Suffice to say, our two-hour visit in Wal-Mart, escorted around by the store’s friendly (and honest) manager, answered many of our questions, raised others, and, most importantly, opened our eyes to the realities of corporate retail in modern America. “Do all Wal-Mart employees really do a Wal-Mart cheer at the beginning of each work day?” asked one of my unbelieving students. “We do,” one employee sheepishly admitted, and then proceeded to perform the rather embarrassing number with her fellow “associates.” “You kids be sure to stay in school and finish your education,” admonished another “associate” taking a brief break in the store lounge. “You don’t want to end up working in retail like me.”
Think of Robert Greenwald’s powerful new film “Wal-Mart: The High Cost Of Low Price” as one giant field trip across the
The film is full of moments of heartache that resonate – long-time family-owned and operated businesses driven into the ground by the aggressive Wal-Martization of Anywhere,
In assembling his new film, Greenwald makes two shrewd tactical decisions that pay off in spades by film’s end. The first involves his decision to give voice to the voice-less. Those familiar with Greenwald’s previous films – “Uncovered: The Whole Truth About The Iraq War,” for example – know of his interest in capturing powerful voices on camera, authority figures from inside the corridors of power who know how the System works and aren’t afraid to speak honestly about abuse and injustice. Surprisingly, in “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price,” the viewer doesn’t encounter a single Ph.D.-sporting talking head.
Instead, Greenwald introduces us to ordinary Americans, struggling to make sense of a billion dollar multinational corporation that consistently says one thing and does another, displaying an arrogance and an eye-opening set of double-standards that could fill volumes. Many of these folks are dyed-in-the-whole small town conservatives, rock-ribbed Republicans (in the traditional sense of the term) who believe in the power of hard work, sacrifice, entrepreneurialism, and a sense of fair play that, once upon a time, made the
Greenwald’s second tactical decision in telling his story involves brilliant use of rhetorical jujitsu, as he leverages the multi-billion dollar juggernaut of Wal-Mart’s advertising and public relations (PR) power against itself. We see, for example, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott at a national company rally, claiming that his corporation provides well-paying jobs with retirement benefits and a host of other perks. Then we meet Wal-Mart workers who simply cannot make ends meet, no matter how hard they try, backed up by sobering statistics pointing out that, while CEO Scott pulled in a $27 million salary last year and the five members of the Walton family are worth more than $102 billion (with a “b,” yes), the average full time Wal-Mart employee (FT defined as a mere 28 hours a week by Wal-Mart’s reckoning) earned under $14,000 during 2004.
In this way, Greenwald’s new film is as much a study in the propagandistic power of corporate public relations and advertising as it is a meditation on Wal-Mart’s deliberate bleeding of the
Greenwald even takes us to Wal-Mart’s global factories in
While all of this is deeply sobering, Greenwald wisely chooses to end the film on a powerful high note, spotlighting and interviewing several citizen/activists – normal people just like you and me – who have chosen to organize their communities to oppose Wal-Mart’s predatory behavior and fight for more just and sustainable local economies.
And that hope is this filmic field trip’s ultimate message. Don’t believe Wal-Mart’s hype. Educate others. Speak out. Organize. As consumers, as workers, as citizens, as elected officials, all of us make daily decisions that perpetuate or undermine Wal-Mart’s (and other large multinational corporations) existence in our communities.
Let us choose wisely. Our economic future is at stake.