Sunday, November 13, 2005
Wal*Mart: The Movie Comes To Athens
Here we see Dana celebrating her birthday last month at the Japanese Steak House in Columbus, with our daughter and her friend Keenan Huq.
The highest point a man can attain is not knowledge, or Virtue, or Goodness, or Victory, but something even greater, more heroic, and more despairing: Sacred Awe!
Whatever is seen by such a heart and mind is a flower, whatever is dreamed is a moon. Only a barbarian mind could fail to see the flower; only an animal mind could fail to dream the moon.
Thank God for the things that I do not own.
---St. Teresa Of Avila
Actually the title is WAL*MART: the high cost of low price, a new film by Robert Greenwald, whose previous documentaries include OUTFOXED: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism and UNCOVERED: The War On Iraq, both from last year. This week WAL*MART will premiere at 7000 (and counting) different locations across America...and apparently in several other countries as well. What is novel about Greenwald's approach to premieres is they occur in living rooms, public meeting chambers, and union halls...and only in a few movie theaters. Teaming up with MoveOn and the Internet, he began advertising a couple months ago for screening kits you could order. I think he asked 10 dollars or something for it, you typed in your mailing info online, paid with PayPal or the like, and soon a box arrived with the DVD, a couple big posters, and some other brochures. Your name and screening location goes online and people can reserve a seat, depending on your capacity. MoveOn has changed the political landscape of this country using an approach to organize that's both fun and dynamic.
Dana, Ilona and I went to our first MoveOn houseparty, I think, when Fahrenheit 9/11 came out. The same technique was used, and after the movie there was an online chat set up with Michael Moore, as he answered questions from living rooms across the land. Through Jim and Howard Dean's Democracy For America group Dana got involved in MMOB, which stood for Mainstreet Moms Opposed to Bush (but now is called Mainstreet Moms Operation Blue). That group locally, I think (you know how liberals keep changing stuff around), evolved into WORD, which I guess means Women Openly Reclaiming Democracy. WORD decided last month to sponsor a screening of WAL*MART at the Athens Public Library, and that's planned for Wednesday evening at 7:00. Most of the premieres in this country will be Tuesday.
Well, we sent out some notices by email...and took brochures around town. Seemingly within a matter of hours, the signup for Athens at http://www.walmartmovie.com/host.php was at capacity already. The room WORD reserved may hold somewhere around 50 people, so now they're wondering whether to try 2 screenings (the film is almost an hour and a half), reserve another night too, or change the location to someplace bigger. Perhaps another copy we ordered will arrive tomorrow, and if there's a second room in the library available we could show them both at the same time. The DVD has a condensed 20 minute version, and I suppose they could show that in 3 or 4 shifts. The library itself has just gotten an addition, which is quite spacious and hasn't been filled with anything yet. In fact, one wit wrote the newspaper last week to suggest the place could house the Bush Memorial Library...but then thought better of it, since the learned and unclassified documents easily could fit into a janitor's closet. There might not be enough chairs to set up in that area, but maybe folks wouldn't mind standing or sitting on the floor around the big TV set. So WORD has to figure this stuff out today and tomorrow.
As for the movie itself, you can read reviews by the LA Times, NY Times, and Salon through the links at the top of that walmartmovie site just above. It has quite a different tone than Greenwald's previous work, but certainly is just as skilled. For one thing, he wants to address a more representative audience. The people who work and shop at Wal*Mart are not the people ready to mock out the Fox News Network. They're probably people who watch it religiously. He does not want to offend that audience this time. There is a quiet, compassionate tone in these stories of business families driven out by the arrival of the big store, of employees who work full time (or as "full" as the company allows) but must apply for WIC, food stamps and Medicaid, and of managers who thought Wal*Mart really wanted to help regular folks. Once we start visiting their unmonitored parking lots and the sweat shops abroad however, the more familiar Greenwald tension begins to build.
You know, I happen to feel that a partnership between a company and government social programs isn't necessarily a bad thing. Big benefit packages haven't been around forever, and given how corporations are having a tough time with them, maybe the concept was a wrong turn. I realize that what they do is raise prices for consumers in order to maintain the profits they want, but particularly with medical and now fuel costs I understand companies are squeezed. Wal*Mart's response to union organizing and benefit talk is swift and tough. The stories from the sweat shops where they get their cheap goods are horrifying, but I guess we have a foreign policy that turns a blind eye to such practices. We don't seem to invade countries over that kind of tyranny. At the same time the US apparently has a tax code that does not weigh heavily on businesses like Wal*Mart. Increasingly I feel like I'm paying, along with the other little guys, for the few social programs that remain. I guess I resent having to pay for my own benefits and for those of Wal*Mart employees too. But all Wal*Mart is doing is taking advantage of the openings and loopholes...and that's the good ol' American way. Is this movie going to change that? Sit back and enjoy the show.