So Knut the polar bear is a year old now. He’s 250 pounds and his handler has been ordered to keep away from him to avoid any accidents. Zoos across Europe are lining up to have the bear transferred to them… I suppose in fifty years “Son of Knut” signs will be as ubiquitous in Europe as “Hemingway slept here” signs are in America. Still, I guess it’s good news for him. A year ago, he couldn’t get his mother’s attention — now it looks as if he’ll be having sex with all the lady bears on the continent.
Next year, feeling dirty and used, Knut will be in therapy for sex addiction and alcoholism. Mark my words.
Lena participated in this year’s Black Friday festivities, so named not for the throngs of shoppers who gather like clouds of carrion birds blotting out the sun, but because this is the day of the year so many retail businesses go into the black and become profitable. Share holders love Black Friday. Share holders get to sit at home and find out on TV how things went. Employees, on the other hand, not so much.
The day was more important for retailers this year than ever because sales have been down in general, and everyone has been feeling the pinch. Well wait. That’s not really true, is it? Not everyone has been suffering from the economic knife at the throat of the American shopper. Wal-Mart has been makingloads of cash from this recession! Yay!
While everyone else’s bottom lines have been plummeting, Wal-Mart’s has been going up, up, up! Their renown as the lowest price in town has attracted crowds of folks who either don’t know, don’t believe, or don’t care what Wal-Mart does to a community and to the surrounding supply chain. There was a time, not so very long ago, when this would have sent me ’round the bend in a paroxysm of stupefied rage. Don’t Wal-Mart shoppers know what they’re doing to their own towns? Don’t they understand that they’re hurting the companies who’s products they buy? Don’t they get how Wal-Mart abuses local hospitals and it’s own employees? That many Wal-Marts have come to the decision that it’s more cost-effective to pay lawsuits for assaults and robberies in their parking lots than to pay for proper surveillance and security?
I’m over it now. I’ve learned my lesson. The one who needed his eyes opened wasn’t anyone who shopped at Wal-Mart, it was me. But I did learn, and Jdimytai Damour taught me.
Jdimytai was the young man (a Haitian born American citizen) who was trampled to death in a Wal-Mart while trying to open the doors for an already unruly mob of nearly 2,000. (Cops on the scene even before the doors were opened were heard to be surprised that no one had been shot yet.) People were shown on security footage walking over this man’s body to get to the half-priced Wranglers and discounted TV sets. After Jdimytai’s death the police kicked everyone out of the store and shoppers stood watching and made jokes about the man over his corpse while paramedics tried in vain to resuscitate him.
Last year the crowd was closer to seven hundred people, and were much more willing to work with the employees, moving back from the doors when asked, not shoving, punching, knocking down and ripping purses and clothing off of itself as happened this year.
So what was the lesson? What is it about all this that lets me off of my ethical hook? Simply this: despite the collective hand-wringing and whining the country at large has done over this incident, the people at fault obviously don’t care. By shopping at Wal-Mart they hurt the tax base of their neighborhoods, destroy the integrity of their business community, and abuse everyone they buy from, both employees and producers alike. (Everyone except the corporate entity of Wal-Mart itself.) Now they have actually killed a man in pursuit of three dollars off on a package of socks… and rather than be sad, or apologetic, or even considerate, they stood around the body and made fun. A few cents off is more important than anything, even another human life.
So what should I do? What can I do, other than absent myself from the great pack of bargain hunters? I may not be able to affect the outcome, but at least I can know I’m not contributing to it. It’s been well over a decade since I’ve made a purchase at a Wal-Mart, and it hasn’t hurt me a bit. In fact, I feel better about myself for having walked away. Many of my friends laugh at me and say that I’m not “hurting” Wal-Mart. I don’t need to hurt Wal-Mart. It’s enough that I respect myself.