Wal-Mart culture: It’s got the whole world in its hands

textI thought I saw a religion ghost this morning in a New York Times story about God, man and Wal-Mart. Well, maybe God was in there somewhere.

The story covers an academic conference — more than 250 sociologists, anthropologists, historians, etc. — at the University of California at Santa Barbara. It appears to have been a rather one-sided gathering that focused on life, commerce, culture, low prices and what it all means.

Here is a sample paragraph that captures the tone:

Everyone at the conference seemed to marvel at Wal-Mart’s extraordinarily sophisticated use of technology. The temperature of every one of its more than 3,500 American stores is controlled from its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. Logistics gurus keep track of hundreds of thousands of shipments at home and abroad. Computers also keep close tabs on workers’ hours and productivity.

I kept waiting for the shoe to drop, or one of several shoes. What about the infamous Wal-Mart intolerance of edgy popular culture products? The new question for media barons: Will it play in the Wal-Mart in Peoria? And what about Wal-Mart’s solid base in the Heartland and Bible-Belt, with its zoning battles in blue states and blue zip codes in red states?

But most of all I kept thinking: Gosh, this is sort of like reading a New York Times story on the decline of the progressive world of mainline Protestantism and the rise of the megachurches of market-friendly evangelicalism. What think ye, gentle readers?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Mary S

    Where does that weird picture come from!?

  • http://www.einvolved.org Stacy L. Harp

    Interesting, very interesting…(insert my accent here please, :)…)

    Actually I read just yesterday that Walmart was not allowed in a city here in Southern California because the people didn’t want them taking all the small business out – so they fought them!

    So who knows really…great picture though!

  • http://www.therevealer.org Jeff Sharlet @ The Revealer

    This sounds like a promising line of analysis, Terry, but I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Where SHOULD God be in this story?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Maybe not “God,” but the whole moral and cultural angle. Although, you can make a case that Wal-Mart has an emphasis on some products — Christian music, country music, soft-and-fuzzy books, etc. — that overlap with the emerging religious marketplace.

    I guess what I was trying to say is that (and I know you hate this line of thinking) that there is a strong element of blue-state elites vs. Arkansas Baptist super-rich conflict in these stories. I kept waiting for it to surface. I think there are LOTS of other things to debate about Wal-Mart (the global impact story is emerging, for example).

    But I would bet the moon and the stars that issues of morality and culture did come up at that conference.

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