Thursday, September 10, 2009

Attention rural Wal-Mart shoppers

When a more-cruel-than-humorous website mocking Wal-Mart shoppers went viral last week, the sheer volume of visitors crashed the site's server. The premise of the site is simple: photographs of "out-of-shape, poorly dressed and otherwise awkward" Wal-Mart shoppers are posted on daily basis, along with biting commentary and visitor comments. The website is intended to be a comical gag, a humorous and entertaining look at people who, according to the website, "obviously don’t have mirrors."

The humor is not appreciated by everyone, however, including rural strategists who say that "the site goes out of its way to mock poor and rural patrons of the store, reinforcing stereotypes along the way." The website certainly smacks of classism, with the photos portraying the poor and rural as immoral, unfit, lazy, dirty, and uncivilized.
"American culture likes to single out people who appear to be different," said Tim Marema, vice president of the Whitesburg, Kentucky-based Center for Rural Strategies. "Whether it's a joke or not, all depends on which side of the camera you're on."

Furthering stereotypes can strengthen the rifts between rural, urban and suburban residents and, in the worst-case scenario, can affect the way some people are treated by government and industry, he said.
Interestingly, the site publishes only the state in which each photograph was taken, providing no additional geographic information. Since Wal-Mart stores are nearly identical inside, the notion that any given shopper is a rural resident is largely conjecture (a guy with a mullet? Must be rural! A couple in matching shirts emblazoned with the American Flag? Must be rural! A live goat walking down the frozen food aisle? Definitely must be rural!).

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