I recently watched Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. I'm not a
very big fan of Wal-Mart.
Despite the fact that I faithfully, hopelessly follow all news that has to do
with Wal-Mart, I still learned quite a few (unverified) things from watching
the film. The Waltons have a bunker, for example. They have collectively given
less than 1% of their income to charity, where Bill Gates has given 58%. Bush's
recent tax cuts gave the Walton's a $91,500 per hour break.
Some of the "facts" in the film did smack more of fearmongering than anything.
For example, there is a sizeable chunk devoted to showing how often crimes
happen in Wal-Mart parking lots, and how unwilling the company has been to take
even modest measures to address the problems.
I can see how this illustrates that they are heartless, but I'm not sure that
it is something we should spend much time on. Where were the police, for
example? In no world do I intend to entrust the responsibility for public
safety to the Wal-Marts of the world. I suppose there are some complicated
legal things regarding parking lots, private property, etc. But still, I don't
think the fact that you are more likely to get mugged in a Wal-Mart parking lot
as compared to other places is really that salient of a reason to avoid the
place. It also struck me as a concern only to particular classes of people.
Victims of these crimes can certainly come from any class, but I'm pretty
certain that the suburban or small-town Wal-Mart parking lot is still safer
than many urban areas.
Unfortunately the film doesn't even make the attempt to interview anyone from
"the other side", other than the corporate CEO speaking a bunch of enterprisish
to a large meeting. Maybe nobody from the Waltons would consent to appear or
something. While the overall tone is not at all shrill, there isn't any attempt
to present possible reasons for why a human being can think it's OK to store
leaking pesticide bags uncovered outside in a parking lot during a rainstorm.
It's important that we hear these things, so that we know what arguments we
need to answer, and so that we also realize that there are real people on both
I'm glad they spent as much time as they did on the public assistance issue,
showing how Wal-Mart refuses to provide usable health insurance benefits and
instead encourages their employees to seek out public assistance. I think one
of the more important arguments to make clearly is that Wal-Mart is only
cheaper than other places because our governments give them massive subsidies.
I wonder about this genre as a whole. What is the point of doing this kind of
thing as a film? There isn't anything particularly filmish about it. In fact,
there are a lot of words popping up on the screen. So why not put it in a book?
I guess people don't read books. But is that the only reason? They should have
done more with the film medium. There are some good shots of small-town life
and tough men weeping, but overall the visual impact is pretty low. They could,
for example, have done a lot more with juxtaposing the source of the products
with the store shelves.
The primary thing we need to do is connect the action of purchasing something
at a Wal-Mart to the suffering that the company causes in order to undercut
their competitors' prices.