Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thinking Outside the (Big) Box

Black Friday, that uniquely American holy day of consumer obligation, has always depressed the hell out of me. It is the day when people all over this great land give up pretending to be thankful for family and friends. It is the annual orgy of self- indulgence. We are encouraged to partake in the twin national pasttimes of greed and competition. We pledge our retail allegiance by patriotically waiting in line for hours for the chance to jostle our fellow human beings aside in our quest for cheap crap. 

On Black Friday, whatever else is happening in the world always takes a back seat. There may be wars, there may be strife, there may be misery. But news broadcasts and front pages always lead off with the size of the crowds, the trepidation of the retailers, the pomp of the bargains, the circumstance of the cash registers.  

And we are all shocked, shocked when the inevitable and utterly unexpected tragedy occurs. There was that unfortunate $7.50-an-hour Walmart greeter who died few years ago when unruly New York shoppers broke down the doors and trampled him to death. In 2011, a deranged California woman attacked her fellow Walmart consumers with pepper spray to keep them from grabbing up the Chinese electronics.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if all that human energy could be channeled away from consumerism, and into social revolution for the greater good? George Orwell did:

He remembered how once he had been walking down a crowded street when a tremendous shout of hundreds of voices, women’s voices—had burst from a side-street a little way ahead. It was a great formidable cry of anger and despair, a deep, loud ‘Oh-o-o-o-oh!’ that went humming on like the reverberation of a bell. His heart had leapt. It’s started! he had thought. A riot! The proles are breaking loose at last! When he had reached the spot it was to see a mob of two or three hundred women crowding round the stalls of a street market, with faces as tragic as though they had been the doomed passengers on a sinking ship. But at this moment the general despair broke down into a multitude of individual quarrels. It appeared that one of the stalls had been selling tin saucepans. They were wretched, flimsy things, but cooking-pots of any kind were always difficult to get. Now the supply had unexpectedly given out. The successful women, bumped and jostled by the rest, were trying to make off with their saucepans while dozens of others clamoured round the stall, accusing the stallkeeper of favouritism and of having more saucepans somewhere in reserve. There was a fresh outburst of yells. Two bloated women, one of them with her hair coming down, had got hold of the same saucepan and were trying to tear it out of one another’shands. For a moment they were both tugging, and then the handle came off. Winston watched them disgustedly. And yet, just for a moment, what almost frightening power had sounded in that cry from only a few hundred throats! Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?
He wrote: Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.  
Well, that was 1984. And this is so 2012. The Occupy movement just marked its first anniversary! The winds of rebellion and consciousness are finally in the air! The proles who work and the proles who shop are revolting against Big Box Empire. Minimum wage slaves are walking out of Walmart and setting up picket lines in the parking lots. The high cost of low price will be forced into the consciousness of even the non-boycotting faithful as they file into the national cathedrals of consumerism this week.

If you are willing to join the ranks of the retail heretics, here is a handy tool where you can find a Walmart non-shopping event near you. Some demonstrations will be starting as early as Thursday, given that the greedy Big Box bosses have decreed that the mad dash must start before the turkey carcass even gets cold. So plan accordingly, support your local Walmart refugees, and shop locally this year.

Retail workers make barely a subsistence wage. The average Walmart pay is only $8.80 an hour, in a corporation whose heirs own more wealth that 45 million American families. That's right. The Waltons have as much money as 40% of the entire combined population of the United States. They reside so far out in the stratosphere of prosperity that they might as well be God. Yet, they unmercifully send their employees out to apply for Medicaid and food stamps. The Waltons are not only not makers, they are those dreaded "takers" on a grand scale. They are the poster children of the corporate welfare state.

Paying their retail workers a living wage would not hurt the Walmart bottom line. To the contrary, it would benefit the entire economy. The public policy group Demos has just released a report revealing that if the retail employees could be lifted out of the crushing poverty that they now endure, we would all be lifted up. Even the Waltons would grow richer, because their worker bees would probably end up spending most of their extra money right there in Walmart! And the effect on other shoppers of a wage increase would be negligible -- mere pennies more per shopping trip, according to the Demos study.

The greed of the Waltons is not an economic necessity. It is a self-interested choice. It's time that they and their ilk realize that extreme wealth inequality is not good for them, and it's not good for the planet. Every civilization that has all its riches concentrated at the very top has collapsed. Every single one. Divide-and-conquer is also a losing philosophy. Pitting public worker against private worker, pitting oppressed worker against impoverished spender creates a giant vacuum that eventually sucks down even the gilded garbage at the pinnacle of the landfill.  

So let the banging of the pots and pans begin. Let's start jostling the plutocratic oppressors instead of each other. Let's shout about the stuff that really matters.


Pearl said...

No matter where we shop, everything comes from China or some third world country where American corporations take advantage of sweatshop conditions by moving elsewhere and therefore prevent home grown organizations from utilizing their own labor. Until regulations are put into effect (many are already on the books I believe) to not allow U.S. companies to move their factories elsewhere for cheaper costs to manufacture their goods, nothing will change.
Attempts are beginning to be made to encourage U.S.companies to stay home and compete but they need financial support to accomplish this. As a result, the financial structure of the U.S. which has resulted in lowering peoples' incomes and jobs have reduced the purchases of many overseas commodities, creating problems for China, for example, in selling their goods. This is a loss situation all around. One doesn't have to be an economist to figure it out.
Equally, strict regulation of goods coming in from other countries has to be in effect which has become very loose in recent years. This would also discourage U.S.companies from leaving the country.

Will said...

Here are the voices of some courageous Walmart employees:


Stand up! Live better!

Denis Neville said...

America’s credit card debt grows as fewer make payments on time as the annual orgy of self- indulgence commences.

Whatever became of the true meaning of Christmas?

During this time of holiday cheer, why do so many still treat others so poorly?

The poor are treated as freeloaders and losers; while the plutocrats take their “entitlement” for granted.

But for those who know what it means to live a hard life, they look for the light in even the darkest of places.

Come to Dostoevsky’s Heavenly Christmas Tree:

"Christ always has a Christmas tree on this day, for the little children who have no tree of their own...."


“I keep fancying that all this may have happened really—that is, what took place in the cellar and on the woodstack; but as for Christ's Christmas tree, I cannot tell you whether that could have happened or not.”

d12345 said...


The true meaning of Christmas...?

morphing the richness of solstice myths from the middle east into a shallow sentimental story in which giving birth without the meshing of a man and woman is somehow to be glorified....

John in Lafayette said...

A happy Thanksgiving to you all, especially Karen, who provides us with this wonderful forum and her unique perspective. We don't all agree on everything, but you always have great points to make and stimulate my intellect. People like y'all make life worth living, and I am most grateful for what I get from Sardonicky that I can't get anywhere else.

So, to Karen, Denis, Jay, Pearl, James, and anyone else I may have missed: Have a safe, happy, healthy holiday. You all make my life a little better, and collectively are one of the reasons I give thanks.

Jay - Ottawa said...

@ John in Lafayette and All

You're right. There are fewer websites like Sardonicky than toes on a turkey. It is just and fitting that we give thanks for the blessing called Karen Garcia.

Not to brag, but in Canada Thanksgiving is more rational: it always happens on a Monday, not in the middle of the week; it is scheduled much closer to true harvest; the weather on the second Monday of October is likely to be a lot better than what you can expect (even down there) in late November; and it isn't breathing down the neck of the Christmas holidays.

As for Black Fridays, Big Box stores up here have begun the same damn practice on your timetable. Mainly to keep Canadians from flooding over the border for bargains in the US. Canada too is under occupation by Walmart

And yesterday in the supermarket, the first junk tunes of the season over the PA system. Oy, vey ist mir.

Cook slow, eat slow and drink slow for a very Happy Thanksgiving.