Now, not exactly being an Adonis myself, I approach such matters with trepidation, and an odd feeling that I may turn up in one of those very pictures (although my visits to WalMart are thankfully extremely rare), however so far, so good. The picture above is one such online illustration of distressing ...well distressing everything, really....I just wanted to give you an idea of the kind of thing we're talking about.
My son has recently started his first ever job at our local WalMart, and as a result I have been spending a lot more time in the parking lot than I am used to. This has allowed me to - at least to a small degree - investigate the likelihood of the aforementioned website and pictures being representative of the customers frequenting the world's largest retailers. I've never really paid much attention to it before because it's not a subject that has ever warranted me spending time to look into. Now, as I wait for my firstborn to emerge from the massive concrete block, I am presented with a free oportunity to observe.
So far, the results have been encouraging (in one sense; deeply depressing in another); I have on each occasion observed some fascinating vignettes unfolding before me as family squabbles, lover's tiffs and simply walking exhibitions of strangeness have made their way past the front of my car. The standard of dress alone is something which promises to substantiate the claims of the website - in a relatively short total period of time I have already seen a disproportionate number of strange, very strange and almost disgusting outfits come and go through those famous portals.
I am trying to work out why this must be - without resorting to an instinctive stereotyping habit (which I believe I share with a majority of people) - I mean logically there should be no reason why WM seems to be frequented by a higher proprtion than normal of 'odd' people. The website (you'll notice I'm not including a link; I feel bad enough about visiting it once myself - you'll have to find it on your own) gleefully illustrates this phenomenon although it is blindingly obvious that the more extreme examples of outrageous attire and behaviour are being exhibited by people who are suffering from cognitive or emotional illnesses. In those cases I simply feel sad, and not remotely titillated or amused.
The majority of folks seem to be at the 'eccentric' end of the spectrum, however, and it's this group that intrigues me. Is WM really their store of choice, and if so, I wonder why? Does WM's advertising strike a chord with this group to a greater degree than others? Certainly, walking around my favoured supermarkets and department stores, I very, very rarely encounter the kind of strangeness that I see on every (admittedly months-apart) tour of my local WM (typically I go there for cheap T shirts). It's as if WM is some kind of 'weird' magnet that attracts the eccentric elements of society with a weird, invisble force.
One possibility strikes me as the most likely - and it's an uncomfortable one to verbalize. My experiences lead me to believe that the 'different' among us (and I realise that I'm somewhere on that spectrum too) tend to become somewhat polarized in western society - pushed to one end or the other of the social hierarchy. At one end we have the 'mentally ill' who struggle mightily from day to day, and at the other we have the Donald Trumps of the world (whom, I feel, would benefit a great deal from a bit of struggling); bizarre, shallow personalities who seem to succeed because they are courted by the media for their very strangeness. It is the strugglers I believe we see at WM. Society (especially in North America) offers them few crumbs of assistance, and daily life can be desperately hard. I dipped my toe into that world once when due to unforeseen circumstances (I'm protecting someone's privacy, hence the vagueness) my personal life all but collapsed around me and I feared that I might lose my children to the state.
I was able, by clinging on to my sanity, to drag myself out of that particular pit, however for so many people the walls are too steep to climb, and they find themselves in the bottom with no obvious means of escape. Such people tend to occupy the lower income groups of our society simply because holding down a job of any kind becomes very difficult. I have only an inkling of how terrifying it can be to feel trapped in that way - it scared me so much I jumped out of the hole and kept running. For so many, however, there is no way out and struggling is simply all that's left.
WalMart - and I'm not implying any deliberate intent here - seems to offer such folks an attractive environment of cheapness - somewhere where they can more affordably obtain 'stuff' (even if it's crap that falls apart after two weeks), and therefore feel a little more like they belong to society than they might otherwise do. The only other place I see similar gatherings of 'different' people is at thrift stores (by the way, if you haven't been to a thrift store lately, you're missing out on a fantastic opportunity to recycle and find awesome bargains at the same time). It's a shame that 'stuff' has such importance, but that's the western world we live in...and I'm hopeful that the strange, weird and very probably wonderful people I see at WM get enough out of their visits to the emporia of cheapness to feel good for as long as they need to. Nice job, WalMart!