Friday, November 28, 2008

Thoughts, Prayers and Outrage

Wal-Mart, in a statement issued at its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., said: “The safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this tragic time.”

Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death - The New York Times.

Thoughts and prayers. What does that mean, really? Especially in this case. Poor Jdimytai Damour, "hired from a temporary staffing agency and assigned to maintenance work," was trampled to death by crazed Wal-Mart shoppers this morning, who literally broke down the doors to get into the store. Apparently this is so traumatic to everyone who currently shops (Even those shoppers who "shouted angrily and kept shopping when store officials said they were closing because of the death"?) and works at Wal-Mart that the company offers up their thoughts and prayers to each of them, and their families - although nothing it seems, specifically for the slain man or his family. I guess they're withholding them until after the settlement - perhaps that will be their opening offer. (Yes, I'm being unapologetically uncharitable - the heady mix of faux-Christmas hype and random morons does that to me.)

But let's say for a moment that Wal-Mart does decide to offer thoughts and prayers specifically for the unfortunate Mr. Damour. What will be the effect? A memorandum from company headquarters asking for a moment of silence to consider the tragic loss of a temporary worker that the vast majority of Wal-Mart employees would never even have met? A request to commend the man's soul to whatever god an employee might follow? (And what about the atheist employees? Are they required to think harder than everyone else, to make up for not praying?) Is there a CCO (Chief Consideration Officer) who runs Wal-Mart's Thoughts and Prayers Management Office who will see to it that Mr. Damour and his family are properly remembered and are the beneficiaries of adequate supplication to the various divinities in which people profess belief? (Or will they find out what the Damours believe and target their efforts appropriately? Does Wal-Mart outsource the task to India? (I suspect that if they do, their service there may be quite busy, even backlogged, given local events.) And how do we know that it's worked? Will Mr. Damour be more at ease in his afterlife? Do they have someone "on the inside," as it were, who reports back on the condition of the departed souls for which this service is offered? Will his family be less bereft for the company's efforts? Is this something that they track in their annual report to shareholders? What do people's performance reviews look like?

Toys 'R' Us is perhaps in the same boat. They "issued a statement expressing outrage" over The Gunfight in the Toys 'R' Corral today. And the end result of this expressed outrage is going to be exactly what? Will the women whose brawling started the fracas be extra stung? Will the insult of corporate ire make the injury of their bloody noses and dead boyfriends/husbands all the more intense? Will their friends, acquaintances and families drift away, unwilling to risk the anger of the world's largest toy-centered retailer? Will other companies be angry too? Will this mean that Amazon will offer to be their new friend?

And what about the future? Can the company maintain this outrage? And what will come of it if they can? Floggings for unruly customers next year? (I'll volunteer for that duty. Pretty please? With sugar on top? I'll do a good job, really. I'll pay you...) A scowling Geoffrey the Giraffe, stalking the aisles and getting in people's faces? When a company becomes hacked off, does anyone really notice? Or care? Is corporate anger really going to make people think twice about packing heat into a toy store? Or starting throwdowns over the last Batter Me Elmo toy on the shelves? Do we expect that the people who fled for their lives from the sudden firefight to be comforted from knowing that Toys 'R' Us is mad as Hell, and isn't going to take it anymore? Or that it will make the experience less traumatic for the people who work there?

Corporate consolations seem cold comfort, and corporate ire an empty threat. More meaningless words to be piled onto an increasingly meaningless season. You don't have to be a true believer to understand that whatever holiness once created the holidays is long gone. Once upon a time, there may have been a celebration to rejoice in the coming of one faith's savior, but there's little chance that the supplication, consideration or wrath of even the most powerful corporate citizens will be the savior of lives lost and shattered in an ever-growing insanity.

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