Tags: capitalism, commodification, consumption/consumerism, corporations, economic sociology, marketing/brands, marx/marxism, political economy, theory, culture industry, false needs, max horkheimer, theodor adorno, wal-mart, 00 to 05 mins
Access: South Park Studios
Summary: In this South Park clip, Kyle and Stan enter the local Wall-Mart in an attempt to ruin the business because the people of South Park have been negatively affected by its recent opening in their town. Having been led to believe that destroying the “heart” will destroy the business, the boys search the store for the “heart” of Wal-Mart . While Randy (Stan's father) is walking through the store with the boys, he is distracted by the fact that Wal-Mart continues to lower their prices. Everywhere he looks there are items that he does not need, but he continues to buy them because of the low prices. In this way, Wal-Mart is creating “false-needs,” which are created and fulfilled by capitalism, and exert power over Randy. When the boys meet the man that calls himself “Wal-Mart,” he claims that he can take any “form” that he chooses. He then switches clothes, thereby acquiring different forms through consumer goods, and asks the boys which “form” they prefer. When the boys find the “heart,” they are surprised to see that it is a mirror; i.e. the “heart” of Wal-Mart is the consumer. The man adds that his “forms” can be Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Target, but that he represents one single entity, “desire.” This desire is the power that is exerted over people by major corporations. While the clip seems to suggest that Wal-Mart is simply fulfilling the desires of the consumer, viewers may consider how such desire and the low prices of Wal-Mart are produced more broadly. Through advertising and Wal-Mart's artificially low prices (e.g. by exploiting cheap labor), these desires are produced like a commodity in a factory and are a fundamental mechanism for capitalist control over people. By suggesting that the "heart of Wal-Mart" is the consumer, does it offer hope in us being able to change the corporate giant or does it unfairly place blame on individuals for a bigger structural issue?
Submitted By: Sean Kelley and Ian Hammer
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