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As Seen On TV: Buy N Large / Wal-Mart


From Big Box to Big Brother?

At the risk of restating a sentiment voiced by almost everyone who's seen it, Pixar's (DIS) WALL-E is one of the purest, most heartfelt love stories to grace the silver screen in ages. But it's also a biting commentary on mass consumerism and poor waste management.

The film follows the titular robot -- the last remaining on Earth -- and his Sisyphean task of cleaning the garbage that the planet has accumulated by the year 2105. After 700 years of lonesome drudgery, WALL-E meets EVE -- a more advanced robot whose job is to find evidence of life after all humans vacated Earth for space. WALL-E is spellbound and follows her into space to ultimately save humankind.

Underpinning the robotic romance is a bleak depiction of what Earth's future might be if mass consumerism, unchecked monopolies, and abandoned environmental concerns propagate corporate policy. At the center of the futuristic wasteland is a worldwide megacorporation called Buy n Large -- an omnipresent Big Box conglomerate that eventually acquired all its competitors as well as national governments.

The Buy n Large Corporation can be seen as an amalgamation of all ubiquitous brands, but standing above all others is its real-world counterpart, Wal-Mart (WMT). Operating over 6,600 locations with over two million employees and over $400 billion in revenue, the comparison is not at all far off.

Satirical embellishment exaggerates the possibility of Wal-Mart ever turning into Buy n Large, but the real-life megastore has made some similar strides.

In a Pixar-produced short, the history of Buy n Large shows that it was once a Big Box retailer and later expanded into every conceivable aspect of a consumer's life. Sounds familiar.

Buy n Large took over gas companies. Wal-Mart introduced gas pumps at hundreds of its locations in 2005.

Buy n Large began acquiring banks. Wal-Mart currently offers money-transfer and check-cashing services, and in light of the past economic crisis, serious consideration was given to a Bank of Wal-Mart. It hasn't happened yet, but rampant branch foreclosures makes it a definite possibility.

Buy n Large became an insurmountable corporation with powerful influence, and began taking over governing bodies. Wal-Mart hasn't quite reached that point, but its influence on the government has been well established -- from last year's $1.4 million lobbying effort to telling people how to vote.

On board the space cruiser, infants are indoctrinated with brand loyalty by a robot teaching them that "Buy n Large [is] your very best friend." Any parent whose child shrieks for toys when passing the Wal-Mart billboard already knows the parallel.

In the audio commentary for the WALL-E DVD, writer-director Andrew Stanton stated he wanted to illustrate how lives could be dictated by gross consumerism. The film portrays mankind in the year 2805 as obese, childlike simpletons. Spending generations in a space cruiser filled with advertisements, all-purpose Barcaloungers and POV communication devices, the human beings in WALL-E are fairly close to the "mall culture" stereotypes.

What's the difference between an animated crowd ecstatic over their unitards' new color and the average yokel who considers eight hours in Wal-Mart as a day well spent?

Not much.

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