Skip to content

Are you one of ‘those people’?

Oh, endless cyberspace, you’ve outdone yourself. Take a look. Atrocious, isn’t it? It’s the website of a FoxNews affiliate showing a slideshow of images taken from a website called ‘walmartpeople‘ (and I found it over Buzzfeed, and you found it at postmodernize.com, but at some point all chains of agency have to stop at the unmoved mover, don’t they?). Before picking this apart, we’re gonna veer off before coming back. Bear with me.

Over at The New Inquiry (great site), Rob Horning wrote up a talk he gave fairly recently. The ideas are layered and complex, not to say circuitous, but the basic idea is that 1) in the information economy, attention is currency; 2) participating in social media regularly gives people a kind of microfame; 3) this microfame is measured, of course, in attention; 4) the pulses of attention social media provides regular participants is comparable to the juice/action that compulsive gamblers get from laying a stake on the table; 5) just as problem gamblers will eventually end up selling heirlooms for more action when the disposable income runs out, the microfame of social media junkies compels them to divulge ever more and ever more questionable and intimate information about themselves to keep getting the pay out. More prosaically, 1) teen-age girl uploads a normal profile pic, and somebody says she’s pretty, and she feels like a triple-digit gift certificate. 2) She uploads pictures of herself in church clothes in front of church with her parents, and only her grandma ‘likes’ the picture. The positive feedback from her peers is missing, which is feedback in itself. 3) She uploads pictures of herself in a bikini at the lake with her family, and the attention starts flowing back in. 4) Skyping with her friends, somebody says she’s hot and tells her to flash. She does. 5) Screenshot, retweet, young life totally ruined for evar! 6) Best case = she goes off to join the peace corps in a couple of years somewhere the Internet hasn’t reached yet, good luck; probable case = she goes off to college in a couple of years, there’s more similar behaviour, and she winds up a divorcee who can’t look at her gas range without regretting that she never made the bastard shell out for a Viking; worst case = crack pipe with the kids in the skids and/or suicide.

Perhaps a more apt analogy than the gambler is the crack whore, whom you’re welcome to call a sex worker with substance abuse issues, if you think that makes the world better in any way. You get a high, and you need to chase the high, so you go out and peddle yourself for whatever you can get. Sometimes you get a tip, and sometimes you get bruised and beaten for doing the same thing that was fine last time. It’s a dangerously sensational metaphor, but the shoe fits too well to take it off.

And now let’s return to the ‘Walmart people’. For the record, I don’t enjoy unkempt butt cracks any more than the next Guy, and I know about as much about ‘fashion’ as Hippocrates knew about ADHD, but I can’t imagine the sense of aesthetic appreciation that would lead many of the people in these pictures to dress as they do. As for the parents whose kids are guzzling motor oil in the buggy while the parents are comparing ceiling fans, some of them are sure to be absolutely terrible parents with no excuse. Still, we can probably agree that none of us can gather enough information from these pictures to identify any of the subjects as ‘Walmart people’. Walmart is hardly another planet, and if you’re paying a premium for locally produced toilet paper made of recycled coffee filters (100% Arabica only) and old silk stockings, you’re at grave risk of having a snarky future post pointed your way. Shopping at Walmart is not a sin. As for appearance and parenting skills in a given moment of time on a given day, let’s admit that we just don’t know enough to laugh. You might be witnessing a private tragedy, or some coping strategy to prevent one, and there but for the grace of compound interest go I. Can we agree that, just by virtue of being at a certain place and a certain time with a certain mullet, none of these people have done anything wrong? No? You’re a jerk. How about now? Okay.

So the Walmart people are objects of ridicule, but they haven’t done anything wrong. There’s injustice, and somebody is at fault. Ready super sleuths? Let’s start at the bottom of the food chain: walmartpeople.com. Not only did these sons of ETF managers base their website on the principle of making a spectacle of people just going about their day, they coined the term ‘Walmart people’ to brand the ridicule. Looking silly isn’t just a sin, it’s a product – with a name – which you know – and it’s made of people. Bastards all.

But wait a tic. Why would anybody sink so low? Turn off your AdBlock and you’ll see. They’re doing it to sell you depleted uranium shells, chocolate flavoured laxatives, and home-bunker building kits, or whatever AdSense says is right for you. (Largely unrelated discovery that tells you a lot about the world: MSWord’s dictionary recognizes ‘AdSense’ as a word, but not AdBlock – Game Over. Please insert coin.) That’s the logic of the commercial Internet, and pop communication generally while we’re at it, but remember your scripture: who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him? Considering that FoxNews is parasitic onwalmartpeople.com, and buzzfeed is parasitic on FoxNews,* does the burden of guilt accumulate with each link in the chain? And if you’re consuming any of them, making you the one holding the hot potato, aren’t you the source of all evil?

Yes and no. Yes, because you are feeding the monkey and none of this could happen without you, but you’d probably be just as happily entertained by videos of cats playing the piano, amirite? That’s an error of omission, of not thinking about what you’re doing, not about actually going out and making anybody more undeservingly miserable than they were an hour ago. Do better, but you’re provisionally absolved.** Anyway, there’s a viler, baser, scummier batch of knaves to draw and quarter. But who?

Remember that microfame business up above? High > craving > desperate act > attention > self-destruction? What was all that about anyway? Well, if microfame is like hooking for drugs, what could be worse? The ‘Walmart people’ get the ridicule of negative attention that eventually comes from microfame, but importantly they didn’t take pictures of themselves buying toilet paper and post them for somebody else to make good coin on Viagra ads – presumably.*** That’s right, what’s worse is the pimps of microfame. The villains of our story are the wretched turds with the cameras in their hands: the micropaparazzi. Here’s the error of commission, the wilful debasement of other people. There might not ever be a good reason to do that, but you can bet that ‘I had to! I’m the guy who took the picture! This proves I have good taste, I have a good eye, I’m quick on the draw, and I’m practically famous!” will not convince anybody worth talking to.

So put away your camera and stop taking pictures of strangers. Unless you can help them, leave them be; it’s none of our damn business.

*NB: See those ads next to this premium content. No? Turn off your AdBlock. Just for a sec. See ‘em now?

**Who made me judge, fit to pronounce absolution? You tell me.

***Here’s some provisional evidence that might indicate some walmart people are pissed off about the pictures. But there’s another reading: going meta and talking about the shame is a way of getting the next microfame buzz. It would be like the teenage girl posting a picture of herself on facebook with a caption like “Don’t look at me. I’m ugly.” If you think that interpretation is a stretch, looky here. How do you explain that? And if microfame has gotten this bad, well, I’m afraid there’s not much left to hope for.

Categories: Communications & Media Studies, Pop Culture, Uncategorized.

But wait, there's more! Follow @PoMoDotCom or subscribe to our feed.

Comment Feed

8 Responses

  1. I think there’s a special shame in store for the mommy-bloggers that pimp out their children for microfame and free products. The self-destruction that will surely follow those children when their peers uncover those unflattering pictures and stories will be terrible to behold. Childhood is difficult enough without such things.

    I also think it’s interesting to examine the perspective of the camera-wielders and their rationalizations. This is the narcissistic response at work, protecting the ego by denying responsibility for one’s own actions. “I did something I know is wrong, but I’m not a bad person, so it must not be wrong or I must not be responsible.”

  2. As for the second point about the rationalizations, I think the branding plays a big role. If the site were called ‘single-mothers shopping’ or ‘casualties of welfare’ or something else to remind Apple-worshipping democrats of the pathos they’re supposed to feel, it would be pitiful instead of humourous. But ‘walmart people’ almost seems like it describes a species, like calling them Morlocks, that allows the people taking and uploading the pictures to distance themselves from these Others. If walmart people were defined by the act of shopping at walmart, and you were there refilling your supplies of sugary drinks and iphone accessories when you took the picture, then you too are walmart people. But if ‘walmart people’ is a label of identity independent of behaviour (making it indelible), like ‘coloured’ or WASP, then you can be shopping at walmart without being walmart people, which allows you to mock and debase them.

  3. I hadn’t thought about it until your response (because I am slow); this makes the appeal of taking pictures and posting them up obvious even for me; it’s the way the camera-wielders achieve more distance from the Walmart people. The branding was already there to some extent, the addition of posting mocking pictures to the internet just serves as reinforcing evidence to themselves.

    “I have to shop here for those low low prices on all the iphone accessories, but now I can *prove* how separate I am from these other slobs!”

  4. Interesting read! I even got lost reading related articles.

    I enjoyed that you used the phrase “feeding the monkey,” because I had a few primate-themed thoughts I wanted to share with you.

    I recently read a book about a neuroscientist who studied particular baboon troops in Africa for decades, measuring their physical stress levels while observing correlations between stress, behavior, and rank. Within the rank, alphas experienced less stress than their lower-ranking counterparts. And basically, since stress is a hormonal survival response generally experienced in most mammals during extreme situations of predation or where life is on the line, and since baboons and humans alike generally live comfortably enough to rarely experience these physical stress triggers, they create stress for themselves and each other psychosomatically and psychologically in their complex social hierarchies. The author referred to our distant cousins as “sneaky, back-stabbing Machiavellian bastards”. He also observed that baboon terrorizing moved down the line from alpha, to lesser alpha, to female, to juvenile, and so on.

    Perhaps humans inherently posses the tendency to be sneaky, back-stabbing Machiavellian bastards, and we’ve just taken it to a new medium. A medium where anonymity allows even those who are typically more timid to take advantage of any opportunity imaginable to feel a little more ‘alpha'; from taking the picture, to enjoying the ones others have taken.

    And as you pointed out…what do you know? There are alphas on top in control of all the mayhem and running it down the line in a fucked up game of asshole dominoes, making money off of the entire thing. Maybe walmartpeople’s success is not only about distance or branding, but it’s a testament to our evolutionary ancestry, becoming more complex as our hierarchies become more complex…in conjunction with technological advancement and the prominence of social networking.

    Also. Is it bad that I laughed about FrugalStoic’s use of the term “Morlock”?

    And on a sidenote, I wonder what kind of response you would get get if you posted this on Reddit. They freak the fuck out when their debasement gets chastised.

  5. I think some of my colleagues do have some kind of Reddit thread (subreddit?) going on these posts. I’m not a redditeer, though, so I’ll leave them to wallow or steam as they see fit.

    The Machiavellian bastards idea reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend about ‘the Walking Dead’ in the middle of season 2. He was disappointed about how the show wasn’t engaging with how order would be reestablished after a catastrophe like the zombie apocalypse with governance structures and stuff. He wanted to see something like Aunty Entity & the Thunderdome or at least a bunch of people listening to a conch. I was trying to tell him that the show was presenting a model of post-apocalyptic governance structures. They’re small-scale, and they have a lot to do with guns and Y-chromosomes, but they’re there. Even ‘The Road’ presented a model of governance structures, even if the verdict was pretty much ‘Hobbes’s anarchy is for pussies’.

    I got a problem with the word ‘inherently’, though. What, we got no choice? We’re hard-wired to be jerks or doormats? No, if you can reflect on what you’re doing, you’re responsible for it. How about humans as primates that are inherently obligated not to be jerks, because they know what jerks are?

  6. People hate us on Reddit. Hate. Your article has negative 8 votes or something. I thought the only way to get negative 8 is to post scat porn, but walmart people gets you off just as good.

    And I’ll just stay out of any evolutionary-based discussion.

Got insight?

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] drunk and my neurons love to tango, here’s a question: would you fall in micro-love with the fat guy at walmart? In that fantasy of yours, does the starbucks guy happen to be cute, slightly hipster but not too […]

  2. […] may have been a time when the fact mattered more than the image. But that time is gone. Everybody gets assigned a role, and once you’ve been typecast, you better follow your character’s arc. Otherwise, how is […]