Tear Down That Wal-Mart
If any of you have connections to the folks who produce "The Simpsons," I have an idea for a great opening sequence. Marge hears that the local discount store is offering DVD players for $29 so she gets on line with a zillion others to wait for the store to open at 6:00 a.m. In fact, she's first in line. When the siren blares, Marge is trampled by the frenzied bargain-hunters behind her and is found lying unconscious on top of a DVD player. Marge is airlifted to the local hospital where, after she recovers from a seizure, she's told that the owner of the discount store has offered to put a DVD player on hold for her.
All right...so I didn't just make that scenario up. It actually happened to Patricia VanLester at an Orange City, Florida Wal-Mart SuperCenter on November 28, 2003.
"She got pushed down, and they walked over her like a herd of elephants," said VanLester's sister, Linda Ellzey. "I told them, `Stop stepping on my sister! She's on the ground!' All they cared about was a stupid DVD player."
Apparently, VanLester and her sister also cared enough about those stupid DVD players to be on line at 6:00 a.m. to buy one.
Wal-Mart is America's largest employer. General Motors used to be America's largest employer but GM is too busy being Mexico's largest employer now...so it's up Wal-Mart to keep consumerism alive and trampling.
Wal-Mart was founded by the late Sam Walton. Forget John-boy, these are the real Waltons and their story is a far more accurate illustration of the real American Dream. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based behemoth claims that more than 93 million Americans shop in at least one of its over 4,400 discount stores in the US. Those tens of millions have helped make Wal-Mart the single largest seller of pop music in America but you won't find anyone trampled during a sale of rap music with "explicit" lyrics because Wal-Mart doesn't sell that kind of CD. Rifles, knives, handcuffs, or handgun ammunition? No problem.
With roughly half of their employees -- I mean, "associates" -- eligible for food stamps, the Waltons remain steadfastly anti-union. As an internal Wal-Mart document explained: "Wal-Mart is opposed to the unionization of its associates. Any suggestion that the company is neutral on the subject or that it encourages associates to join labor organizations is not true." To drive this policy home, Wal-Mart has become the world's largest importer of Chinese-made products and the subsequent sweatshop-level prices have been known to cause a stampede or two.
"We are very disappointed this happened," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk said after the VanLester incident. "We want her to come back as a shopper."
Ms. Burk needn't worry. As Louis Uchitelle explains in The New York Times ("Why Americans Must Keep Spending," December 1, 2003), despite a tough economy, "Consumers will keep spending anyway, going deeper into debt to do so if they must. They have too many needs, some that were luxuries only yesterday." Doing his part to promote holiday shopping (and predatory capitalism), Uchitelle says, "Consumers in America spend because they feel they must spend."
Mickey Z. is the author of The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.