Tuesday, November 08, 2005

FILM: Wal-Mart documentary at Images at 4:30 p.m. on Fri., Nov. 18

If you've been following news from alternative sources, you may know that the "progressive" filmmaker Robert Greenwald is just releasing a new documentary about Wal-Mart. But it isn't in main-stream movie theaters just yet.

In Williamstown, a "campus greens" club at Williams hopes to screen the film at 4:30 p.m., on Friday, Nov. 18, at Images Cinema.

A coalition of over 600 unions, churches, and small business groups are joining together to launch the the film.The MoveON.ORG political group is orchestrating a nationwide rollout in homes across American and Greenwald is selling the DVD online at his website, http://www.walmartmovie.com . The film is called: "Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Prices."

For those who want to see the film, here's a selection of links to articles about the film and about Wal-Mart. Most of them were posted on the Alternet.org website -- the non-profit news service spawned by the nation's alternative weeklies. See: http://www.alternet.org/walmart/

Then appended below is a brilliant review by Rob Williams, president of the Action Coalition for Media Education (http://www.acmecoalition.org/ ) Rob lives in Vermont and is a professor of English and media studies at Champlain College.

Finally, I've included a few links to stories about Wal-Mart's reaction.


A Wal-Mart manager in Pensacola, Fla., ordered the daily paper in the city -- owned by Gannett Co. Inc., to either fire a columnist who wrote about the effect of Wal-Mart's low wages, or else remove its racks and papers from the store. (UPDATE: Wal-Mart later apologized and resumed carrying the paper).

Don Hazen, AlterNet
Robert Greenwald's upcoming documentary about Wal-Mart's predatory practices is part of an unprecedented progressive media campaign.

By Don Hazen, Editor AlterNet
In Round II in the battle to make Wal-Mart honest, progressive media gets into the act with a unique editorial collaboration.

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Robert Greenwald's documentary shines a light on who pays for Wal-Mart's cheap products from China: the workers who make them.

Kelly Hearn, AlterNet
A softer, gentler megacolossal? Wal-Mart would like you to think so.

Maria Luisa Tucker, AlterNet
Thousands of low-wage Wal-Mart workers are on public assistance. Many state lawmakers say it's time the
megastore was forced to provide affordable employee health insurance.

Terrence McNally, AlterNet
In his irreverent new book, journalist John Dicker reveals the super-high social costs of Wal-Mart's super-low prices.

Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive
After a Wal-Mart employee turned in a high school student's anti-Bush poster to the police, the Secret Service came calling.


The Wal-Mart website does not appear to acknowledge the existence of the
movie. But here's a link to its general PR site:



The Wal-Martization of America:
Uncovering the High Cost of Low Price

Reviewed by Rob Williams

As a history teacher for two decades now, the single best field trip I've ever taken with students involved a visit to a "local" Wal-Mart in Albuquerque, New Mexico. During the 1990s, when I lived and taught in the urban desert, the Duke City served as a prime example of urban sprawl run amuck, with box store chains routinely popping up on every corner like mushrooms after a late summer rain.

As part of our exploration of late 20th century globalization, my sophomores and I decided we'd take an official tour of Wal-Mart. We'd been reading essays fairly critical of the Bentonville-based company, so we decided we'd get the official Wal-Mart party line straight from the horse's mouth. After calling the store to set up a visit, we walked across the mesa to have a look inside the world’s largest corporation.

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 United States at a time when corporate multinational retail box store power dominates the landscape. Anyone with even a passing interest in matters economic knows a bit about Wal-Mart's rap sheet, as well as the lure of "low prices -- always." But Greenwald's film does an admirable job of both contextualizing and personalizing the wide variety of trade offs Americans have made in allowing Wal-Mart to own and operate the very fabric of our 21st-century economy.

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, USA. In one poignant scene at film's beginning, we see, in slow motion, a sepia-toned Stars and Stripes fluttering against Bruce Springsteen's haunting crooning of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," sung over a depressing picture that is all too familiar: dilapidated and boarded-up down town Main Streets across America, driven out of business by the economic clout of giant corporate power, wielding more efficient economies of scale, as well as aggressive (and many would say ruthless and corrupt) business tactics.

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 U.S. economy the envy of the world. The film also interviews a number of former Wal-Mart employees, many of them upper level managers, who speak candidly about the corporation's deeply rooted sense of foul play, amoral behavior, and unethical business practices. Hearing their celluloid confessions is enough to make any CEO squirm.

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 U.S. economy to enrich the pockets of its shareholders. The shiny happy people featured in Wal-Mart advertisements, as well as the company's continued PR claims of corporate responsibility ("We at Wal-Mart take an active interest in conserving the environment!"), simply doesn't match the frustrating reality of their corporate behavior. Even the largely toothless Environmental Protection Agency, for example, a federal regulatory outfit that sometimes seems to exist simply to provide permits for giant corporate polluters, has managed to prosecute Wal-Mart for Clean Air Act violations in nine states, due to the company's stubborn insistence on storing lawn fertilizer and other toxic chemicals in parking lots located near local watershed areas.

Greenwald even takes us to Wal-Mart's global factories in China, Honduras, and Bangladesh, where Wal-Mart workers put in 14 hour days 7 days a week and brush their teeth with fireplace ashes because their salaries don't allow them to buy tooth paste. Implicitly in this global tour is the fact that, while wrapping itself in the American flag and a shallow sham version of patriotism, Wal-Mart cares very little for the health and well being of its workers, the environment, or the health of the U.S. economy as a whole, beyond the short-term dollar value it can extract to increase its profit margin.

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.

Contact Mad River Valley historian, media educator, and musician Rob
Williams at www.robwilliamsmedia.com .


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