Thursday, August 24, 2006

When Is Progress Not Progress?

This past Monday, Wal Mart has entered into a partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Leaving the Chamber to make the announcement (no press release came from the company), representatives of the megacorp nonetheless expressed that "[Wal Mart] is making a very sincere effort to reach out to people who are a significant part of our customer base."

I came across this while listeing (as all highly-educated, hyper astute individuals do of course) to NPR today and Cox News (yes, I'm tempted to be crass here) offers a write-up that includes most of what I heard on the radio (found courtesy of Wal Mart Watch). The article details the totally not-unexpected resistance from right-wing "family" groups and also the not-surprising negative reaction from liberal groups opposed to Wal Mart's decidely non-worker friendly policies, regardless of sexual orientation.

While mention is made of Wal Mart's interest in expanding into urban areas, home to greater populations of the gay-folk, what it doesn't expound upon (that NPR did) is that Wal Mart is also seeking not just to increase its customer base, but specifically looking for those with more disposable income. (I always hear that us queers have tons of disposable income. When do I get mine?) Wal Mart wants people to spend more during each trip and the way to do that is to cultuvate a more, shall we say, income-available crowd. Wal Mart has to up it's snob appeal.

It is, of course, somewhat of a conundrum. On one hand, any positive step for greater acceptance of gay people in society is a good thing. On the other hand, it's merely a calculated business move to generate more income, not a gesture motivated out of some inherent ethical perspective or foundation. It's both affirmation and cynical manipulation in the same embrace.

Also, shouldn't we as a community be concerned for the more encompassing ills that Wal Mart perpetuates as a company? It is decidedly unfriendly in its policies for its workers and its business practices to drive down prices from its suppliers frequently have disasterous trickle-down effects for those suppliers and/or their employees. Americans think Wal Mart is a good deal (well, some do, others of us find it a disgusting and unethical place to shop at and others are forced out of necessity to shop there) but in the long run, many practices are probably hurting the people who need those low prices the most.

Right wing pundits in the article claim that Wal Mart's core shopping group will stop shopping at the stores because of this seemingly gay-friendly move. Not likely. We've seen the disasterous effects that the Southern Baptist boycotts have had on the finances of the Disney Corporation. Disney is ready to sell their theme parks to Jerry Faldwell just to get out of debt. And Disney is entertainment. Wal Mart provides food and other supplies that are vital to people living or having any quality of life.

Americans are not civic minded and self-sacrificing enough over any issue above their own pocketbook. If Wal Mart prices stay low, they won't lose any revenue. Much of the country could probably care less to begin with, as attitudes towards gay rights continue to become more positive. In the end, this is a no-lose motion on Wal Mart's part. The company can only gain by giving the perception that it's a welcoming affirming place, especially for rich queens and sapphic home makers (or renovators).

In other non-progressive news, Wayne Besen reports on a New York Baptist church firing a Sunday School teacher because she's a woman (and an old one at that). The decision was based in the literal interpretation of the Epistle of Timothy: ""I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.""

This was New York state, might I add. Shut up about the red state crap now.

And on a happier note, I was amused by the story on All Things Considered today of a Nova Scotia lobster seller who had to innovate on their shipping of lobsters. No longer able to pack the lobsters in ice or cold gel packs, the company became truly clever and now packs the lobsters in...frozen vegetables. Not only do they work as well as ice, but now the company advertises a free vegetable side! That, my friends, is using the ole noggin.

1 comment:

Doug said...

When I first heard of Wal-Mart's new attitude toward GLBT, I actually laughed out loud. While I was forced to shop there in the past for economic reasons, I now choose not to for the other reasons you mention in your post.

I am actually all for the church enforcing its beliefs. If they resurrect enough of their dark-ages ideas about how people should live, I would hope their membership would drop enough to make the church virtually powerless in world affairs.

Frozen veggies are very versatile. My mom recently used a package of frozen peas as an ice pack after having knee replacement surgury.

Btw, thanks for the link to the Aikido web site. Although there aren't any Aikido-only dojos in my area, there is one that teaches a blended martial arts technique that includes Aikido. I will be investigating.