Tag Archive 'Wal-Mart'

Apr 11 2010


Who: Agent Charles

Where: Wal-Mart in Central Park

Weather: a comfortable day of shorts and t-shirts (but high allergies)

When: Thursday April 8

This was my favorite class trip so far.

I am a terrible, terrible person but I go to Wal-Mart frequently – I was actually there this morning.  I know that it’s bad but I simply cannot afford much else.  I always feel an enormous cloud of guilt when I shop at Wal-Mart, but since I didn’t buy anything on Thursday I didn’t feel bad.  However, that is mostly because I forgot my entire wallet that morning so my plan to buy allergy medicine didn’t work out very well.


Most of our time was spent in the toys section, and a good portion of that time was spent looking at Barbies with Prof. Moon.  Something that she pointed out was that while most Barbies are $15, the collectors Barbies (“Vintage”) were more like $30, and that was because adults buy the vintage ones to collect. But, here’s something that I thought about: that Barbie probably barely cost more to manufacture, and it probably isn’t worth much since it wasn’t actually created years ago, but instead in a sweatshop during the past year.  Mattel is smart to make those cost more, and people are not thinking correctly when they buy them.

Things I noticed: There were about 5 Barbies that were not white (of 30+) and these 5 were black.  One of these dolls said “She’s Black!  She’s Beautiful! She’s Dynamite!”  It reminded of blaxploitation movies like Undercover Brother.

Something else I noticed was in the boy’s clothing section there is a giant pirate ship to advertise for a movie involving dragons.  Remember how I said that it was in the clothing section?  On the pirate ship there were Oreo’s, soda, and candy.  GENIUS.  While the parents are shopping for clothes the kid will walk like a zombie to inspect the giant PIRATE SHIP inches away and then discover SUGAR.   As we learned about in Born to Buy, kids want sugar to get hyper and annoy their parents.  After finding the sweets on the pirate ship the kids then associate the movie with the delicious foods that they already love.  These people are geniuses.

More with the dragon: when Sadie bought a kid’s meal at the McDonald’s in the store it came with a little plastic dragon toy.  Daniel had a grand old time with this toy, and it illustrated how the kids are when they find toys in their meals.  After seeing the display in the clothes section and then seeing  the toy in McDonald’s, what kid isn’t going to pester their parents to see the movie?

And then it’ll all start again next week.

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Apr 09 2010

Wal-Mart Excursion

By Peter H. Smeallie IV

On Thursday April 8, 2010 at 9:45 A.M., our class visited the Central Park Wal-Mart just outside Fredericksburg, VA. It was a beautiful, radiant spring morning (sunshine, blue skies), and so the store was moderately crowded with people.

The shoppers were of all different ages, races, socioeconomic classes, and genders. There were small children, young, frugal (or possibly financially-strapped) mothers, black, white, and Hispanic/Latino people, teenagers, young women in their mid to late 20s, elderly individuals, students, and a prevalent number of people who would fit into the category of “southern, ‘cracker’ culture.” Shoppers tended to graze slowly through the store, “immersing” themselves in the aisles upon aisles of merchandise, and using bulky shopping carts to load up, at least some of the time, on mass numbers/amounts of goods. Parents often let their little children ride inside the shopping carts and experiment/play with toys before possibly purchasing them.

The store, like many corporate retailer spots, was a vast and enormous, factory-like setting. Its interior was plain, generic, and sterile. The floors were all shiny and tiled, and the roof was comprised of many steel rafters. As for the merchandise itself, the whole store was a large, intricate labyrinth of crisscrossing aisles, and different sections of the store demarcated what types of goods were being sold there: clothes, food, toys, etc. All of the goods, needless to say, were cheap but abundant, there were several kiosks, including one for customer service, up front, a dressing room section in the middle of the store, and a McDonalds near the front entrance of the store. With the exception of customer service and checkout clerks, the rest of the employees didn’t seem to interact a lot with the customers. They tended to just filter quietly and, how I perceived, apparently unhappily through the store, mechanically attending to whatever personal task they had at hand and only responding when a customer approached them. Other then that, all of the cheap, colorful merchandise seem to do the “talking” for customers.

The merchandise included a wide variety of many types of goods, including (but not limited to): novelty toys, cameras, coloring books, movies, CDs, DVDs, electronics, clothing, furniture, kitchen appliances, patio goods, food, wine & beer, cosmetics, hygienic merchandise, outdoor activity goods (bikes, etc.), school supplies, fabrics, bedroom amenities, pet food, and inflatable pools.

I definitely would not say I’m a regular shopper at or loyal fan of Wal-Mart (in fact, I barely ever come here), but as a young child, I spent many sweltering hot summers (while my family would vacation down by the Chesapeake Bay) shopping at Wal-Mart for exciting, flashy goods such toys and candy. So I would say I have a somewhat intimate connection with the place.

Most of everything I observed while visiting Wal-Mart was pretty ordinary and unexpected. However, I did witness an incident of a young parent essentially rewarding her child’s somewhat bad (or at least loud/obnoxious) behavior. The young boy was handling/studying a box of Legos, and his mother picked it out for him after giving him a brief lesson on finance and toy safety (noting that the toy had a “7 years older and up” label on it). This incident ties directly in Juliet Schor’s discussion of children often times having more power over their parents than the other way around. Also, it was surprising that a section of the store solely for guns (real guns) was right near the children’s toy section. Disturbingly, that leads me to believe that corporations discreetly want to introduce children to (real) violence at a young age.

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Mar 08 2010

Nickel and Dimed: Barely Eking Out A Living

In the book Nickel and Dimed, author and journalist Barbara Ehrenreich documents three consecutive episodes of her life when she gave up the comfy, financially secure middle class life and worked difficult, “dirty” jobs that she could barely eke out a living on.

She starts out the book in Key West, Florida, where she stays in a poor-conditioned trailer and works two jobs: as a waitress at the Hearthside, a generic diner, and as a maid at a hotel named Jerry’s. Throughout the duration, Ehrenreich gives us many grueling descriptions of the rough, toilsome lives of both herself and those who work around her: the unenthusiastic interviews by employers, the ennui, as well as face-paced confusion and disorientation, of working as a waitress and juggling many different orders, tasks, and large parties of touristy customers, the short breaks for her to eat lunch and dinner at both jobs, and the feelings employees have of being “controlled” by their managers. In one particular passage, Ehrenreich mentions asking a fellow employee how she could work so long without eating, and that employee replies with the question to Barbara on how she could go so long without a cigarette.

She then writes about working in Portland, Maine as both a nursing home aide and a housemaid, mentioning that she chose this particular location for its “whiteness” (a sociological/demographic observation that Barbara makes, and reasons from such the relative ease she’ll have penetrating the low-wage workforce). As a nursing home aide, Barbara talks about the various interactions she would have with the enfeebled, elderly residents, and how they would often joke about her being Barbara Bush. As a housemaid, Barbara talks about how the ultimate goal of her job was to give the “appearance” of a clean house and not actually a fully cleaned one. She also discusses how homeowners would oftentimes view maids as second-class citizens (setting up hidden cameras to attempt catching them stealing, setting up hidden piles of dust to test how hard they work, telling them to “work on their hands and knees,” etc.), and not thank or acknowledge them for their work. Barbara talks about this vexing truth, and speculates on why maids who work so hard and break their backs (oftentimes literally) to clean homes come off as being viewed by society as inferior, unimportant, and/or even invisible. Barbara talks about her boss who would tell workers unsympathetically and unapologetically to “work through” any detrimental physical pains they may have (including migraines, which he says to suppress with Excedrin). This becomes a particular problem when one of the maids, Holly, sprains her ankle and Barbara angrily refuses to let her work through such an injury (a situation which leads to animosity between Barbara and the other workers).

In Minnesota, Barbara lives in a Motel 6 room and works as a Wal-Mart associate. In this chapter, Barbara describes, among many other things, how rigid, bureaucratic, and dehumanizing such a job as a Wal-Mart employee was: how the store would always hound potential workers for drug tests (specifically targeting marijuana users), use long, dry personality tests to examine the integrity of potential workers, and constantly emphasize to employees their intolerance for the formations of unions among workers (subsequently, Barbara talks about how unions in places like the large, faceless corporations of Wal-Mart would give “invisible” workers a voice they normally couldn’t have). Barbara also discusses the issue of “time theft,” which many employers would watch out for among workers, and also how she grew to view the Wal-Mart milieu as “her own” during long shifts, a mindset which she attributes to the dull, irksome nature of this kind of work and the “aggressive hospitality” (which she mentions turns into “aggressive hostility”) she is forced to show to customers.

During our class discussion on the Tuesday before spring break, we watched a promotional Wal-Mart video that was concerned with the issue of unions and how they were highly discouraged, as well as a commercial for a housecleaning maid service. On the former, our class talked about why unions would be formed at places such as Wal-Mart (to get higher wages and better benefits, as well as more recognition), as well as how promotional videos at huge retailers are contrived, and often portray an unrealistic racial, etc. diversity of workers. On the latter, we discussed how housecleaning maid services are not as bright and fun as they were shown in the commercial. In reality, as Ehrenreich discusses in her book, cleaning houses is a painful, virtually unrewarding, burdensome task which takes a tiring, physical and mental toll on workers. Women (a majority of the maids) work through bad backs, sprains, headaches, and sometimes even pregnancies. Also, we discussed how, unlike what was shown in the video (and similar to what Ehrenreich describes in her book), houses (as well as hotel rooms, etc.) are usually just polished and not cleaned.

During our class discussion, we posed various important questions: should those who work tirelessly and sacrifice their time and energy on rough, minimum wage jobs be “rewarded” with abject poverty and starvation? How should the system of welfare work to benefit those who toil through such taxing jobs, and are the formations of unions (which strive to attain fair higher wages, benefits, etc.) a positive or negative thing? We also discussed the racially and socially driven issue of employers trying to drive out those who use drugs (i.e. pot), as well as them viewing workers as expendable “numbers” when they work for huge conglomerates such as Wal-Mart.

I think one of the most important points driven home in our discussions was that the hardest working individuals of society are not shown any fairness or true gratuity for their work, and that those who struggle and work so hard (oftentimes simply just to survive) should be rewarded with more leniency and acknowledgement.

By Peter H. Smeallie IV

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