Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fuck Your Tolerance

There are two main sources of groceries near me: One of them is a grocery chain you've probably shopped at yourself if you've lived in the West and Central United States. Because I am fanatical about my privacy we will call it Grocery Chain.

The other is Wal-mart.

I do most of my shopping at Grocery Chain. Grocery Chain is open from 6:00 a.m. to midnight 7 days a week and shopping there is fairly pleasant if you can tune out all the old Christopher Cross tunes they pipe in to ruin your shopping experience. Some days I can't tune out the muzak at all and those are the days I can be seen barreling down the aisles with my teeth bared and my brows knotted in a scowl of rage, but those days are few. Most shopping experiences at Grocery Chain are good shopping experiences. Also, their produce section is lovely, even if they do appear never to have heard of shallots.

I like Grocery Chain, but Grocery Chain's hours are, believe it or not, not always compatible with my goofy work schedule. Though not without its bargains, Grocery Chain also charges more than I am willing or able to pay for some things. Plus, Grocery Chain is unwilling to sell me a deep fryer. Last week I had a vision, a vision of me owning a deep fryer, a vision I abruptly cut off when it got to the part where I not only owned a deep fryer, but weighed 400 pounds. I ignored that part and bought myself a deep fryer anyway. At Wal-mart.

Man, I really wish this post were going to be all about the terrible awful delicious things I intend to fry hell out of with that deep fryer. Instead, it's going to be about why Republicans have been so successful at making slurs like "liberal elite" stick: It's because a thing only has to be true some of the time in order to convince enough people that it's true most or even all of the time. And some of the time, some conscientious Wal-mart objectors get on the internet and they write things like this:

Later I sat in the car and wondered why I had to be such an elitist asshole, why I had to want the people in these towns to want something they clearly don't want. They don't want to stop shopping at Wal Mart. They don't want to stop eating at McDonalds.

Yes, that's exactly the problem: Desperate to participate in their own economic subjugation, poor people throughout the heartland can't get enough of Wal-mart and McDonald's. They just don't want to stop doing business with either of them. Their simple, rustic hearts swoon at the little yellow smiley face, they melt for the Golden Arches, they're just head over heels in love with this crap, because they're mysterious, inscrutable creatures--who can fathom the ways of yon country folk?--whose wants and needs are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM YOURS.

This guy isn't an elitist asshole for hating Wal-mart. Oh, no. Wal-mart is very hateable, from the shenanigans they pull with their employees, to the way they drive out local competition, to the sweatshops they import their cheap crap from, to the way they seduce me with their dazzling arrays of super-affordable deep fryers, toaster ovens, and coffeemakers. I admit it's the way they treat their employees that galls me the most and if I had my druthers, I'd shop at Costco. This would please my conscience no end. Unfortunately for my conscience, in this town there IS no Costco but there ARE two whole Wal-marts.

No, what makes this guy an elitist asshole (his term, not mine) is that smug conclusion that people in Nebraska and Iowa and everywhere else in flyover country want to shop at Wal-mart and that's why you can't get 'em to quit doing so. Whereas I would venture to guess that you can't get 'em to quit shopping at Wal-mart because there is no motherfucking organic cooperative consumer alternative in Podunkville, Kansas, and even if there were, what in the name of nongenetically- modified, certified organic corn (plus a recyclable cupful of fair-trade coffee) makes you think someone earning Podunkville, Kansas wages could afford to shop there?

As for McDonald's, I admit it, I eat there on occasion. I eat there because I would rather pay $2.49 for a Big Mac that is going to taste more or less what I expect it to taste like, i.e. Big-Mac-cy, than pay $8.49 for four ounces of chicken breast glazed with balsamic vinegar on crusty ciabatta with fresh mozzarella di buffalo, baby greens, heirloom tomato, and an insouciant chipotle aioli, garnished with a sprig of fresh tarragon. Don't get me wrong; it's not that I wouldn't like the chicken sandwich. It's that I'm not paying $8.49 for the chicken sandwich, especially considering that no matter how stratospherically snobby the food, in this town, and in MOST towns, it is still going to be prepared by someone making minimum or even illegal, under-the-table, well-below-minimum wages, and that someone does not care about your precious artisanal chicken sandwich, and it's going to taste like that person does not care about your precious artisanal sandwich, so you know what, how 'bout I save myself the markup and just make myself pretentious artisanal sandwiches like that at home.

Is this that hard to understand? Am I being unfair to this guy? Why, why, why when people discuss Teh Poor do they never once think of maybe asking Teh Poor? To echo something Lauren said about herself recently, I am not really poor-poor. But it's a dead cert I'm spending more time shopping next to the poor-poor than this elitist asshole is, because let me let you in on a little secret: NO ONE truly LOVES Wal-mart. Don't let those squeals of delight you hear coming from the kitchen gadgetry section fool you. Wal-mart is a pit. A pit full of people who just plain look beat down by life or, vastly more depressing, like their trip to Wal-mart has been the best part of their whole day.

Of course, if you've been working a couple of jobs and the kids have been asking when they can have a movie, when can they have a movie mommy, and they're passing around colds and stomach flu and pinkeye and you live in fear that the person who watches the kids while you're at work (who is probably related to you because who can afford other childcare?) may one day not be there and then what are you going to do--if that's the life you live, then actually payday plus a trip to Wal-mart AND finding that whatever the latest Disney or Pixar family flick is has been marked down enough that maybe you can even buy the kids two movies, probably equals a pretty fucking good day, wouldn't you think? Except you'd have to do that "thinking" part first.

So fuck you and your condescending little tour of the heartland, elitist asshole, if this is all the thought you're willing to put into it.

Have a nice day!

UPDATE: You decide if it's relevant or not, but me, I can't get this out of my head:

There is the colonialism issue. How did the Chinese of Hong Kong really feel about being ruled by England? It's a complex question. Or, as a number of Chinese people said to me, "No, it isn't." Being an American, and an Irish-American to boot, I was, maybe, told certain things that the English didn't hear. "We hate the English," for instance.

When a Chinese friend said that, I said, "Wait a minute. I was in Vietnam not long ago, and nobody seemed to hate Americans. If the Vietnamese can forgive Americans for napalm, carpet bombing, Agent Orange, and what-all, surely you can forgive the English for the odd opium war and some 'Land of Hope and Glory' karaoke."

"It's a different thing," said my friend. "You just killed the Vietnamese; you never snubbed them."

It is so easy not to snub; you just bite your privileged tongue a minute until the fever passes. So why lose the rural vote over penny-ante elitism? Remember when the Democrats used to own the rural vote? That was before they discovered latte.


Rob said...

I avoid Wal-Mart because I find shopping to be mostly unpleasant and Wal-Mart is easily the most unpleasant of the unpleasant. They're always overcrowded and understaffed and most of the non-me clientele makes me crazy. The talking. I can't stand the talking. People will block aisles catching up on what happened in the last hour since they left work. Or discuss with the cashier every product that gets scanned while I'm waiting ever so patiently behind them. I am never in front of these people. And I wail about Wal-mart's business practices as much as the next person. I can't completely excise them from my life, though, because they have things I can't get elsewhere. At least, nowhere that is reasonably close or reasonably priced. If I'm contributing to the downfall of western civilization, I'll live with it. It wouldn't be the first time I've heard it. My mother was saying it when I was 15.

ilyka said...

Wal-Mart is easily the most unpleasant of the unpleasant

Hey, I wasn't foolin' when I called it a pit. We have arguments over who's gonna go to Wal-mart and whoever loses (usually me) has to nerve herself to go there. And there is like no good time to go, ever. You could go at 2:00 a.m. and find it just as crowded as at 6:00 p.m. It's a no-win. The stores are butt-ugly, the butt-ugliness seeps into everything in them, pretty soon the whole world looks butt ugly and best of all, you can never just get in and get out because of, well, everything you said above. I couldn't even escape when I had an emergency, for crying out loud.

Like I said, it isn't "Wal-mart is horrible" that I have a problem with. It's "yet these crazy peasants and proles want to shop there." Uh, no.

Darleen said...

It begs the question, though, if Walmart is such an awful experience, then their competion (with the higher prices and the smaller selection..but OH SO WONDERFUL something) would be surviving.

Walmart beat Kmart because of "just in time" stocking and a commitment to techonology. There has ALWAYS been some big duty discounter, making profit on tiny margin and volume and loss-leaders. Gemco, Fedco, White Front, Zody's, Two Guys .. the business model is not new. Woolworths, JJ Newberry's, Montgomery Ward ... the list of business's going belly up because they couldn't get the people through the door and buying their offerings is a long one.

If you don't like their business practices, or quality or whatever, don't shop there.

Whoever shops there does so because they are willing to put up with/or look the other way because they value price above other things.

Many "poor poor" people would rather shop at a Walmart (one of the few businesses willing to take a risk in areas ignored or abandoned by other "big" businesses) then pay more for items at small mom-&-pop places that cannot carry the inventory or take advantage of the volume pricing.

I've also watched, up close, the local "fights" about "allowing" a Walmart into a neighborhood. Want to talk about "classism"? The veiled "the Walmart will attact the element!" ramblings.

Me? I shop at a Target.

margi said...

GODDAMN that was satisfying. Did you push back from the desk and light up?

Thank you. Because I'm the woman with the snotty-nosed baby in aisle 14, looking for marked-down infant acetaminophen.

And a Pixar movie, if I worked an extra day this past week.

ilyka said...

Did you push back from the desk and light up?

Nah. I sent the man to Wal-mart for cheap Yellow Tail Pinot Grigio instead.

looking for marked-down infant acetaminophen.

I don't blame you. You know I can't begin to fathom what all goes into baby-raising, so please don't think I am trying to say this is exactly the same (it sure isn't!), but I do know my diabetic cat would be dead without the huge discount Wal-mart gives me on insulin. You can't beat their price for needles either. I've bought the identical needles at Grocery Chain, but only once, because guess what?--They are TWICE as much there.

I mean, this is basic. But I guess it's a more satisfying hit off the pipe of moral superiority to conclude that nonurban folk are just mystically magically DIFFERENT from you, in some indescribable way that makes them love them some Wal-mart. Can we say "noble savage?" See, I knew we could.

(Also, would someone remind me to seriously take a break from reading Dooce again? Because this is always how I get into trouble. Thanks.)

Zendo Deb said...

Oh man, a DEEP Fryer!

Make your own potato chips... believe me its worth it. (Maybe not for everyday... but when they are hot they are super.)

I shop for certain things at Wal-Mart. Small appliances - they have the best selection and best prices on microwaves bar none. (Cheaper even than Home Depot.) Target ammo - in true Sam Walton fashion they made an agreement with one of the ammo companies to sell in boxes of 100 instead of 50, and they charge about 20% more for the 100 rounds than most gun stores charge for 50. Underwear, tee-shirts for working (You can actually buy a tee-shirt that does not advertise some company.)

But the experience is never pleasant. Lines, lack of service, etc.

As far as putting price before everything else, there seem to be only 2 areas that Americans don't do this. Cars and Homes. Most people are (or were before last year) buying expensive 4-wheel-drive SUVs that hardly ever left suburbia, let alone went off-road. (Fixed and running costs were both higher than strictly called for.) People today are living in houses that are huge compared to what was built for the same-size families in the 50s. Are they happier with higher mortgages? I know I wasn't.

Zendo Deb said...

One reason the urban glitterati is so mistified by Wal-Mart is that they have never seen one. (Or maybe only once on vacation.)

They are really only moving into the major urban centers in the past few years.

I doubt if I can find it, but there was an article/column a few years ago about a latte-sipping liberal who, when she had a child, suddenly discovered the benefits of cheap disposable diapers and that it was worth it do drive across the bridge (either into NJ from NY or to Oakland for San Fran) to get those discounts.

It is easy to shop at high-end stores when you have no kids and a high income. (Doesn't that describe most liberals.) You also need to not care about retirement and most people in their 20s and 30s really don't. Oh they have a "portfolio" which mostly includes their 401K, but that is mostly so they can talk about stocks. Ask them for a definition of volitility, or what they think of the Buy-Write options strategy, do they follow the "dogs of the Dow" or how they determine a price point at which to sell a stock and they will look at you like you are speaking Greek. They buy stocks because it is fashionable, not because they understand them, or because they plan to be able to retire when they are 50.

A dollar saved is at least 2 dollars earned. (taxes, time, commuting costs, etc. Figure it out)

Rob said...

It's not only latte-sipping liberals or "most liberals" that have objections to Wal-Mart. When communities rally to stop construction of a SuperStore, it's not only liberals at the city council. More than a few country club Republicans join the fight. And when the SuperStore drives local merchants and other assorted small business owners out of business, my guess is more than a few of said merchants and small business owners are conservatives. Wal-Mart's positions in the economy and in the court of public opinion, positive and negative, are well deserved and well earned.

Sigivald said...

Rob: Which "communities" have done that rallying?

I've read plenty of accounts of various subgroups rallying (like local business owners who can't compete, and the "elites" who won't shop there anyway), but I'm not sure I've ever heard of the actual target customers or the entire "community" banding against Wal-Mart.

Now, I won't say it hasn't happened somewhere at some point, but can you point me at some examples?

Ilyka: I'd interpret "They don't want to stop shopping at Wal Mart. They don't want to stop eating at McDonalds." a little differently.

To me, it reads as exactly what it literally says; the customers are not filled with a desire to stop shopping at Wal Mart or eating at McD's. They don't "want to stop".

They might (probably would) prefer to have enough spare cash and local choice (the former would breed the latter) to shop at, say, Whole Foods and eat at Outback (eg), but unlike our author they have no ideological or aesthetic grudge.

Rob said...


An Uptown New Orleans neighborhood fought a Walmart Superstore for many years. While it was going on, there were many stories in our local newspaper and TV about what opponents were doing and how one tactic turned out in Roanoke and how this other one turned out in St Louis Park, etc, etc...

Ultimately, they failed and the Walmart was built. On the losing side was not just local merchants but residents who didn't want the extra traffic at all hours of the day and night at a 24/7 store. I suppose some may jump to the conclusion that extra traffic in this case and others just like it might have meant undesirable elements. At least, that's the conclusion I jumped to. Basically, they don't mind slumming in my neighborhood to save a few bucks but they don't want me in theirs doing the same.

What I mentioned is happening with various degrees of success/failure in just about every state judging by the many, many articles our local newspaper devoted to it. Sorry I couldn't find more for you but you can scour the Times-Picayune archives prior to the date of my link if it's that important to you. I don't think it's free, though.

Erica said...

sigivald says:
"They might (probably would) prefer to have enough spare cash and local choice (the former would breed the latter) to shop at, say, Whole Foods and eat at Outback (eg), but unlike our author they have no ideological or aesthetic grudge."

So what you're saying is that people from small towns are stupid and have poor taste? If that's not what you're saying, I won't tell you to fuck yourself. If that is what you're saying, please die in a fire.

Super Wal-Mart moved into my hometown almost immediately after the paper mill was sold to a foreign company. The check cashing places moved in then too. These people are vultures on the corpse of my town. People shop at Wal-Mart because there is no choice, they are poor and it is at least an hour drive to get to the nearest town with a regular mall. There was a Wal-Mart in our town when we were prosperous, but it was small; just another store downtown.

Jezebella said...

Darleen, you ENTIRELY MISS THE POINT when you say "If you don't like WalMart don't shop there... I just shop at Target." Because some of us don't live in a town with a Target. In fact, the nearest Target is 40 miles from me, and it just opened last year. Every K-Mart in a hundred mile radius closed about 4 or 5 years ago. It's Walmart or drive 40 miles using $3/gallon gas and over an hour of drive time. Does that make any kind of sense?

And whoever it was that said "most liberals" are high income, no kids, YOU ARE WRONG. I know lots of liberals with kids and low-to-middling incomes.

I don't think much of anybody enjoys Wal-Mart per se. They might enjoy seeing people they know and chatting, or getting the hell out of the house, but the beeping, booping, flourescent lights, random alarms going off, it's hell to me. Unfortunately small-town downtowns are not the community gathering places they once were. For that I mostly blame the Walmart phenomenon, but I also live in the humid deep south, where air conditioning that someone else pays for is a luxury indeed. Would you rather take a stroll in a hot, humid, sweltering downtown, or in an air conditioned walmart? I'd choose neither, but I can see how the indoor option is preferable for some.

However, I live in Hooterville, Mississippi and if I happen to discover I need some cat food in the middle of the night, WalMart is my only affordable option.

Oh, and Ilyka: The mormon rapper video almost made me cry in its sheer awfulness.

Craig R. said...

...It is easy to shop at high-end stores when you have no kids and a high income. (Doesn't that describe most liberals.) ...

No, that does *not* describe most liberals.

Walmart's low prices come at the cost of lost U.S. jobs and depressed local economies. Local economies that wind up resemling a cross between a monoculture farm and a company town.

Complete with wages so low, and benefits so sparse that the majority of the workers in many of the stores have to rely on public assistance for such things as health care for their families.

Now, if you think that is a *good* thing, you either think that the government programs such as medicare/medicaid are the best thing since sliced bread or you need to adjust your medication.

The only other alternative view on that aspect of WalMart that I can think of is the Love That Dares Not Speak Its name of Libertarianism and thinks that all these poor people should just suffer and die already if they can't bootstrap themselves into more favorable circumstances.

Sorry, Ilyka -- I'll go and take my segadives now....

belledame222 said...

Ilyka, grannyvibe wrote something pretty astute on this as well, from a slightly different angle.

Yeah, it's very easy to wax righteous about something like this when you yourself have options. Newsflash: the whole point of Walmart is that it's now -so- ubiquitous that a few people going out of their way to boycott isn't even gonna make a dent. You have a problem with Walmart? Strike the root: the whole socioeconomic environment that's allowing corporations to turn all Blob-like in the damn first place.

NEw Deal, nothing; someone really ought to resurrect "trust-busting."

Dutch said...

the original elitist asshole here.

I grew up in your beloved heartland, watched my downtown die slowly, and I moved to San Franciso, the capitol of elitist assholery. now I've moved back, this time to Detroit. I would just say fuck you back and fuck your ignorant blatherings, but I can't help wanting to point out that you miss my point entirely. whether or not people "want" to shop at Wal-Mart is irrelevant so long as they prefer to shop there over the homegrown, locally owned businesses that make up most downtowns, the quirky, kuraltian places I sought out on my journey across the country. Those places were all boarded up. If they now have no real choices left, that's their fault and the result of their choices. What I was saying was that it wasn't my place to judge them for not eshewing Wal Mart for the alternatives you indicate aren't really feasible anyways.