Wal-Mart Also Cured My Gout
Getting hired turned out to be a challenge. The personnel manager told me she had received more than 100 applications during that month alone, chasing just a handful of jobs. Thus the mystery deepened. If Wal-Mart was such an exploiter of the working poor, why were the working poor so eager to be exploited? And after they were hired, why did they seem so happy to be there? Anytime I shopped at the store, blue-clad Walmartians encouraged me to “Have a nice day” with the sincerity of the pope issuing a benediction.
When one walks into a retail store and one encounters the normal behavior of the employees, one can assume either of two things. Either those employees are conscientiously checking shelves, greeting you with largely similar phrases at largely similar times and offering you discount and credit cards because they’re all just really nice, sharp people, or those employees are doing those things because it’s a condition of their employment. The observation about the jobs barely deserves comment, except to point out that in the middle of a recession with skyrocketing unemployment, any open job at any business which seems likely to be open in a year is going to get swamped. It’s like pointing out that gruel can’t be too bad if the gruel lines are so incredibly long.
Pratt, on this second read through of his story, is a slimy son of a bitch. There are enough issues with the fake-work-as-journalism subgenre on its own, even worse when, apparently, the guy spent virtually no time at the store and chooses to report that it was the greatest place on Earth because if you really didn’t like being switched from the 8 AM – 4 PM shift to the 12 AM – 8 AM shift, wouldn’t you have quit? That you didn’t only proves his point further: you must love the holy hell out of that job.
The rest of the story shows a fantastical wonderland called Wal-Mart: employees transfer from Wal-Mart to Wal-Mart because they love it so (or because they’re a corporate giant where old accumulated pay rates transfer from store to store, much like any number of other retail stores), they totally make sure nobody works unpaid overtime (which has nothing to do with the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ve had to pay out in class action suits over the years), and there’s absolutely no reason for local governments to provide zoning or tax incentives for non-Wal-Mart alternatives (although Wal-Mart’s numerous tax abatements are A-OK).
If a pathological dishonesty bordering on sociopathic dishonesty is what it takes to convince the rest of the world that Wal-Mart is the greatest force for good since the advent of not murdering people, fine. Well, actually, not fine. It’s fucking ridiculous.
UPDATE: I think that the biggest issue here isn’t merely the hackery about Wal-Mart, it’s the hackery about the nature of retail work. Wal-Mart is not in the business of employee autonomy, it’s in the business of strictly managed behavior leading to maximum profits. Years of working retail teaches you how to seem professional and happy even when you’re feeling neither; Platt’s analysis of retail work is like the person who goes to Disneyworld and marvels that Mickey Mouse is so tall and well-dressed in real life.