Neighbors gathering in the street… gabled houses and picket fences sheltered by trees… striped awnings shading corner stores… this was life before Wal*Mart paved it all over for a 50-acre Supercenter, right? Oddly enough, this mistily maudlin illustration of idyllic small-town bliss appeared in a propaganda advertisement placed by Wal*Mart in the New York Review of Books in April.
80% of Americans would probably never allow their children to walk the dog in the street out of a well-founded fear of traffic, but Brobdignagian corporations like Wal*Mart continue to use the visual vocabulary of walkable American neighborhoods (a way of life that said corporations bulldozed decades ago en route to greater profit) to cloak themselves in a comfortably gauzy veneer of Pax Americana. Yet Wal*Mart is the exemplar of the economy that has “progressed” and “expanded” to the point where the friendliness and comfort of this scene have been deemed insufficiently enticing of consumer desire, and therefore un-American. After all, where in this scene could one find a GM Hummer H3, or 20-pound box of America’s Value Choice from Sam’s Club fish sticks, or a $3,000 Weber grill? Disgusting.