Friday, December 05, 2008

How can any American child not know what Wal-Mart looks like?

Emilie, the young daughter of NY Times columnist Judith Warner, rightfully and intelligently wondered why crazed shoppers trampled a Wal-Mart store greeter to death over the Thanksgiving holiday.

But this was only one of many questions, her mother noted in an article that muddied up a good subject (how – and how much – should kids learn about the world’s evils) with some unfortunate socioeconomic cluelessness.

“What does Wal-Mart look like?” she asked me on Wednesday, searching for clues in the storefronts of Northwest Washington.

Gucci – check. Saks - check. Wal-Mart? Hmmmm….

“A great big store, with groceries and clothing and auto supplies, and electronics,” I said.

But nothing we’d ever buy, honey.

“So it’s like Best Buy,” she said, as we drove past Best Buy.

“Not quite like Best Buy.”

It’s a store for POOR people, snowflake.

“Is it near here?”

God no. (Thank you, zoning board.)

“There’s no Wal-Mart near here,” I said. “That store was on Long Island.”

“Oh!” she gave a great sigh of relief. “That’s really far away.”

You cannot tell me that, not once in her life, was Judith Warner tempted by a $30 DVD player, a $4.88 collander or bargain-priced six-packs of panties or tube socks.

But apparently so. Because there are places where she and her family shops. And then there are stores for those other people. And that’s the problem - two kinds of America.

Two kinds of schools (for most urban areas, this would be “private” vs. “craptastic”). Two levels of health care (“obsessively medicated” vs. “non-existent”). And two levels of shopping: pretty upscale shopping centres vs. stampede-prone bargain fests that are “really far away indeed.”

John Edwards may have been fudging a bit in the “Don’t worry, Liz, Rielle and I are just shooting a campaign video” department. But I think he was on to something with his “two Americas.”

When a columnist for a leading U.S. newspaper has only hearsay experience with a store where the majority of Americans have shopped at one time or another – that concept seems rather prescient.


At 8:18 AM, Anonymous katjjames said...

Couldn't have said it any better!


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