Wal-Mart culture: It's got the whole world in its hands

I thought I saw a religion ghost this morning in a New York Times story about God, man and Wal-Mart. Well, maybe God was in there somewhere. The story covers an academic conference -- more than 250 sociologists, anthropologists, historians, etc. -- at the University of California at Santa Barbara. It appears to have been a rather one-sided gathering that focused on life, commerce, culture, low prices and what it all means.

Here is a sample paragraph that captures the tone:

Everyone at the conference seemed to marvel at Wal-Mart's extraordinarily sophisticated use of technology. The temperature of every one of its more than 3,500 American stores is controlled from its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. Logistics gurus keep track of hundreds of thousands of shipments at home and abroad. Computers also keep close tabs on workers' hours and productivity.

I kept waiting for the shoe to drop, or one of several shoes. What about the infamous Wal-Mart intolerance of edgy popular culture products? The new question for media barons: Will it play in the Wal-Mart in Peoria? And what about Wal-Mart's solid base in the Heartland and Bible-Belt, with its zoning battles in blue states and blue zip codes in red states?

But most of all I kept thinking: Gosh, this is sort of like reading a New York Times story on the decline of the progressive world of mainline Protestantism and the rise of the megachurches of market-friendly evangelicalism. What think ye, gentle readers?

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