A few years back, my sister had a friend that was a foreign exchange student from Germany and at the end of the year, before her departure back to Europe she took pictures of various of the somewhat mundane features of Manteca California. I guess if you are from a place where you just don’t see large groups of cows and fields overgrown with weeds it is a sight to behold but what was more interesting was that she made a note to take a picture of Wal-Mart of all places before leaving this humble country. Wal-Mart, I thought, what a strange think to want to remember. Yes, they guarantee Always Low Prices, Always but beyond that I didn’t really think it different from the other mass market retail outlets like Target or K-Mart but I was wrong. Wal-Mart is far more
culturally significant, but would I qualify a trip there an event? No. That’s why I went to Super-Walmart.
Underneath one roof is nearly anything you could imagine from snow tires to Christmas decorations. From garden rakes to an economy sized case of Oreos. From a 5-dollar DVD featuring 5 classic episodes of Little House on the Prairie to a brand new pair of shoes. The sheer volume of product crammed into a single building was a little overwhelming yet everyone else seemed to mindlessly gravitate from lighting fixture to fresh produce to hunting equipment aisles as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Because wandering aimlessly is not nearly as eventful as following blindly, I shadowed a gentleman in a leather jacket, pressed slacks, silk shirt, and a cowboy hat with the word “Rodeo” stitched into the brim proudly. Initially, he seemed to have no more of a purpose being in the store than I did and I was regretting my decision to follow him but as he cruised casually down the halls, running his fingers over socks and searching through a massive bin of DVDs he started to show his motive. First, he found a pair of women’s snow boots that he was particularly fond of so he found a salesman and seemingly tried to talk the price down. When the hapless employee showed no signs of willingness to haggle, the man left placing the boots back as if he didn’t really want them but as he walked away threw them longing glances. He then walked through the woman’s clothing section lifting the sleeves of shirts carefully looking at each intricate design before moving on to the next rack. Nothing seemed to satisfy him though. I followed him almost out the door, caught up in his dismay when suddenly his head whipped around; something had surely piqued his interest. A bouquet of roses! On sale even. The man I had been following was a romantic. He was suddenly vitalized with a burst of optimism. He looked as if nothing could stop him now and triumphantly walked towards the checkout aisle when he realized something, a light bulb went off in his head. He sprung towards the medical and sanitation products section of the store and quickly returned this time with a box of provalactics. Stories are told in how people shop, its live theater with every customer.
More maddening than the barrage of merchandise though was the blatant talking down to the consumer. It would appear that taste has no place in American culture, not when you are being drilled constantly on what to buy. Walking through the store I couldn’t help but get caught up in different sensations just because I saw entire rows of shelves dedicated to that product. For instance, I had never once expressed a desire to see what this Hannah Montana “thing” is but after spending an hour walking through Super Wal-Mart I was convinced she was bigger than the Beatles. Who else but the Beatles could have their faces on the cover of not one but two specialty themed board games, dolls, pillows, video games, coloring books, cereal boxes, and really anything big enough to have her face printed one… and don’t get me started on DVD’s and CD’s. Within Wal-Mart there is an insurmountable blitzkrieg of forced celebrity that is constantly pushed on unsuspecting youth. Unlike stores where the shopper is respected, Wal-Mart has harsh lighting, a harsh McDonalds at the front of the store next to a bakery, and blaring speakers every other aisle almost to the point where there is an effort made to deliver a full on assault to the senses. What’s worse is the whole thing is masked in a shroud of convenience because everything is in one store and supposedly much cheaper, but at what cost?
Super Wal-Mart is a Mecca of conglomerations where major corporations converge to push a true free market out of the equation and bring people to their knees by offering cheaper and often inferior products. It’s a place that condescends its own clientele constantly with no remorse and will gleefully exploit buyer habits and turn people into drones with wallets that buy things they probably don’t need for a quick bargain but its also a true sign of what American civilization is about. You can be idealistically loyal to a brand easily when there are only a few to choose from. You can buy into a product thinking you need it because it’s popular without knowing why. You can bow to the alter of Super Wal-Mart with all its wares and all it wants you to surrender is your wallet.
Note: this blog was turned in for a grade to my Civilization class and I got full points. Score.