22 May 2009

Green Day And Wal-mart: "There's Nothing Dirty About Our Record"


News that Wal-mart has been using its immense commercial power in an attempt to influence or control popular culture shouldn't come as a shock; the giant retail chain has been doing that all along. Nor should it come as a surprise that Green Day feel confident enough in their ability to move copies of their new album that they can afford to tell Wal-mart to go do something unprintable with themselves.

While I commend Green Day for sticking to their guns and insisting that their album be sold as it was intended to be heard, I don't go along with the notion that Wal-mart has some sort of obligation to sell records that deviate from their company policy. No matter how big and powerful they are, after all, they're still a private business, and as such, it's their privilege to sell or not sell whatever products they want. It's a shame that many people who live in the American hinterlands where Wal-mart is often the only record shopping option will have greater difficulty obtaining the new record, but hey, that's why God invented the internet.

No, what really bugs me about this brouhaha is the notion that somehow there is something wrong or obscene about Green Day's record whereas Wal-mart is, while perhaps a little old-fashioned, merely acting as the guardian of "decent" American values. Singer Billie Joe Armstrong put it best: "There's nothing dirty about our record," despite Wal-mart's attempts to brand it as such.

What exactly is wrong with 21st Century Breakdown in Wal-mart's view? Presumably, it's that it uses vulgar language, i.e., swear words, i.e., the exact same language that practically every American - no, wait, every human being - including, most likely, Wal-mart executives, uses from time to time. Swearing may not always be the most elegant or effective use of language, but it's nearly universal and sometimes the most powerful if not the only way to get a certain point of view across. To pretend otherwise is either blinkered or hypocritical.

America has a funny relationship with language: while most modern countries have little problem television programs or movies that portray people talking and acting as they normally talk and act, in this country a broadcaster can be removed from the airwaves or forced out of business by enormous fines for letting an errant expletive or nipple be heard or seen by the public. Yet most of those same countries would never dream of routinely executing criminals or allowing poor people to die for want of health insurance. Different strokes, you might say, but which, if any, is the greater obscenity?

I might be a bit more sympathetic to Wal-mart if their lyrical oversight were limited to those records - and there are quite a few - that promote or glorify violence or sexism or rape - but Green Day records don't even remotely fit that description. The sole objection to their content is that they use real language to talk about real feelings and situations. Some of their punk rock fans might bristle at the description, but it's art, just as surely as anything that hangs on the walls of a museum, and any attempt to bowdlerize the lyrical content is just as stupid as those religious fanatics who at one time insisted on fig leaves being placed over the "dirty" bits of classic paintings.

No, if anyone involved in this controversy is obscene - and I use that word in its true sense (from the dictionary: "disgusting to the senses, abhorrent to morality or virtue"), it's Wal-mart itself. This is a company that has laid waste to the economies and cultures of hundreds, if not thousands of American towns, forcing long-established local businesses into bankruptcy, turning downtowns into dead zones and promoting a suburban-sprawl, automobile-based design model that has littered the landscape surrounding nearly every town with mile upon mile of garish neon strip malls and fast food franchises.

No, of course Wal-mart is not solely responsible for this development, but its entire business model is one that promotes its continued spread. If, instead of its big box stores surrounded by hundreds of acres of parking, Wal-mart would locate new stores in the heart of town, accessible on foot and by public transit, it could single-handedly revitalize many moribund cities, but because that might slightly diminish profit margins, executives continue to insist on gobbling up farmland, creating endless traffic nightmares, and perpetuating the way of life that virtually guarantees continued oil shortages (and the wars that they provoke), destruction of the environment, and disastrous climate change. Compare that to a punk rocker saying a naughty word on a record and then tell me who's the real dirty bastard here.

I don't even need to get into the devastating effect Wal-mart's horribly hypocritical and phony "Buy American" policies have had on our economy; suffice it to say that by "Buy American," Wal-mart means, "Spend your money in our stores." They certainly don't mean it to apply to themselves, since even a cursory examination will reveal that almost everything Wal-mart sells is made in China or some other developing country. Yes, it produces cheap prices for the American consumer, but simultaneously destroys the industries that used to employ those consumers. Obscene, disgusting, or just not very nice? Do you think the guy who has been outsourced out of a job and can't earn a living wage or provide health insurance for his family is more upset about that, or the fact that Billie Joe said a "bad" word on a record album?

Perspective, people, perspective! We got the same crap that Wal-mart is dishing out all through the Bush years: obsessive concern with private morality, riling up the rubes over stem cells or birth control, while at the same time destroying our economy, waging idiotic and mindlessly destructive wars, and giving bankers and corporate executives carte blanche to loot our wealth and resources on a scale probably unprecedented in history. Oh, but at least our precious little children didn't hear anybody say "shit" on TV. No, for that they'd have to walk into the next room where Daddy is looking at his unpaid credit card bills, reading his pink slip, or just watching the home team blow another lead. As Yakov Smirnoff used to say, what a country!

14 comments:

NoeChill said...

Yeah, while it is Wal-mart's right to sell or not sell an item, such as Green Day's new album, I think it's just kinda dumb to not sell the real deal.

Selling the album as it was written and recorded will not reflect negatively on the store. And it's dumb because I've bought cd's at Wal-mart with swear words in them, they just don't have enough to earn the Explicit Content label.

But Idk. I don't shop at Wal-mart anymore unless I'm really broke. The only thing I'd buy there that I could use are electronics and cd's. And I buy all my cd's either on iTunes or Target. Occasionally Hot Topic. I miss Sam Goody.

Anonymous said...

while i do think that wal-mart is a dork for not selling the green day album, or any other album as is, your idea that wal-mart, by relocating to city centers could 'single handedly revitalize moribund cities' is both ridiculous and ignorant. i regularly read and enjoy your blog, and know that you've lived in such places as london, the midwest, and san fran. you obviously enjoy pedestrian friendly cities, and i'm right with you on that- i live in a large city in japan. however, your average large u.s. city (outside of nyc, boston, chicago, san fran, and d.c.) will NEVER become pedestrian friendly to the point where there will be a return to the downtown mom and pop stores of the past. if anyone is being helped by wal-mart, it is the small blue collar union worker who has a family and doesn't live in williamsburg. i myself hate wal-mart, but not because they don't sell the cd's i want- it's because it's an overall stressful experience to walk through one of those outfits. i gotta tell you though, if you're a mom and pop, and a wal-mart sets up shop near you, and you're selling the same kinda crap that they are while offering the same level of customer service... well, chances are your business is already headed toward the inevitable. you said it yourself, nobody has to shop at these ugly boxes, not even in the hinterlands. you don't like it, then don't go. i certainly don't.
oh, and their 'buy american' slogan. as if their scheme is the first ever dishonest marketing ploy!
i myself miss the urban movie theaters where the box office was accessible on the sidewalk- but i don't go on blaming the megaplexes (which i hate) for destroying the planet and causing wars.
ask yourself, if wal-mart, sam's club and all of these other establishments were done away with, and all of these hicks who regularly shop at them were to show up at the mom and pop that you normally shop at- you and your williamsburg neighbors would be the first to tell them to get the hell out of your store, and go back to the hinterland.
green day rules.

Anonymous said...

You say this about swearing now, but I could see you in the future "quitting swearing" and then telling us how people are stupid for doing what you once found acceptable.

SneakerTree said...

Hey, Wal Marts' loss. You'd think that'd be a dumb business move as one of the biggest chains in America not to agree with the band that's sold millions of cds all over the world. Whatever, they don't need the boost, and hopefully 21cb selling in mom and pop shops will help support local music stores.

Billie Joe said on the Colbert Report ( i think) "why don't they just sell the uncensored version next to the gun section or something. if someone doesn't like it they can throw it in the air and shoot it!! Hey, I think Tre's done that actually..." Thought that was pretty good.

take care
Alex

Ronnie said...

Wal-Mart is good if you're looking to buy some cheap shampoo. But to not sell certain cds because of language is pretty disgusting. Do they sell rated R movies? Yes they do. Do they sell guns? Yes they do.

Suki Wong said...

it's stupid coz they sell grand theft auto and that does all sorts of crazy things.

Anonymous said...

Yet most of those same countries would never dream of routinely executing criminals or allowing poor people to die for want of health insurance.

I wasn't aware that the USA just lets people die when they don't have health insurance. The emergency rooms don't turn people away, even if it's over some small fry thing. I have a friend who is amongst the un-insured. She went to the emergency room this year for an ear infection and then for some cyst thing in her stomach area that was causing her pain. They treated her both times. Not sure why she isn't insured, as she has the fanciest cell phone with all the features, every possible channel on her cable system, and always seems to have new $60 games on her XBox 360, not to mention how she always is able to afford recreational drugs.

As far as the "obscenity" of "routinely executing" heinous murderers: I'm not sure which state it is "routine" in. In my state, they only manage to execute a few people here and there, after many years of appeals. I'm also not sure why it's "obscene" to put down someone who comitted an unpseakably cruel and evil act of murder. I'm sure many of the people in countries that abolished the death penalty wouldn't find it "obscene", either. But many of those governments got rid of the death penalty without asking the people.

If your man, Obama, manages to capture Usama bin Laden, and they tried and executed him (after exhausting all opportunities to get intelligence from him), would the USA have done an "obscene" act? Would you be standing outside with a sign protesting his execution?

Anonymous said...

Do they sell guns? Yes they do.

I'm not defending Wal Mart's decision not to sell Green Day's album, but if you want people from another side of the cultural divides to respect you, I think it's a two-way street.

Attacking them for selling guns? Why is it wrong to sell a gun? Is it wrong to sell a knife, too?

There are a lot of people who are tired of a lot of the lyrical content in music in general, which they think has a big influence on their children. And so a big corporation like Wal Mart adopts a policy where they don't actually look too hard at the CDs in question, they just say we won't sell CDs with "bad words" regardless of the context or intentions. And that's frustrating.

But it's also frustrating for people when some left wing suburbanite starts saying all guns are bad, all people who own guns are bad, all stores that sell guns are bad, and they don't wanna know more about it before supporting banning all of that stuff.

A band with a few F bombs on an intelligent, well-crafted album must hate dealing with a big corporation that won't listen before making their decision. Isn't that how law-abiding people who like owning guns feel when they try and get certain left wing organizations to hear them out, too?

I think a lot of people on various "sides" in this country go over the top because they feel the "other side" doesn't respect them and is out to get them. A law-abiding person who wants to own guns either for sport, self-defense, or to hunt for his own food rather than getting it from the meat industry is often left scratching his head over why popular culture promotes "thug lifestyle" as "cool". They don't know who is saying what in what band. They just know an awful lot of music acts are being rammed down peoples' throats promoting a criminal thug lifestyle, and also that violent thugs are terrorizing the streets in much of America. And then some of these thugs try and burglarize their home. And then the left wing organizations tell him they wanna take away his gun, but he has to smile and accept the music glorifying the thugs who might stick up his business.

Larry Livermore said...

I realize that emergency rooms don't usually turn people away for lack of money if it's a genuine emergency (though they'll also hand the person a bill that could bankrupt them if they're not broke already). But the way that the American health care system routinely kills poor people is through chronic neglect: many of the conditions that result in a person having to come to an emergency room could be easily and cheaply be dealt with if a person were able to see a doctor regularly. Often by the time he or she shows up at the emergency room, it's in a condition where it's too late to save them, or where major surgery or other drastic treatments are required.

Jersey Beat said...

Larry,
You actually could have gone a lot further about the evils of Wal-Mart. It's been well-documented that the chain supports its cheap prices by hiring large numbers of part-time workers who don't get benefits instead of hiring fewer (but far more expensive) full time employees; by freezing out any attempts at unionizing stores; and the chain has lost several hi-profile lawsuits accusing it of sexual discrimination (promoting men over women to management positions.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, why don't you all keep listing all the evils of Wal-Mart that you get from your anti-Wal-Mart web sites. Oh dear, they provide job opportunities for people with limited experience. Is that worse han providing such people no opportunities? See, when you list these things assuming they are all obviously "evil", it makes me think you've never studied economics. Which is why you're not concern about the need for having a job market that is willing to hire more inexperienced workers. If you required every job to have what you socialists call a "living wage" with job security and benefits, etc etc, you'd also make many employers less willing to hire young and inexperienced workers. Which means you'd have a rise in unemployment among the young.

I'm not saying all of your criticisms of Wal-Mart have no bases. But it's just so one-sided it's absurd. And, again, comes off as people who read some I Hate Wal-Mart propaganda site. The fact is, lots and lots of people like to shop at Wal-Mart because by doing so they raise their standards of living (by being able to acquire goods at lower prices). These lists of the evils of Wal-Mart are disregarding the good aspects of Wal-Mart, and it comes off as propagandistic.

corporate black ops said...

hey larry,

what is interesting about anon 6:29 is that it looks like a genuine Walmart post. that is someone from Walmart who is hired to attack others who mnetion Walmart on their sites. Anon 6:29 is atleast as equally flawed as anyone else on this site and their posts... and also keeps bringing up this alleged "hate walmart propaganda site"... i doubt anyone here has consulted one, and they are all just using common sense.

Anonymous said...

"As far as the "obscenity" of "routinely executing" heinous murderers: I'm not sure which state it is "routine" in."

Texas

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