Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Promised Discourse on Walmart Derangement Syndrome

So it all started over at BFF's place, my godzillan steps into a likely unpopular speculation that makes even me a tad fluttery as I try to articulate it. He linked to a YFWP story about a Walmart going up on Rockville Pike, on the heels of another over in Aspen Hill, the second and third MoCo Walmart-branded legacies of Old Dead Sam (there's a Sam's Club in Gophershole, and maybe another over in Wee-Tone, or maybe it's the other big club box--beats the willies out of me).

I don't give a flying fuck about Walmart any more than I do about any other ginormous retailer. Sasha weeps of a tragedy in that the proposed Wallyworld outlet will glass over a shithole shopping center that happens to contain her favorite bagel joint. Fuck that, it can move across the street to the abandoned former Hooters.

Comments hilarity ensued, all in good fun, and it took blogquaintance Richard (who is, I posit, as literary and thoughtful as I am snarky and reductionist--and if you think I'm overdrawing my credit for snarky and reductionist, then please do me the favor of extending him my overdraft and then some for literary and thoughtful) to crystalize my point; from the perspective of the loosely affiliated community over at BFF's place, what's the difference between Target and Wallyworld? Richard--like Ilse--frequents Target. I surmise that this is, in part, because Richard has a youngish child. From a complicity perspective, Target is a lesser evil for those of us who have to cover little growing humans in textiles--and I think we can all admit that this level of complicity is probably preferable to alternatives like, say, the Division of Child Welfare. I suspect that many of us will admit that it's even preferable to draping our wee folk in homespun.

The point extends, as it did in BFF's comments; unless you're living a life completely withdrawn from our consumerist culture--including your diet--you're not free of complicity in this nightmare. I suspect few of us in that circle are so completely withdrawn. I know Sasha isn't--one of her plaints about the proposed WallyWorld is that it'll increase traffic on her secret back escape hatch into...a nearby Target.

I'm not trying to throw unreasonable stones here. At rock bottom, "I fucking hate Walmart" is good enough, isn't it? I myself dislike asparagus and Exxon and the Dallas Cowboys while buying into all manner of related corporatey goodness. But let's get real. On the merits, Walmart is no particularly worse than any other big box (I'll concede its hostility to unions, though I'll ask if Target, since we seem to have defaulted to them as the comparison, is a UFCW bastion).

The YFWP story points up some proposed legislation by my local county's governing body:

But after the Aspen Hill announcement, five County Council members sponsored a bill that would require some big-box retail stores to sign, or make a good-faith effort to complete, a public-benefits contract with community groups. After its introduction last Tuesday, the legislation drew ire from developers, big retailers and chambers of commerce.

The bill, which has not been passed, would affect both Wal-Marts because they would be more than 75,000 square feet.

Well. I wonder what the fuck that means. Oh, look:

"If these big box retailers want to move in, they have to sign a binding agreement with the community, and the community has a major say in what that store looks like," [Council President] Ervin said.

Community input could include whether employees are hired from within the county and whether the business uses green technology.
So...ginormous superstores already in place are exempt? Wow. Cuz, uhm, there are a boatload of big boxes round hereabouts that easily exceed that 75,000-foot mark. Ervin, a notorious sack of crap, also seems to be using the issue to drive a wedge between two sizeable unions. One of them is a UFCW local. The other is a UFCW local consisting of county government employees--a constituency that Ervin, as noted in my linked post, despises, reviles, and shits on at every opportunity. I sort of think the proposal is reflexive obstruction. On the other hand, I'm not all that sure how much it matters--I reckon Wallyworld is probably capable of conjuring up enough of some shitstorm of corporate responsibility to outsmart the likes of Valerie Ervin.

Oh, right, the point: Sasha supports this legislation. I'll pass on levying (in detail) the guilt by association, at least here.

A final note: No word yet on what poor Hans Riemer thinks of this. But maybe he'll see his name in Google reader (the point, in fact, of this paragraph), blanch when he sees my blog's name next to it, and let us know. That is, if he thinks anything shareable yet (he's a clever lad, our Hans, and one of my favorite things about him is that he typically shuts the fuck up a whole lot and lets other councilmembers duke it out in the pages of the Gazette). Full disclosure: I once ordered a glass of water for Hans at lunch when he was off taking a phone call. I'm told that doesn't mean I have to register as a lobbyist.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Asparagus is o.k.

Here's the Walmart Effect. I don't know much about them, meself. But I won't let that keep me from consigning them to the same category as the Dallas Cowboys.

Jack Crow said...

Tarjay is Apple/Steve Jobs aesthetic fascism. Walmart is cheap shit, sold as cheap shit.

Landru said...

thunder: I got nothing against hating on Walmart, really; I have my own prejudices about the place, none of them flattering to me. Outside of those prejudices (and Jack makes a fine point too), I just don't find it more distinctively hateful than anyplace else. The NPR story you link to...I think Jack's point goes to that, too. Cheap shit is cheap shit. Some people can live with cheap shit--or worse, have to live with it, and some can't. I also think, from a business perspective, that as Walmart tries to edge closer and closer to urbs, it'll find it more difficult to maintain its edge on cheapness grounds. Will that save downtown Belfast, Maine? Or worse, someplace more inland that's not rife with preciousness that attracts? Beats the shit out of me.

Jack: Thank you for stopping by, I was hoping as I wrote that you would. I can't argue with your thesis, though I think your point about Tarjay is a lot more pertinent in some aisles than in others. Or maybe I just don't notice because I prefer function over style, and my family mostly lets me get away with that. Or maybe I just wanted to argue with Sasha. Hard to say.

Sasha said...

On my way out ... Walmart has for years gone out of their way to destroy local businesses. As you know I go out of my way to support local businesses. I seriously hold that against them. And they run their very own sweatshops in China. I hold that against them too. And there is that #occupy thing that reminds me that three of the Wally-kids are among the 10 richest folks in the country.

I will fess to the esthetic thing.

I have no problem with failing to grandfather in existing units, including the Wally World in Gopherhole. (Also the Wee-Tone is a to-be Costco. They had/have their problems because the locals wanted to fight over a gas station within three miles of a local swimming pool. Apparently they believed that the fumes would flow upward through concrete. Or something.)

But you have crossed a line my dear friend.

What, on earth, is wrong with covering one's children in homespun? (Signed -- a spinner).

(I'll look forward to hearing from Hans. I am, after all, a voter.)

Sasha said...

Also. Then next time we have an extended discussion we must -- I must -- ruminate on the urban/suburban influence in a preference for Target/Wallyworld.

Landru said...

The problem with homespun is that one has to spin it, unless one has handmaidens about to do that sort of thing. I'll keep your application on the top of the pile.

I'm already twitching in anticipation, but of course I'll let you chew until you plant one of your Birkies in my trap.


Sasha said...

I would be glad to teach your databoy to spin his own. I think he would make an excellent handmaiden.

Or can you purchase handmaidens at Wallyworld?

Jack Crow said...

Burlington, Vt and Berlin, NH have managed to keep Walmart out of their respective communities, Landru. Burlington is a thriving city housing a large college and is a local farming market for a back-to-the-land movement which took off in the 1960s and hasn't really suffered a hit, even in bad economic times. If you walk down the main commercial/tourist boulevard (Church Street) you could be forgiven for failing to recognize that you were in the People's Republic of Vermont. High end clothing chains and mom and pop boutiques inhabit the same social space, alongside a king's offering of excellent eateries. The city mall is almost unidentifiable from the outside. It does not look like a mall. I didn't know Burlington even had a mall, until we had to get shoelaces. Burlington isn't really representative of the rest of Vermont, because of that large enough college, but it is the state's pride and joy. And it prides itself on not having a Walmart.

So, the Walmart is one town south, and it's still very busy. The last time my wife and I were in Burlington, we walked up and down Church street, and along lake Champlain for hours. It was a beautiful autumn Saturday, and the drive from the Manchvegas to Burlington, along 89, is sublime.

We got the fixings for our lunch, though, at the Walmart.

Berlin, NH is a dying mill town. It refused a Walmart because Walmart would have ruined the esthetic of the City (parts of which are quite pretty, in the snow, book ended by the silence and the stillness which arises from a city becoming a village becoming a ghost town).

It has a prison, now, instead. Gorham, one town south, has all the Walmart, the car dealerships and most of the jobs.

fish said...

I just find Walmart depressing and have the luxury of being able to take my business elsewhere. I am not particularly inclined to romanticizing the past, but one thing I do feel slipping as I age is the emphasis on quality is continually dropping for ever and ever cheaper bottom lines. It used to be there were fewer things, but they lasted. When I was in Costa Rica I saw a German table planer that must have been made in 1920 and was still being used. The crap in Walmart (and Target, et al) is just crap. Consumable. Disposable. Nothing gets fixed, just dumped. Socks don't get darned, pants don't get patched, TV's don't get fixed, everything is just tossed because it isn't worth repairing. It is a disease on our planet and maybe our spirits. With this attitude, there is no choice but to perpetually create new and cheaper sweat shops to feed the constant consumption.

Landru said...

Sasha: only in Utah and Nevada.

Jack: Interesting potential for correlation/causation patter there. Burlington: independent preciousness that's probably withstood some other big-box influence (though I haven't been there in...uhm...something like 45 years). Berlin? Not so much, I'd guess.

fish: Yep.

Landru said...

On behalf of the abovementioned Richard, who did all this typing only to have Blogger misdirect it:

Thanks for the kind words, Landru. I enjoyed the post.

I'm not sure what precisely Jack means by the "aesthetic/fascism" line (I don't mean that as a dig; I take your overall point, I think). I mean, I'll cop to preferring Target aesthetically to Wal-Mart, but I really don't like Target at all, even on aesthetic grounds. It's like preferring Billy Joel to Journey. All big stores suck. (Old department stores sucked, too.) We go to Target because our lives are (not remotely uniquely) structured in such a way as to make it extraordinarily difficult to easily find most of the non-food/non-pharm and non-media stuff Target carries. I wouldn't even know where to get a file cabinet (saying Staples or Office Depot doesn't count). By having all this crappy shit in one place, our already cramped and compromised lives are made incrementally easier. But that doesn't make Target any good. As an instantiation of corporate power, it is a big reason our lives are structured the way they are in the first place.

(As for Apple: the Macs I've had have worked vastly better than the PCs I've had. They are more attractive machines [aesthetically appealing], and cost way more than they should, but that's the bottom line for me. I'm also aware that, so far anyway, they have benefited from not being the target of choice for viruses and whatnot.)

Landru said...

So that was weird, Richard. The blog's gmail received your comment; the blog didn't. Weird doings at teh Google (and h/t to BFF for getting me the message faster than I'd have figured it out).

I think that Apple vs. PC is every bit as much an aesthetic choice as any other. I am unswayed by functionality arguments there, except as a component of the aesthete--which varies in accord with the functional and lifestyle role computers play in each of our lives. While I admit that Apple got music players right, and I know Apple people who would cheerfully gut me over the Apple/PC divide, I'm not even an engineer and I have a challenging urge to hulksmash every Apple product I see, to figure out how the fuck it works. I respect that others' mileage may vary.

On the other hand, it's an argument that Sasha--almost precisely as much of an engineer as me, and far more of an Apple fan--and I have just about weekly. And we're still happily flinging poo at each other after something like 15 years of that argument.

Also: you win the Internets for "It's like comparing Billy Joel to Journey." Effing perfect.

Jack Crow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jack Crow said...

Sorry for the prior delete, Landru.


Fascism - and I suppose I ought to refer to Mussolini, but I don't want to go digging around the Fascist Internet Archives - is monumental. These monuments are not exactly lies, but they nonetheless conceal. They shape impressions in order to mask the operational realities which they conceal. They aren't lies, exactly, because many of the practitioners buy into and believe in them.

The democracies, constitutional monarchies and degraded workers states defeated national fascism, using materials paid for by taxed workers, but to the profit of corporations. The world war was the death blow to the Westphalian nation-states, though it has taken some of them longer to decay than others. They fell, in succession and over a fifty year period, to control of national fascism's more durable successor, which they had already been hosting as parasites. The winners of WW2 were GM and Krupp, Daimler, Bayer, Dow Chemical (as examples) and the various banking/investment firms which have subsequently merged into the American Big Four, the British Big Three, The French Big Three-ish and the German Big Four.

These are fascisms. They are organizationally fascist. It's just that they don't try to outwardly capture nation states, so much as use them as hosts and instruments. A lesson learned, perhaps, following the rather crushing defeat of the flimsier national fascisms they helped to destroy, but with which many of their own leaders sympathized.

The corporate aesthetic which now dominates - rounded corners, smoothed images, monumental store fronts, templar banking houses, sleek lines - is fascist aesthetics.

Landru said...

Gah! Your choice, Jack, but I saw the text and didn't think there was something awful about it. I was going to say that I was glad I chose not to try to capture your meaning, because I was totally and appallingly wrong.

Landru said...

Ah. No worries, Jack. Gmail sees everything, baby. And your words are yours to give where you choose.

Richard said...

It turns out I didn't take your meaning, either, Jack, so thanks for expanding on it. I do know much of that history, but it doesn't immediately come to mind, so I appreciate the primer.

For what it's worth, I don't think Wal-Mart fully escapes that aesthetic, it's just a cheaper, dumber version of it.

Glad you enjoyed the Billy Joel/Journey quip, Landru. I admit to having been pleased with it myself! (Here's hoping the blog recognizes this comment...)

And since you called me, in part, relatively "literary", I suppose I should point out the dreadful "difficult to easily find" construction in my earlier comment. Ugh.

Also, I should add that my experience of Macs "working" better is simply that: my experience. I know well that there are plenty who hate how Macs work. I'm not terribly invested in the debate, but I am interested in my computers being reliable, so I conservatively stick with what's worked for me in the past. I bought a new Mac a couple of months ago; the last one lasted 8 years (and still "works", sorta), vastly longer than any PC I've had to deal with.

Landru said...

It was, of course, Sasha who taught me to STFU about what computers other people should have. I learned on my own to limit how, when, and why I mock people who aren't bDr for their choices.

I've got enough to worry about with keeping rein on my own writing style and conventions. Besides, I'm perfectly willing to assume that dreadful construction may be legitimately purposeful.

Colin's Daddy said...

What is wrong with Walmart?

If I want to go to a Hockey game with my wife, it will cost me about $200 including some food and libations...and no guarantee of my team winning. I can go to Walmart and people watch for free, and I am always guaranteed to see a "winner".

Sasha said...

Mike Rosenwald at YFWP says "How many bagel shops has Wal-Mart rolled over?" He expounds here:


("Stephanie Kavadoy, whose family owns the bagel shop, said they heard rumblings of an upcoming development on the site but had no idea it would be a Wal-Mart -- and so soon...It's very disappointing," she said. "Wal-Mart eats up other businesses."

Yes, I went there.

Have you ever had a bialy? It is the only local place I know to procure same.

Landru said...

William Wallace: You don't go to hockey games with Ellen the Hon. You go to hockey games with me, bitch, and don't you forget it.

Sasha: Tony Soprano liked bialys. Therefore, you are a murdering sociopath with a string of Russian mistresses. QED. No, I said QED, dammit, you lose!

I told you. There's an empty Hooters across the fucking street. The bagel people can move there. And you know why, don't you, there, Rosa Luxembourg?

(Yes. Bagel City is a fine business. I have, in my life, picked up bagels from Bagel City and delivered them to a soup kitchen. I get it. Really.)

Jim H. said...

"I myself dislike asparagus and Exxon and the Dallas Cowboys.." What about Duke and the Yankees and ManU? Don't tell me a Md boy doesn't consider Duke in the same league as Cowboys.

Landru said...

Correct on all three. I'm not sure there are enough electrons in the Internets for the whole list, Jim. But I have on strong and semi-educated suspicion that we agree on the Duke thing, at least.

Sasha said...

Drat! You said QED.

Jim H. said...


QED wins every time. Sorry about yr bagels, Sasha.

Colin's Daddy said...

Wow, from Walmart to Quantum Electrodynamics...this blog is getting deeper and deeper all of the time...or at least something is getting deeper and deeper.