Friday, August 8, 2008

Maples' Law & the Wal-Mart Condition

The Queen and the Soldier - Suzanne Vega (mp3)
Money, Success, Fame, Glamour - Felix da Housecat (mp3)

(NOTE: Our filesharing nightmares continue. I hope these work, but if they don't, please accept our apologies and please please be more patient with us than we want to be with these #*#%&@ file sharing sites.)

One of my oldest friends has devised what he called Maples' Law. Roughly, it is this:
No matter how unattractive a person you encounter while in a Wal-Mart, there is someone more unattractive somewhere else in that same Wal-Mart.
This works for all angles of unattractiveness, apparently, not just someone who fell out of the Ugly Tree. (At right, an example... except apparently without the sweatpants and wifebeater he'd wear into Wal-Mart.)

In his defense, Maples did not devise this law because he's an uppity rich snot who would never dare to dirty his soles with the scum of a Wal-Mart floor. In fact, when you hear him say Maples Law aloud, no matter how conscientious you may be to the plight of ugly Wal-Mart patrons, you can't help but laugh.

Most folks I know, myself included, simultaneously bad-mouth Sam Walton's creation while frequently if begrudgingly walking in to buy shit from them. To me, the story of Wal-Mart is proof that sometimes the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.

STOOPID TRIVIA -- Did you know Wal-Mart, Target and K-Mart all started up in the same year? 1962. Seriously. Check it out. Says something about 1962 that three different companies launched the same general idea at the same time. Kind of like when Armageddon and Deep Impact come out at the same time, or when they make two biopics about Steve friggin' Prefontaine in the same year.

Further, although today it seems like stores are created to be chains, in 1962 these three companies all started out as modestly small potatoes. They also realized that one way to achieve massive growth is to carry more shit, charge less for the shit, and live off lower per-item profit levels by pulling in a higher number of customers. They were just one more mom 'n' pop shop that grew up and ate all the other mom 'n' pop shops. Darwinian Business.

Not to sound like Andy Rooney here, but didja ever notice how companies seem to earn our disgust from the rules, ethics and backs they callously break only after they've achieved greatness? Something about the nature of climbing to the top of the heap turns almost all of us into monsters. From Bill Bellichick to Enron to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the more successful we become, the more willing we seem to break rules and ignore ethics to become more successful.

Or maybe we just don't care about the rulebreakers until they make something of themselves.

Much of the animosity towards the Dubya Administration is for similar reasons. Pre-Dubya, we were on top of the world. Post-Dubya, the rest of the world is catching up with us at record pace economically while simultaneously resenting our cowboy foreign policy and short attention spans. Not to mention that whole "we made up or exaggerated a lot of shit so we could start a good war."

But to most Americans, Wal-Mart is the king of the rulebreakers and ethics oversteppers. Folks who go there all the time and folks who never go at all both manage to see Wal-Mart as either just awful or as a necessary evil.

Walking into Wal-Mart is to witness one of the most fascinating and continuing social experiments of our lifetimes. If you really want to get a good idea of the average income, education and sophistication level of your city or town, Wal-Mart provides the most accurate rendering of any single store I can think of. That is to say, there's a shitload of poor people in Wal-Mart.

Here's a dose of hypocrisy for you. Liberals like me hate Wal-Mart because they lowball their employees, they lowball their distributors, they blackball the small businesses. But really we hate them because we think they hurt the poor. Yet... the poor go to Wal-Mart first. That's their first stop! They go to Wal-Mart to get voluntarily taken advantage of, and then stop off at the gas station for a lottery ticket so the state government can take advantage of them, and then they go down the street and buy illegal narcotics so the underground can take advantage of them.

Yet, oddly, very few people get stark raving mad about all three. Most of the folks who hate Wal-Mart tend to think that drugs should be legal, because people should be relied upon to make their own decisions when it comes to what they put in their bodies.

Isn't it kinda strange that the same state known for its medicinal marijuana also just passed a law banning fast food from certain areas? People should be more free to do drugs, but less free to buy fast food, apparently.

Wal-Mart isn't evil. It's merely the biggest expression of the spoils of capitalism, the best of a lot of bad -isms. Success only makes the hungry hungrier, creates an ever-increasing distance emotionally and physically between them and those underneath them, and increasingly numbs the successful from the plights of those they must step on or over.

Wal-Mart is U.S. Wal-Mart is us.

"The Queen and the Soldier" is from Suzanne Vega's first and eponymous album but is also available on the more-than-a-bargain Retrospective. "Money, Success, Fame, Glamour" is on the soundtrack to the disturbing film "Party Monster." This song is easily the best part of the film. Which isn't saying much. The aforementioned albums are available on's mp3 site and at iTunes.


Bob said...

When I saw Wal-Mart at the top of your post, I thought this was going to be about them pushing employees to vote Republican in order to minimize chances of unionization. But that would be political.

Anyway, you didn't get at the reason I hate Wal-Mart. They make you "pay" for their low prices by waiting in their inefficient checkout lines forever. I hate waiting in lines.

But, I was there last night.

Amidst all the crap they sell, they carry some food items that no one else sells, especially if, like me, you cook a lot of Mexican stuff.

jbradburn said...

Billy - I think you identified why Wal-Mart is popular - they are a lot cheaper than other brands. Since my wife quit her regular full-time job - effectively cutting our income in half - we've found huge savings at Wally-World vs. up scale targeting Harris Teeter.

I would also say that Wal-Mart and it's executives have a lot better idea of what the poor really want and needs moreso than any other corporation - perhaps in our history - w/ the possible exception of McDonald's.

Bob said...

But, Billy...the photo? Really? Necessary?

Billy said...

Bob -- I Googled "fugly" in the images section. His pic came up. I saw it, I thought of Wal-Mart. Sad, but true.

Jeff -- Wants? True enough. Needs? Needs?? No, I don't think McD's understand what the poor need, although at least it's more debatable with Wal-Mart.

jennifer said...

I watched Ted Koppel's series on China and learned that in China, Wal-Mart is a high-end kind of store. There were plenty of other interesting things in that docu, so I recommend it.

I avoid Wal-Mart at all costs over here, but I'm not sure why. Part of the problem is that it just doesn't feel right to have a cart that could contain peaches, a personalized ice-cream cake, toilet paper, a bra and panties set, bag of fertilizer, a fishing pole, and the new Jonas Brothers CD all at the same time. It's just too much for me under one roof, and it freaks me out a little bit.

It also freaks me out to think of all the pics you saw that you DIDN'T post on this blog. Because this one is terrifying in so many ways, but there must have been worse?

Bob said...

Jennifer, over where?

Anonymous said...

Billybob, for the love of all that is holy, please take off that photo. It scares my children every time I check in to the blog.

Yrs in Christ,

Dieter said...

The main problem is THAT YOU LIVE IN FORSAKEN HELL HOLE OF A COMMUNITY THAT EVEN HAS A WAL-MART! Get outta there, quick! You wanna live in the 'burbs with those beer swilling yahoos with the jacked-up trucks, that's up to you, but don't be crying about living in chain store hell!

Otherwise, all the best.