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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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Just finished a showing of Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, an opinionated documentary (aren’t they all) against Wal-Mart and its mission to destroy humanity.

I’ve got a real difficult time with this, much in the way I did with Michael Moore’s Roger & Me — great, Michael Moore showed us a one-sided globalization, and there were some sad stories.

The problem is that I hate Wal-Mart, but I don’t hate its business model. I do not agree with their labor practices in this country, or their labor practices in other countries, save those that have union representation and reasonable labor practices. I don’t agree with their management, or their approach to the community. I certainly don’t sympathize with their plight against unions (even though I’m not pro-union).

But, I don’t sympathize with the plight of the small displaced business owner either. Sorry, you’ve been outmoded. Either you deliver something no megastore can (exceptional service, obscure products, luxury markets, human interaction), or shut your doors. All of the stories the film presented with grandaughters crying about the loss of the family’s IGA … it’s tough luck. Yeah, I feel bad for the individuals, but that’s life — running a business and staying alive in a changing landscape is hard, otherwise everybody would be doing it. Sorry.

So those chunks of the film just leave me wanting to shout “deal with it.”

The meat of the film is the exposition of most of the topics that have been covered previously — manipulation to keep employees from being full-time, work done off the clock, the “benefit” of having a huge chunk of its people needing to be on public aide just to survive along with a job at Wal-Mart, how their healthcare isn’t even affordable for children and dependents, and so forth. Or, how the company seems to spend more money on anti-union tactics and executive transport than it does helping the community, or how terrible conditions are in India or China for its factory workers … you get the idea. These are the things that are countered in the media or hidden from public consumption that everybody should know.

It’s enough by itself that I will never plan on shopping at Wal-Mart in the future unless those sorts of things are rectified. But, I expect they never will be, in large part because people are selfish (“I want my low prices”) and because the people most succeptible to Wal-Mart are the same demographic it employs, creating a lovely feedback loop. I guess I need to read up a bit on how the other superstores treat their labor.

This is all a rather simplistic view on things, and I realize it is glossing over a lot of detail. I don’t think this film is going to change your mind about much, but it will certainly give you a little more appreciation of Wal-Mart’s approach to doing business. I don’t know that I think it will change anything on a grand scale, but I’ve been wrong before. It’s a small step, but I certainly see no need to ever shop at Wal-Mart again, but I’m in the fortunate luxury that I would prefer higher prices, better service, better products, and a lack of feeling like I want to die whenever I leave a storefront (whenever I see the “keep our costs down” signs arguing to return carts yourself, I want to yell “raise prices and pay somebody to put my cart away; I remember when there were kids to drive carts out to cars for people!”).

I digress; I have a hard time assigning a rating to the film, but if I try to consider it just as a documentary, and not for its underlying meanings, it was done well enough. It’s a very one-sided take, but it doesn’t pull a Michael Moore and try to extrapolate from a localized phenomenon to a global issue (“this sucks, therefore globalization is evil”). On the other hand, when you are creating a documentary on a company larger than some sovereigns, I suppose you are operating on a slightly different scale. I guess I wish I’d seen a little more of the other side of the argument; I honestly think it would have made their argument stronger, though we would then be looking at a three hour film. Just speaking purely on the merits of the film, and trying to divorce my feelings towards the topic, I’d give it a 6/10.