As so many of my blogging friends are involved in online giveaways or work as brand enthusiasts, is it becoming difficult to make jokes about these companies.  I have friends with “business” connections to vibrator manufacturers to Butterball Turkey to Kmart to Hebrew National Hot Dogs.  If I make a joke about one of these products, I might actually be hurting a friend’s livelihood, or at least a free trip to Disneyland.  I try to be respectful, although in my opinion, the personal and promotional go together as well as olive oil and cheez whiz.

On Twitter, there are these weekly conversations, called Girl’s Night Out, which are sponsored by a company.  A few weeks ago, it was a night of chatting sponsored by Crayola.  Every tweet had the hashtag #crayola, so my Twitter timeline was filled with #crayola hastags, even if the discussion at the moment was about something unrelated, like the latest episode of Project Runway. I found this incongruity funny, but when I made a joke about my own childhood experience using Crayola Crayons, no one seemed amused.  Why?  Because I actually talked about Crayola Crayons, not the point of the event, which was to promote some new for-school products by the company!

I understand the interest in working with corporate America, and not biting the hand that feeds you, but there is something wrong in the world when we become more respectful of a crayon company, at least in terms of humor, than the average person on the street.

I noticed this attitude  in many of the BlogHer recaps, particularly those written by corporate or PR bloggers.  The villains were always the trailer trash moms,  who threw babies against the wall in a rush to get at the swag, and never the classy marketing-savvy ones who fit a certain demographic, and were better connected to the bigger companies.  There was a great deal of humor made at the expense of these mothers, who would do anything to grab another freebie, as if they were shopping on the day before Christmas.

I was surprised how few people joked about the other side of the coin — the corporate circus, the companies all over the place, those who created the swag, sponsored the parties, built the huge statues of Ragu bottles in the dining room, or had the Michelin man tumbling around the lobby like a scene out of Ghostbusters.  I found that extremely funny.  But at the end, no one talked about the corporations, or the marketers, or the PR firms.  The laughing stock were the clueless “mommybloggers,” average women on a weekend away from the kids, who got caught up in the chaos, and now had to be reigned in under Integrity.

I was reminded of this experience at BlogHer when I read some of your Tweets about the immensely popular viral site, The People of Walmart.

Now, granted, Walmart is a “hated” institution, a symbol of America gone wrong.  Whether Walmart deserves this label is debatable.  There is evidence that, everyone’s favorite big-box store, Target, is not much better of a corporation, but just seems more sophisticated because they carry Michael Graves tea kettles.

What is interesting about this site, is that it isn’t about Walmart at all, or their corporate policies.  That would be too political, and would raise some uncomfortable questions that would affect all of us.   No, the site makes fun of the patrons — usually small town residents who have nowhere else to shop.   And not just ANY small town residents, but those crazy enough to walk into the store dressed terribly, or wearing Captain America outfits.  Basically, this site is making fun of poor, uneducated, and mentally unbalanced America in small town America with no other resources but to go to Walmart!


This is a much different take on “freaks” than the photos of one of my favorite photographers, Diane Arbus, who presented her subjects in with a loving, humanistic manner.arbus

“Hilarious”  “Funny”  “I love it!”  That’s what some of you had to say about The People of Walmart.

Rule number one of Blogging with Integrity:  I treat others respectfully, attacking ideas and not people.

Of course, it is OK to make fun of those at Walmart because most of them don’t have computers or blog or Tweet, so they will never know that we are laughing at their photos taken WITHOUT their permission and plastered online for our amusement.

Just as long as we don’t make fun of Kashi Go Lean Crunch! because a friend of a friend is doing a giveaway.

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61 Responses to Freaks

  1. I don’t get the appeal of the people of walmart site, as I said on Twitter a few days ago. It’s just not funny, plus the site design is crappy.

    I have an uncle who is mild to moderately retarded but it’s hard to tell just by looking at his face. Should someone post a picture of him because he’s overweight and will wear knee socks with shorts? You can’t assume someone isn’t retarded just because they don’t look retarded.

    Anyway, my problem with people of walmart isn’t all about whether someone is mentally ill or not. It’s also about a loss of humanity.

  2. Hilly says:

    In the last week on the site, I have seen a woman wearing the bicycle shorts that Finn mentioned, a woman wearing a skirt that doesn’t cover her underwear as well as a woman wearing a swastika t-shirt. The site isn’t poking fun of these people because they are fat, mentally handicapped or any other type of reason that I normally would rally against.

    I also don’t think this is a slap in the face of the social construct either. There are plenty of poor people who do NOT dress like some of these individuals and plenty of people with money who do. Also, there are people who are poor who refuse to shop at WalMart and those who have money who just love the store to death.

    I think, in order to be fair, we should think about those things. I’m in no way worried about ever having a secret snapshot of me submitted to this site because I would never ever ever ever wear the things these people do and again, like Finn has already said, nobody is going to take a picture of my bad hair day.

    With that said, I do feel bad for people because pictures of them are being put on a website without their knowledge however that is about the only negative reason that I can come up with.

  3. anymommy says:

    Always making us think, Neil, thanks for that, it hurts my brain a little. The Wal-mart site does make me uncomfortable, for the reason you suggest. These people don’t know they are being photographed and mocked. But, then again, I delight in TMZ, which is pure mean-spirited celebrity mocking. Does the whole “putting yourself out there” distinction work? I don’t know.

    I did feel uncomfortable about all the mocking of ‘greedy mommy bloggers’ at BlogHer and the (maybe slightly self-righteous) “I didn’t care about the swag” posts. I can say that because I wrote one and I wrote it from the heart. I wondered about what it would mean to cover the cost of a trip like that with gifts. To need to make up some of the cost.

    I’m rambling, but I appreciated this post.

  4. Heather says:

    I totally agree with you Neil. I haven’t hit up the “People of Walmart” site, mainly cause it just seems cruel & unnecessary. I don’t really shop at WalMart unless I ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO for more than one reason.

    That being said, I’ve been known to snap a pic at work of someone dressed inappropriately and tweet it for my followers to see, so I kind of feel hypocritical for saying the stuff above. I just couldn’t see myself taking pics of people at WalMart and laughing about it.

    Excellent post, my friend.

  5. You are posting like a house on fire. How can I keep up? This post is my favorite ever. Yes, yes, yes.

  6. badgermama says:

    Wow, great post. I agree and think a lot of people are too quick to laugh at classist humor…

  7. tara says:

    well put. thank you!

  8. Jett says:

    I could kiss you on the mouth for this post.

  9. Nat says:

    You’ve demonstrated one of the main reasons I love your blog – you poke fun at ideas or society but not people. It’s something I try to avoid on a daily basis when everyone around me is in full cynical mocking mode. It’s why I have that Vonnegut quote on my blog. I love this post.

  10. As someone who has vague hopes of shamelessly whoring out her blog in any attempt to score some free swag, I appreciate the view into how it looks from the outside. I’m the kind of person who’s always kicking myself for not being more aggressive and keeping my ‘eye on the prize.’ I’m usually the one standing there jealously watching some grabby whore turning their back on whoever’s clutches they just snatched their prize from.
    On the other hand, I don’t want to become boring, with shill after shill, with a pathetic and minimal attempt at a ‘review': [3 paragraphs clearly copied from the sponsor’s jargon]… “and we really love it.”
    So far I’ve not been inundated with corporate sponsors (*sigh*) but a girl can dream!
    And sometimes it’s hard to resist… and just take a big chomp out of the hand that feeds you! My daughter seems to delight in it! But… erm… Kashi Go Lean is very yummy!
    Ludicrous Mama posted Operation- McDont!

  11. Pingback: Storytelling and Ideology | Citizen of the Month

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