RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Wal-Mart's Bunker Mentality

Much of the information in the film Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices was familiar. I live in a region that's been Wal-Martianized, and I know about the vacant downtown, the low wages, part-time jobs, taxpayer subsidies and the large store abandoned when the humongous store is built. I know people who can't find better jobs than Wal-Mart, and I can see the shuttered factories.

Besides that direct experience, I've read about the Wal-Mart-China connection and the growing US trade deficit with China -- $200 billion-plus in 2005. And I hear often from friends in trouble with credit card debt, their folks or themselves choosing between food, rent and credit card interest payments.

That's the worst part: the growing disparity between rich and poor in America, especially among the twenty-somethings, and the boastful claims that suggest that losers as well as winners are part of the magic of our system. It's like we're living a nonstop shell game in a 24-hour casino. Rigged, yes, but lit with the most seductive neon light.

Two of the Walton heiresses have castles in the next town. We used to drive past one of the estates frequently, but she had the road moved so we can't see it anymore. Her horse display was fun to see back in the old days.

Anyway, I've seen the high-cost, low-price film a couple of times and there's some stuff missing. Like, what about the Walton offspring that paid others to do her schoolwork in college, then had to give the degree back? What kind of loser does that?

And the film showed how Wal-Mart plots to keep out unions, but what about the stores in Quebec that Wal-Mart closed when the unions were successful? And what about the way Wal-Mart strategizes to change international laws and treaties to impose itself in countries where it has been resisted?

So the film didn't go far enough. In fact, the only part that made me sit up in surprise is the shot, from far away, of the Walton family bunker in Arkansas. Bunker? Bunker!

A voiceover suggests that the bunker is built to protect the family in case of apocalypse. But why would anyone, especially a born-again American Republican, be afraid of apocalypse? If you think you're good, don't you believe you'll head skyward, body and soul, when it happens? And, if you're bad, why would you want to hide in a bunker, then emerge for the cleanup committee?

I mean, really, who has a bunker? Saddam Hussein. Adolf Hitler.

Maybe some people, like the US Congress, have bunkers because they think the world can't go on without them. So you have two kinds of bunker owners: the fearful and the arrogant.

Put the sci-fi writers on notice: Bunkers are the new spaceship, the new time machine, the new egg in the desert. And there are your Adam and Eve: The Walton descendants and the children of the US Congress.

Here's the scenario: If you own a whole string of Sam's Clubs, you could stockpile enough stuff to last for years. Canned soup. Velveeta. Raisin Bran. Crayons and plastic containers to collect them. Reruns of The Waltons, to jump-start the future mythology. I-pods and diamonds and calculators and oil. Tanks of oil.

And think of the people you could take in with you. Your family, of course, and your best friends. And you'd want someone clever with technology, and a teacher for the kids, and some Merry Maids and the Roto Rooter guy. Dogs, lots of dogs, and horses and gardeners. Someone to empty the mouse traps. Someone who knows how to start pumps when there's a flood.

Because it's a bunker and you have no idea how long you'd be there, there'd be births and deaths, so you'd need plenty of Pampers and embalming fluid and someone to manage the births and deaths. And there'd be hidden cameras on the roof so you could see what's going on outside and know when it was safe.

But then, just think, when it was safe, your family would be the only ones left. You'd drive out in the Hummer with your guns and your cameras and it would be a brave new world. It would be hoped that your bunker race had evolved enough to breathe in whatever atmosphere there is and drink whatever runs in the creeks, but maybe evolved isn't the right word. The generation that emerges might be completely innocent of the fact that there was ever a theory called "evolution."

So change "evolved" to "blessed." As in, "Have a blessed day," the new way to say adieu.

Enough. You get the picture.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email

From The Progressive Populist, Feb. 1, 2006

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