Monday, October 02, 2006

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005)

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (Robert Greenwald, 2005)

An anti-Wal-Mart protester compares Wal-Mart's dawning on the town of Inglewood, California with Godzilla's destructive invasion of Tokyo. It's not really an accurate metaphor for Wal-Mart's destructive forces. I have a soft spot for the oversized reptile. Godzilla is also a victim despite looking like a heartless monster. Wal-Mart, based on political documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, is nothing but a vicious victimizer, descending on little American communities, exciting consumers with its bargain prices bought by a Faustian contract with the demon of greed.

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price is obviously one-sided. The documentary doesn't give any opportunity for the Wal-Mart management to air their side. I doubt the management will ever give their side, at least not in Greenwald's documentary. Greenwald's allegations, aside from the typical aftereffects, like the closing down of small time shops because of impossible competition, of gargantuan retail corporations landing a pimp spot in any locale, is of immense damaging potential that retaliation from the management would only seem futile and conveniently rehearsed. Actually, Wal-Mart management indeed lends a voice to Greenwald's striking documentary. The film opens with Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott in an archive footage excitedly wowing a crowd of Wal-Mart associates with opportunities of earning more. The film also contains several of the glossy and equally sleazy inaccurate Wal-Mart commercials Greenwald makes use as a sort of divider to his documentary's many issues, and as a target for stirring yet humorous sarcasm.

Greenwald's attacks range from the obvious to the real eye-openers. Greenwald makes an obvious effort to put a human face on the several businesses that Wal-Mart forcedly closes. It's an emotional touch to an already tired issue that Greenwald seems to be mightily concerned with, and as that, rejuvinates the point with a more humanist rather than an economic concern. Then Greenwald mostly centers on Wal-Mart's deliberate labor abuses, both in America and its foreign factories. Wal-Mart's concern against labor unions and any similar activities is quite distressing --- the way they spend an amount of money for security cameras to detect union activities within their premises, but neglects any security spending for their very own customers; the way they hire multitudes to hinder an impending labor voting. Greenwald tries to connect sexual and racial discrimination in the Wal-Mart workplace with the management's seeming lack of concern for such. It's kind of ill-placed in the documentary but is still nevertheless very telling.

Overall, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price is compelling stuff. It adds more insult to injury that Greenwald makes use of former employees (even some of those who have spend a quarter of a lifetime working for the retail corporation) who have become disgruntled of Wal-Mart's inhumane ways. Greenwald even makes his way to China and other offshore sweatshops to put a human story to the often told tale of sweatshop workers laboring for a fraction of a dollar per hour. It's amazing research work and Greenwald puts all the stuff together in coherent and scandalizing fashion. With the immense difference between the cost of the products sold and the actual cost for their manufacture, you can't help but wonder what happens to the more than one thousand percent profit being made. Greenwald doesn't let the major culprits get away without being smeared like their unjust corporate vehicle: The Walton Family and its boisterous mouth Lee Scott get majority of the profits to fund their anti-apocalypse bunker and a fleet of jet planes and helicopters.

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