Anti-travel in America
When I lived at my last apartment, half of a shotgun-style house 16th Ave in Tuscaloosa, I'd considered...researching the appearance, demographics and other contents of my neighborhood, which was deemed a 'historic' district. That this info was cached in the non-circulating, special collections library was a deterrent. I was already spending 8 hours a day working at a library, and didn't want to spend many more anchored to research. I plan to be more intrepid this summer.
I think that anti-travel writing could work as well in Alabama as Auckland. We often hear about the 'coca colanisation' of the world by 'American culture', and a quick jaunt to the local shopping mall or movie theatre might seem to bear out the charge.
But what exactly is 'American culture'? Are Tom Cruise, Britney, and Mickey Ds really emblematic of American society and history? Might they not in their different ways represent the hegemony of a minority culture inside the States?
The Aussie sociologist of place Paul Beilharz has argued that, as US imperialism has globalised previously peripheral parts of the world, the 'peripheries' of the United States - the deep South, the Tex-Mex border, the obsolescent cities of the rustbelt - have themselves been increasingly marginalised, as aspects of the cultures of a few of the larger centres on the West and East coasts have been codified and commodified into a 'popular culture' intended for internal as well as external export.
The latest post on New Plastic Ideas is a sort of exercise in participant observation research, focused on a symbol of US capitalism that is widely-denigrated yet also somehow little-known:
Like many young, white, angry males with completely ineffective left politics, I hated Wal-Mart rabidly. It was the worst of US corporations -- wasteful, environmentally disastrous, treated its employees poorly, used sweatshop labor, was 'family friendly,' and it was ubiquitous, emblematic of a wasteful, conservative suburban conformity. And those wretched smiley faces. If left unchecked, it would make the nation a homogeneous swath of parking lots and one-story box buildings. I refused to shop there, derided those who did, and for a time my friends and I thought it amusing to get ourselves kicked out of the various 'supercenters' in the vicinity. We'd walk in smoking cigars, act suspiciously so that the plain-clothes security 'shoppers' would follow us around, and make crude announcements on the store-wide intercoms to drive away customers...
Now I work at Wal-Mart. Or, as they said in the 19th century, I've 'got a place' there--at least temporarily...And I have to admit, I was grotesquely fascinated by the prospect of working for one of the world's most rapacious corporations, notorious for its unique internal “culture.” The ideological saturation job the company does on its employees was evident from the day I went in to interview.
Read the rest of the first instalment of the Anti-Travel Guide to Wal-Mart here.