What do comedians George Carlin and Jon Stewart have in common? They can both boast now that they have been “banned in Bentonville” by the giant retailer Wal-Mart. In its quest to keep America culturally safe, Wal-Mart has enshrined itself as the Morality Police, by screening out books, magazines, videos and CDs that do not measure up to its standard of family values. The lastest victims of this artistic purge is George Carlin, whose new book, “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops,” will not be sold at Wal-Mart. The book features a cover photo spoofing the Last Supper, with Carlin seated next to an empty chair awaiting Jesus. Now his book will have to wait to be sold at Wal-Mart. “We did not order this book,” explained a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. “It was shipped to us in error by one of our distributors.” Wal-Mart said it “didn’t believe this particular product would appeal” to its consumer base. “These decisions always have to do with what we think our customers want to buy,” Carlin’s book is available at Wal-Mart’s website, however. One week ago, Wal-Mart censors dropped an order for comedian Jon Stewart’s bestselling “America (The Book)” because one page shows naked bodies with the heads of the Supreme Court Justices pasted on them. Wal-Mart said of the Stewart ban, “We felt the majority of our customers would not be comfortable with it.” The giant retailer is credited with 20% of all book sales in the United States.
Wal-Mart’s position as Cultural Cop not only can influence what books make it onto their shelves, but what books even get published. When I was first trying to promote my book in the mid 1990s, a number of mainstream publishers refused to touch the concept of an anti-Wal-Mart book because their marketing departments said that Wal-Mart would not carry such books, and sales would be diminished. I was ultimately approached by a small, independent publisher that did not care about Wal-Mart’s market clout, and my two books today are available on a number of retail websites, like amazon.com, borders.com, etc, but you will not find them at walmart.com. Wal-Mart should not stand between consumers and the products they want to buy. The retailer has every right to refuse to carry certain products, but they should say it is the company that is censoring the books, rather than blame their customers. If, as Wal-Mart says, “the customer is boss,” then the company should not let its tastes dictate what the boss gets to read, listen to, or watch. It is also ironic that while Wal-Mart is promoting its own version of family values, its own internal family dynamics is totally dysfunctional. Wal-Mart’s own family of 1.5 million workers is an example of how not to treat family members. Wal-Mart is currently being sued by its own “associates” for sexual and racial discrimination, for forcing workers to labor without pay, and just about every other conceivable worker rights issue ever raised. For Wal-Mart to hold itself up as some kind of paragon of family values and taste, while being sued left and right by its own family, is the height of hypocrisy. Wal-Mart should call off the Cultural Police, and let the consumer decide what’s best for him or her.