Saturday, November 29, 2008

Consumed by America

Has there ever been a more heinous Christmas tale than Black Friday's trampling-to-death of Walmart worker Jdimytai Damour? Just outside NYC, on the biggest (and most annoying) shopping day of the year, in the wee small hours of the morning, the seasonal employee lost his life to a mob of angry shoppers who wouldn't even leave when the cops tried to clear the crime scene, because they had "been on line since yesterday morning." Personally, I think Christmas gift-giving should be called off this year in memory of this Hatian man from Queens who, just before getting murdered, had spent his night stocking shelves, for nearly no pay. Consumerism at its finest.

As an agnostic-Jew, semi-Christmas and semi-Hanukkah celebrator, the jingle-bell-merriment of the holiday season does not strike me at the core. Around this time of year, I have been known to increase my eye-rolls and lock myself in my apartment for longer periods of time than normal. The holidays irk me just a bit. Still, I live in NYC, and though I avoid most big stores and keep myself far away from 5th Avenue, I am not a Grinch--I like it a little, I do. Like most, I do find myself in the spirit of the holidays, picking up a Mad Libs for my 32-year-old brother because I know it will provide hours of petulant fun. Nor am I totally immune to the desire for fun things. (At a Thanksgiving dinner two days ago, I left a family member's house holding myself back from stopping at the store and picking up a newly-discovered Nintendo Wii.)

But the lust for stuff has led us somewhere dangerous. We have become a country obsessed to no end (not even manslaughter) with material goods. Yesterday, a young man went to work at a shitty job so that he could make some extra money, but he was killed by America. This country is in the midst of an economic crisis, and we are being forced to reassess our priorities. People are losing jobs and hope, but juxtaposed to that is the crowd so eager to consume, that they consumed Jdimytai Damour's life, and didn't even look back long enough to notice--they just kept shopping. (There was a good sale.)

The fact that this crime occurred at Walmart is just rubbing salt in the fatal wound. Walmart, which has notoriously neglected even the basic needs of its employees (resisting unionization, paying poverty-level wages and forcing workers to work around the clock, not providing health care to over half its 1.39 million US employees, and violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as a plethora of other disgusting crimes), has been a hot source of controversy, even acting as the inspiration for the hit show, Walmartopia. The musical, which takes place in the future--a time when the inevitable occurs and Walmart takes over the world--is supposed to be a satire, but is just a little too close to just-an-image-of what's-to-come. In real life, to avoid the continuation of Walmart sucking the souls of Americans far and wide, there are a host of websites detailing Walmart horrors (Walmart Watch being my favorite)--everything from discriminatory practices to environmental degradation.

This reminds me of my summer vacation this past July, when, while driving through St. George, Utah, I had to stop at a Walmart to pee. I noticed, as I was leaving, a section of what was supposed to be pro-environmental messages (ironic, huh? And on sweatshop-produced crap, to boot). There was a shirt meant for a young child, and it had a picture of a globe on it, and in big print, it said "MINE!"

Doesn't that just say it all?


Casey Martinson said...

I have to agree that the trampling at this Long Island Wal-Mart was pretty disgusting. It also brings into focus the consequences of runaway greed that we normally don't see. After all, the bargain purchases that some people got after helping trample a man to death in Wal-Mart won't be the last Christmas gifts to leave a trail of blood this season. Peace on earth indeed.

Eleni Binge & Vlachos said...


Thanks for this post. It is interesting that you're blogging about w-mart, because I sort of had this realization about how this, credit, health, and veg*nism are all connected.

People buy cheap things that will break later. On credit, possibly, to pay later. Fast food, which mostly catches up with people, health-wise, later. Non-organic, because it is cheaper. I can go on (don't worry, I won't!). We're a nation of procrastination - and it's killing us, animals, and here, literally, others.

My question is - what do we do with that information? What is the anecdote to this desire to buy cheap and convenient over ethically?

jasmin said...


I think we buy ethically. I think we try to remain conscience about our consumption as much as possible. We do the best way we can and try hard to live along our own ethical continuum.

Really good comparison to veganism, by the way. Couldn't agree more.