Sunday, October 09, 2005

Waking Up Wal-Mart

Wal Mart indulges political hysteria

In this day and age of paranoia and “terror threats”, one would expect that the U.S. Secret Service would have better things to do than bully high school students.

Then again, not so much, when Wal-Mart gets their way.

Such is the tale of an unidentified student in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, who, last month, created an anti-Bush poster for a civics class assignment on civil rights. The student took a photo of Bush, thumb tacked it to the wall, and took a picture of himself beside it, giving the thumbs-down sign of disapproval.

The mistake this unidentified student made? Taking the film to the Kitty Hawk Wal-Mart to be developed, where a “model Wal-Mart employee” (aka mindless cretin) subsequently called the Secret Service on them.

Now, one may not expect that it is Wal-Mart’s place to safeguard the welfare of America, but apparently those people are flat-out wrong. When Wal-Mart isn’t turning civics students in to the Secret Service for expressing anti-Bush views, they’re censoring books, CDs and movies for their anti-Bush views… or, at the very least, their anti-conservative views.

Take, for example, Wal-Mart’s banning of Tom Barlow’s (mostly) self-titled album. Barlow was removed from Wal-Mart shelves because of the song “Married by Elvis”, a tune about two lesbians who go to Las Vegas to elope. But it doesn’t stop there. Wal-Mart also banned John Stewart’s America: the Book, as well as the documentary Uncovered: the Whole Truth Behind the Iraq War… all allegedly in the name of “family values”… which apparently include discriminating against women in regards to pay and promotions. Yep, love them family values.

Yes, if there is anything we can say for certain about Wal-Mart, it is that they have traditionally been hostile to the very idea of free speech. While one can, in fact, argue a case in favor of not carrying CDs with the “Parental Advisory” sticker – given the sheer number of parents who are completely oblivious of these labels when shopping for their children – it is the obvious political leanings of Wal-Mart that are inexcusable.

Not to mention its own self-serving motives in many of these situations – for example, Wal-Mart complained about Sheryl Crow’s self-titled CD, which contained a song which criticized Wal-Mart for selling handguns. Wal-Mart pouted that it was “unfair and irresponsible”. And selling handguns in a mass merchandizing store isn’t?

While many criticize Wal-Mart for its program of cultural sanitization, what is even more disconcerting is its program of political sanitization. Is it the right of a corporate merchandiser to choose to sell only products that support political causes they support? Technically, yes. Is it their responsibility? No. Is it a responsible act? No.

Certainly, many of us would like to say that Wal-Mart is above this sort of thing, but frankly, it’s consistent with their track record.

In any conscionable company, with any respect for its customers, an employee such as the one who informed on this student’s poster would be fired, and would be fortunate to find a job doing something they are obviously far more suited to – such as, say, flipping burgers. Unfortunately, the company in question is Wal-Mart, where this employee gets to cower behind an immense and useless bureaucracy.It’s rather sad that the company that crusades the most in the name of “family values” is so wrapped up in this new McCarthyism. Respecting the civil rights of others is apparently not (in their minds, at least) a family value.

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