After Thursday’s class on symbols and ritual, specifically the question “can symbols silence?”, I started doing some further research on Wal-Mart. We all remember the symbol of the large yellow smilie face, bouncing around the store slashing prices and bringing a smile to the faces of both the employees and the consumers, making sure those price cuts just “keep rollin”. The smile symbol seems to be expressing the joy and pleasure both the customers and employees feel while shopping or working at one of the 8,000+ locations around the globe. In a sense, this symbol was acting in a silencing manor by inadvertently speaking on behalf of their consumers.
The Wal-mart symbol is significant to me because it embodies the idea of consumer culture. Even now, with their new yellow “spark” logo, the aesthetic that Wal-mart provides a breeding ground for attention to quantity over quality and inequality over equality. It embodies the idea of society performing as selfless consumers. Each year we see numerous lawsuits and news stories relating to Wal-mart and sexual harassment, subpar salaries, and violation of child labor laws (and these are only the stories large enough to make the news.) The symbol is powerful enough to choose which aspects of the company to make visible (price cuts and store abundance) yet it can also choose what aspects should remain invisible (child labor law violations, etc.) Luckily the horrific elements of the business have started to be revealed to the public over the past years, however even with a large amount of the public becoming aware of the numerous immoral and unjust decisions made by the company, Wal-mart continues to grow and prosper with each new year.
Does saving money at the expense of violating another’s human rights really constitute living better?