I was reading Ben Hammersley and discovered a piece by AA Gill, the food critic for the Sunday Times, entitled “The Hunger Gap“. Of all the ironies, he was sent to Sudan to write about the developing famine.

    The contrast is stark.

    Comment by Gnomon — May 3, 2004 @ 11:17 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress