Wal-Mart’s Billions and the Art Museum of Cruelty: A Christmas Carol

  #occupywalmart

Ha ha, the working poor!Here is a number we’ve seen bouncing around this week that really makes us want to fire up the old Yule Log, in the sense that the “Yule Log” is a tightly bound human centipede of the richest hundred humans in America, lit on fire: The six heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune have about $93 billion between them, more money and financial assets than the combined 100,000,000 Americans at the bottom of our crushing economic system. With half of all Americans now officially poor or “near poor” — which is somehow worse than plain poverty, as “near poor” means you don’t qualify for the minimal safety net this country generously offers some of its most desperate people — it is not a complete surprise that the rich must be very rich indeed these days. But the idea of six heirs to a corporate fortune built upon the destruction of American manufacturing, American small business and the American working class owning more than 30% of the entire nation, well that is the kind of thing that makes us think of Charles Dickens, and the holiday of abject misery and constant war against the impoverished called “Christmastime.”

We saw a disturbing full-page ad in the New Yorker last week, showing a banal modernist structure in the Ozark woods, and at first we thought it was another evil marketing campaign trying to sell some earth-rapist brand as “green” or whatever, but then we noticed it was an art museum, in Arkansas, yet advertised to the affluent, culture-vulture readers of the New Yorker, and immediately there was this feeling of nausea because obviously this was some Sam Walton descendent trying to buy some social credibility by dumping a billion dollars into the inflated art market of the world’s bored billionaires.

Asher B. Durand's 'Kindred Spirits' ... now why would a Walmart billionaire even want to see such a thing, let alone buy it for her vulgar status building in Arkansas? Oh right, for 'vulgar status, in Arkansas.'Then there’s the museum itself, “Crystal Bridges,” built in an Arkansas gulch behind Wal-Mart’s headquarters and funded by a $675 million Wal-Mart endowment. This is the same company that just announced it will no longer sell health care coverage to its hundreds of thousands of laborers who can’t get more than 25 hours of work each week, and has substantially raised the premiums on its already squeezed low-wage full-time employees. The average Wal-Mart employee makes less than nine dollars an hour, or $352.40 per week gross. It is no wonder that Wal-Mart leads the nation in having employees who require public assistance — welfare, food stamps, medical aid — in order to survive.

Alice Walton bought herself a repugnant temple to her own inherited wealth and the American Dream her wretched family helped destroy.

It is filled with American paintings, because the Waltons can at least be relied upon to be jingoistic nationalists. Where else could six heirs to a brutal retail megamarket’s founders own more than a third of the nation, simply for their luck in being born to the Right People? Where else could a business that has done more than any other business to cheapen and scar the entire American landscape then turn around and throw nearly a billion dollars at a fine art museum dedicated to natural American landscapes? What a country!

The day is coming soon when the “Ghost of Christmas Past” (enraged armies of impoverished Wal-Mart workers) will appear at the bedside of Alice Walton, but then the story is going to switch over to A Tale of Two Cities … the Paris part, not the London part.

Wal-Mart needs to be run out of business, its awful stores razed, the building materials recycled, the profits distributed to the millions of workers broken by Sam Walton’s monstrous, frothing greed. Its headquarters must be destroyed, its vulgar museum leveled, and the American masterpieces within distributed to local libraries. If the Wal-Mart buildings weren’t such awful assaults upon the eye and soul and land, they too might be re-used as museums for the people, indoor gardens, roller-skating rinks, whatever. But they are irredeemable. They, like the half-dozen Walton heirs with their $93 billion of ill-gotten inheritance, must be torn down. For Jesus … for Christmas! [Bloomberg/Cryptogon/Berkeley Blog]

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193 comments

  1. nounverb911

    In keeping with family tradition, Alice Walton off-shored the museum's design to a Canadian architect.

    1. DocChaos

      But dental coverage got cheaper due to lack of teeth.

      How do you know the toothbrush was invented in W. Virginia?

      Anyplace else it would have been called a teethbrush.

    1. Swampgas_Man

      And baby, after working there for 2½ years, I NEEDED those antidepressants. Too bad I couldn't afford them anymore.

      1. paris biltong

        OK, but with all due respect, there's a difference between wealth (assets) and revenue (GDP). In other words, they may not be able to buy Morocco or Vietnam but have more money that the combined revenues of the entire population of either country.

    1. prommie

      I have a stockpile of rope, and I know the locations of many trees with stout limbs, just saying. . . . .

    2. Sassomatic

      Read an article about this sometime back, in n+1 I think. People literally begged her not to call it that. But she was like, whatever my money my art my shitty name and I'm keeping it.

  2. memzilla

    Not to mention the Chinese slave-wage labor employed in manufacturing the cheap crap sold by Walmart's slave-wage labor. Funny how this cycle perpetuates the repressive regimes in both China and Walmart.

    Communism and capitalism — perfect together!

    1. Biel_ze_Bubba

      When you think about how much cheap Chinese-made crap you have to sell to accumulate almost 100 billion dollars … it really is quite impressive.

    1. Loaded_Pants

      Died/tasered/pepper-sprayed for one of those cheapo TVs or a $2 waffle iron.

      Seriously, though, how would you feel if you got a friggin' waffle iron (which you'd probably use only once, if at all) as a gift that you know the giver probably paid just two lousy bucks for. If I got such a gift, I'd be thinking "Fuck you, just get me a gift card next time, you cheap psycho…"

  3. Local_Mojo

    But the money behind places like Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Vanderbilt or Duke — and the Northeastern museums — all came from selling kittens.

      1. JustPixelz

        "If eating some kitten is what it takes to build a great university, then I stand behind no man in support of higher education."

        Next Chopped secret basket: hot oil, whipped cream, rose petals, kitten.

        Try the Colonel's Kentury Fried Kitten. "It's finger lickin' good!"

        1. poncho_pilot

          actually, as an owner of three cats, i could never eat one. dogs on the other hand? if i wasn't allergic to them they'd be fair game. get it? game!

    1. V572 the Merciless

      These things are more tasteful when they were done years ago. Just ask any worker who got his flesh seared off by hot slag in one of Carnegie's steel mills how much he enjoys going to those handsome libraries ol' Andrew bankrolled in cities and towns across US America. Old Money > New Money. 'Twas ever thus.

    2. Ken Layne

      Harvard is a private college, but it was created by the Massachusetts legislature at a time when all colleges were private. Otherwise, yeah, there's nothing new about the oligarchs creating cultural institutions in their name, using the wealth made from exploiting workers and natural resources that belong to the commons.

      But there is at least some honor in creating great universities. Building a fucking elitist art warehouse behind your corporate headquarters in Arkansas is one of the biggest fuck yous the rich have ever done to America.

    3. tessiee

      "Buck" Duke wanted to buy Princeton, except that he wanted them to change the name to Duke University, after which I imagine they fell on the floor laughing a la "You Want it When?". Since they wouldn't go along with it, he decided to go build his own "college".

    4. jaytingle

      How many scholarships will Crystal Cathedral [sic] be offering? I would expect the concentrations of study will be wall-building and private security.

  4. edgydrifter

    I predict Crystal Bridges will be 100,000 square feet of Thomas Kinkade paintings and Precious Moments figurines.

    1. V572 the Merciless

      Several sneering dismissals of the possibility of worthy art being housed in Arkansas have already been issued in all the appropriate journals.

      1. Beanball

        Actually, I caught the tail end of that interview, and in my opinion much of the art (American artists – fuck yeah!) on display was of the highest caliber. The house itself (I refuse to repeat it's adolescent name) was pretty fancy in your typical modern glass-box museumy way and not too shabby looking – even considering that it was designed by a Canadian. Canadians are, after all, honorary Americans.

        1. V572 the Merciless

          Canada = America LiteSafdie does beautiful stuff. I put a link to his Telfair Museum in Savannah in an earlier comment.

      2. tessiee

        Perhaps, but do those journals achieve a Wonkette-esque quality of snark?
        Then our job here is not done.

  5. memzilla

    Walmart's R&D division is working to create both genetically engineered miniature camels, and sewing needles with extra-large eyes.

  6. OkieDokieDog

    Okay, throw a stone at me, but I was in the urban sprawl mall WalMart while ago, to get some anti-freeze. I try to avoid it but I was getting something else at a nearby business. Anyway, I kid you not, the 2 people in front of me were both white, a male & female, both sitting in scooters, and I'd guess the total weight combined was 600+. And they had both the attached baskets filled with FOOD. I didn't pay any attention to how they paid, but I'm betting that they're both on disability or medicare.

      1. tessiee

        They probably have plenty of antifreeze, Sudafed, and nail polish remover back at the trailer, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

  7. elviouslyqueer

    "Even if it's not called [the] Wal-Mart Museum, it is Wal-Mart's money," says Lorraine Millot, a writer for the French newspaper Liberation who visited the museum for the media preview. Millot praises the museum for its beauty. She says Crystal Bridges represents something very different from what Wal-Mart stands for. "It's a place of pure beauty. It's just the opposite of what Wal-Mart's doing," Millot says. "The focus of the museum is American art, whereas Wal-Mart stores focus on cheap imports from China."

    Leave it to the French to skewer this grandiose fap-palace so succinctly.

    1. Mumbletypeg

      Furthermore, any credit for the museum building's merits ought to go to its accomplished architect Moshe Safdie. It's more reflective of designer talent than able discernment of his high-fallutin' patrons, who'll wear his commissioned masterpieces like feathers in their ignominous caps while it suits their purposes.

    2. OneDollarJuana

      Let's also reminisce on the fine way that the French handled their little "oligarch" problem a few years ago.

    1. fuflans

      just now finished reading the RS / matt taibbi article on 'how the republicans became the party of the rich'.

  8. VespulaMaculata

    The first thing I wanted to know after Katrina was how many WalMarts were destroyed. Just so there was a sliver of silver lining in the disaster.

    1. DaRooster

      Thank you Mull… my all time favorite Wonk… A great way to leave the office on a sunny Friday.
      This is absolutely the first thing I think of whenever I see the word Wal-Mart.

  9. Maman

    Walmart is a fascinating twist on Henry Ford's plan. He created a workforce paid enough to be able to purchase the products they were making. Walmart keeps their workforce poor enough that they have no choice but to shop there.

    1. memzilla

      It's the updated version of paying your workers in vouchers which are only good at the company store.

    2. GOPCrusher

      And sadly enough, this philosophy is a direct contradiction of how Sam Walton built up Wal-Mart.
      Another reason why we should see inheritance and estate taxes dramatically raised.

          1. Negligently_Joe

            I always thought it actually made more sense to tax "job creators", if one uses logic. Assuming a business actually does create jobs, and assuming that a person wants to limit their personal tax liability, taxes on profits would discourage people from cashing out, and encourage them to reinvest in their own businesses, namely by doing things like expanding and hiring employees. You know, economic activity?

      1. flamingpdog

        I'm always amazed at how the freaking same people that promote everyone pulling themselves up by their bootstraps think it is just perfectly fine for someone to be rich because dad pulled himself up by his bootstraps. Fuckwads.

    1. Ken Layne

      I did add a paragraph to this one, and switch the pretty art picture with the terrifying naked old Walmart greeter, haha, but that's the editor's prerogative!

  10. WhatTheHeck

    Funny thing, those artists began their professional lives as poor, starving artists, much like the Wal-Mart employees of today. Then it takes wealthy patrons to highly inflate the price of the artists’ works. Insufferable conundrum. The wealthy have always had the pleasure to play these games.

  11. johnnyzhivago

    OK, I know WalMart is evil, they treat their employees and customer like shit and they've destroyed America, but where else can you go when you're in a hurry and you need to pick up a frozen pizza – and just reach across the isle for some insecticide and a box of 9mm bullets?

    1. poncho_pilot

      i never go to Wal Mart when i'm in a hurry: it takes thirty minutes just to get through the express lane at the store by my house.

    2. user-of-owls

      I'd say Democratic Republic of Congo-Mart, but I think they stopped carrying frozen pizza a while back.

  12. ManchuCandidate

    Unlike Robber Barons of the past, the Waltons can't point to an enduring heralded legacy of railways, oil pollution and tall buildings.

    All they got are "peopleofwalmart.com", abandoned malls, billions of tons of trash and the rusting hulks of former factories they helped close down.

  13. DaRooster

    "It is no wonder that Wal-Mart leads the nation in having employees who require public assistance — welfare, food stamps, medical aid — in order to survive."

    But at least they have special people to help the employees get these assistances… so that's mighty nice of them.

    1. Jukesgrrl

      This is another thing I never understand about the Waltons. Shitloads of government assistance is being transferred directly to them by the underclass. You think they'd at least support the rights of the poor to receive adequate assistance. But, no. Do they think Granny and Pa are going to move up to Target if they get one more week of unemployment compensation?

  14. RadioYKWE

    Did you ever wonder where the financial impetus to fight the "death tax" and a 3% marginal tax hike comes from? That's the easiest investment they have: propaganda.

  15. not that Dewey

    Just as the streets of McMansion subdivisions are named after the things they replaced — Desert Sage, Vista Grande, Iroquois — so are the museums of the Waltons filled with images of the things they replaced.

      1. not that Dewey

        It's a paraphrase of/riff on someone, perhaps Neil Postman or Edward T. Hall; I don't remember exactly. I was hoping someone would get the reference.

        1. tessiee

          Peter de Vries wrote that the streets in his neighborhood were named after the trees that they bulldozed to build them, but your guys are good, too.

    1. HelmutNewton

      Truth. At least our descendants will be able to see paintings of the unspoiled landscapes that our ancestors once enjoyed.

  16. VespulaMaculata

    Have you noticed that driving by a WalMart has the same effect on your spirit as when some old film or TV show suddenly goes to an establishing shot of New York with the Trade Center still standing?

    1. flamingpdog

      Did you ever stop to wonder that if Al Qaeda terrorists had really wanted to terrorize the vast majority of 'Mur'cuns, they would have crashed airplanes into four Wal-Marts spread around the country?

  17. finallyhappy

    yeah, my daughter got a job someplace(not Walmart!) where they make sure no one gets a lot of hours. I bet if people quit- they won't give the current people more hours- just hire more people to spread it out.

    1. Jukesgrrl

      Yes. That's the way it works. I used to be employed by one of the branches of the late May Company. They had no more than four full-time employees for each department, who worked in ever-changing shifts. They were paid as clerks but were actually doing both management AND stock work). The people who ran the cash registers were all part-timers who were never given enough hours to qualify for benefits (meager as they were). You'd be shocked at how many of them had their ENTIRE bi-weekly salaries transferred back to the company to pay on their May credit account. And by Walmart standards, May was a classy retailer.

  18. Goonemeritus

    “Its awful stores razed, the building materials recycled”

    I just bought two large windows formally part of a local Wal-Mart to use in a shop I’m building. The bad news is they only razed the old Wal-Mart to build a bigger Wal-Mart.

    1. flamingpdog

      At least they razed it rather than leaving it empty to blight the landscape for another 5 or 10 years before it crumbled on its own.

    2. Preferred Customer

      I assume that the new one corrects the mistaken inclusion of windows that afflicted the old.

  19. Callyson

    According to the Bloomberg link, included in this collection is:
    "…Norman Rockwell’s oil-on-canvas “Rosie the Riveter,” the iconic symbol of World War II U.S. industrial power. “Rosie the Riveter” is described by Crystal Bridges as a “transcendent symbol” of the “capabilities, strength and determination” of American women."
    God, I wish Rosie could come back to life and deck the Sprawl Mart heirs…

  20. sbj1964

    The question of wealth is how much is to much? When the money corrupts the fundamental precepts of America.Teddy Roosevelt Broke up the the robber barons only to have the them reappear under trickle down Voodoo economics.If rich people want to be called Job Creators then where are the jobs?

  21. BlueStateLibel

    That painting would look a lot better if there were a couple of Walmarts in the scenery. I hope God has a special level of Hell reserved for the Walmart family.

  22. sbj1964

    Marrie Antoinette screwed up when she said"Let them eat cake." This is the Mantra of the 1%. VIVA the Revolution !!!!!!!!!

    1. user-of-owls

      Hey, aren't you from here?! You can't say that!!*

      *unless you quantify the number of sleeping dogs that would die if the cinder blocks failed.

  23. RadioYKWE

    OK, let's predict the spin on this from the wingtard media.
    Umm, let me try, wealth does not mean income. The Walton's are wealth creators and they are not responsible for the income of those 100,000,000.
    And, of course, those people are not really poor, they have TV's and microwaves and iPhones, essentially all the same things the wealthy white trash have.

  24. chascates

    I remember all the 'bought in the USA!' spots that Chinese flea market used to run to convince people they weren't a monetary Ghengis Khan. They screwed the towns they moved into, running all independent local businesses into the dirt. They screwed their vendors, demanding almost non-existent profits simply to get WalMart's business. They screwed their employees for numerous reasons, which we're all familiar with.
    Although I've posted it here ad nauseum here's Al Franken on class warfare, which I hope will happen to these rapacious soulsuckers:
    In her book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, Barbara Tuchman writes about a peasant revolt in 1358 that began in the village of St. Leu and spread throughout the Oise Valley. At one estate, the serfs sacked the manor house, killed the knight, and roasted him on a spit in front of his wife and kids. Then, after ten or twelve peasants violated the lady, with the children still watching, they forced her to eat the roasted flesh of her dead husband and then killed her.

  25. Callyson

    Slightly OT but really related, from Yahoo! News:
    The former head of the Obama administration's auto task force says he should have pushed the United Auto Workers for steeper sacrifices in the General Motors bailout, including wage cuts. The people earning $9 a hour in a suburban Detroit GM plant would disagree.
    Former auto czar and wealthy Wall Street financier Steven Rattner told a luncheon in Detroit on Thursday that while the $50 billion GM bailout was successful, "we should have asked the UAW to do a bit more. We did not ask any UAW member to take a cut in their pay."
    Yeah, because it was those pesky UAW members who caused the economic implosion…
    …and yes, if you check out this rat's Wikipedia entry, you'll find that the NYS Attorney General investigated him in a pay to play scandal.
    Can we just cancel the holidays this year?

    1. tessiee

      "$9 a hour in a suburban Detroit"

      That won't even cover the heating bill, much less rent/food/meds, etc.

  26. yyyaz

    So 100,000,000 Americans have a combined net worth that averages $930.00. For a family of four, that would be $3,720, or enough for a 12-year-old Corolla, 15-year-old fridge, 5-year-old teevee and a pile of 20-year-old furniture. Hooray!

    1. comrad_darkness

      What are you doing inventorying my house?! Get out of here!

      And that's a 20 year old teevee, thank you very much. And the "couch" is a refinished find from the roadside, but it sanded up nicely.

  27. petersonjh

    Not that I want to take anything from this discussion that impacts, I'd say, 99% of us, but PLEASE get your facts and figures straight!
    The $93 billion in assets held by the Walton heirs is nowhere near 30% of the net worth of this country, but more like 0.30%!
    I'm not inclined to judge whether this is or isn't an inappropriate amount, but I do hope more members of America's financial elite pay heed to what their predecessors called "nobless oblige".

  28. user-of-owls

    *sigh* I count each day that the Wonketburo does not mention Arkansas as a blessing. No good ever comes of it.

    As my roost is but 15 minutes from this museum, allow me to point out just one small thing: They do not and will not ever charge a nickel for admission, even for special exhibits.

    And the first one of you who even so much as hints that I'm some sort of Wal-Lickspittle is going to get a big fat punch in the cloaca.

    1. SheriffRoscoe

      You gonna let us stay in your spare room when we get a hankerin' to look at some Norman Rockwell originals, owls?

  29. Loaded_Pants

    Merry Waltonmas and a Happy Screw(ed) Year! Enjoy weeping over your credit card bills in 2012, America!

  30. Beanball

    Once upon a time I lived in rural Missouri and it was a great day when Wal-Mart opened in our tiny village (pop. ~ 10,000). In our innocence, we called it "Wally World" and it was full of alla kinds good stuff, and they promoted "Made In America" stuffs.

    Then we started noticing odd goings-on about town: small retailers were going bankrupt, out of business, including my favorite comic book store. What was going on, we all wondered?

    Lo and behold, a sympathetic executive Wal-Mart employee (a local resident and whistle-blower) began circulating a Wal-Mart "secret memo", entitled, Targeted Businesses, one of which was my comic book store.

    Long story short, I haven't stepped inside a Wal-Mart in over ten years.

  31. WordSaladNation

    Sam R. Walton, Sam Walton's grandson, is actually a legitimate philanthropist who serves on the board of trustees of the Environmental Defense Fund, among others.

    He's like the anti-Walton.

  32. flamingpdog

    It's really sad when you shout "Eat the rich!" and realize that that wouldn't even feed a family of four in America for more than a few weeks.

  33. Wonderthing

    These "po folk" numbers lie. Everyone's suffering from a "Pruitts of Southhampton" complex. The real numbers are probably worse.

    [For the obsolete sitcom challenged: "The Pruitts of Southhampton" was a short lived series in the 60's that starred Phyllis Diller, about a wealthy family that lost all its money and tried to pretend they were still rich to save embarrassment. Of course they were embarrassed every week or there would have been no show. But I guess it made too many people uncomfortable so they yanked it after barely one season.]

  34. An_Outhouse

    We should thanking those Waltons for reminding us of the reason for the season with a real life example of Scrooge. How timely!

  35. thomashodge

    Oh how enlightened the writer and several commenters are, first claiming to be seriously concerned about plight of the average Walmart worker while at the same time making fun of "white trash", the entire state of Arkansas and the people who shop at Wal mart. Ha-ha, being a bigoted snob is hilarious! How wonderful to live in Washington or New York and thus be better than someone living in the South. Also, where do those Southerners get off thinking they can appreciate art!? It's crazy. The fact that Walmart single-lowered inflation by about 8% during the 90s, which has done much more for the poor than almost any government program is beside the point. Now let's all go to Target, by the same Chinese made group but pay $2 more so we can continue to feel superior. We'll even pronounce "Tarjay" because we are so hip and ironic! Yay us!

  36. tessiee

    "a corporate fortune built upon the destruction of American manufacturing, American small business and the American working class"

    One of my former co-workers who moved/fled here from Arkansas related the story of how, when faced with the prospect of unionized workers and unable to weasel out of it any other way, the Walmart overlords closed the store and moved away like a bunch of spoiled three-year-olds.

  37. PuckStopsHere

    And yet, the average American blames the 100 million for what's wrong with this country. People in this country know (correctly) that they are getting fucked. But they do not know by whom. Why don't we get the 100 million in a room (a room roughly the size of 1,000 Michigan Stadiums would do it ) with the 6 and see if a more equitable income distribution might be hammered out?

  38. tramlaw

    It is unreal to me how much hate is shown in people writing about Walmart. Well, Walmart has provided people with affordable goods when the mom and pop shops and others have goughed them. I don't hear anyone bashing those who charged poor consumers really high prices. The Crystal Bridges museum is a one of a kind museum that will be probably the best in America and right in the heart of America. Being so critical of a family because of its wealth sounds to me like coveting your neighbor's wordly goods. As for me, give me Walmart's low prices so I can afford my utilities and real estate taxes and I will shop Walmart until my dying day as long as they continue to be customer friendly.

  39. not that Dewey

    Are you still haunted by that, too? I wanted to show it to Mrs Dewey, but I couldn't think of a good explanation for why I would know about it.

  40. DahBoner

    I for one, would love to see at this museum the Japanese performance artist famous for dumping a ton of manure on himself…

  41. KenLayIsAlive

    Just sick. It is just like the "art" in the $1B new stadium in Dallas. These rich rubes use their tax breaks to hire armies of art consultants to fill these places with art no one gets because the tax breaks and write offs they used to buy the art choked off funding for arts education. It is a perfect circle. They imagine they are bringing art to the people, but they are actually separating people from art by sucking so much cash out of the public efforts to educate and create.

    Forget the $2M piece that exists in every fucking museum already (it is always the same 50 artists in the "contemporary" galleries in every museum) and hire 40 art teachers!

    It's the just the most pathetic display of human ignorance, greed, and self-satisfaction imaginable. I am so pissed that they can actually sit there and feel good about themselves for doing such awful things. It is the purest form of elitist masturbation possible.

  42. horsedreamer_1

    Another Wal-Mart heir owns the once-proud Kansas City Royals, & hasn't done shit to improve the team.

Comments are closed.