Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

The Wrong Ants are Marching

Last night, I just happened to flip by \”HDNet,\” which I believe is a network only available on DirecTV.  Needless to say, I don\’t watch it very often.  But it just happened to be showing a concert by the now-nearly-forgotten Dave Matthews, along with his sidekick Tim Reynolds.

It\’s easy to forget this, but a decade ago, the Dave Matthews Band was the singular biggest force in music.  People will likely look back at the late \’90s as the Dave Matthews Era, much as they consider the early \’80s the \”Michael Jackson era\” or the early \’90s as the \”grunge era.\” (The late \’90s also featured a resurgence of boy bands like N\’Sync and the Backstreet Boys, which will also be a large footnote to the era.)  At a time when the internet was fracturing musical tastes into neat little categories, Dave Matthews seemed to be the one act that could still sell out stadiums across the U.S.

Yet despite all of Matthews\’ success, he actually had a big problem: he was too successful.  To the music cognoscenti, he committed the mortal sin of having the wrong kind of fans.  While he made damn good music and was a stellar guitar player, he attracted frat guys with carefully ripped hats and beaded necklaces.  He sold thousands of tickets to high school girls in halter tops and birkenstocks.  Many of these kids needed a band to follow around and smoke pot to after the demise of the Grateful Dead and Phish.

But many \”cultured\” music fans led the backlash against Matthews, charging he made music for dopey frat kids.  Again, this criticism stems not from the actual music Matthews made, but more towards the people who enjoyed it.  Had Dave Matthews never emerged from the Virginia club scene, music critics would have been falling over themselves to praise what an original, quirky band they were.  But once they started selling out venues, the criticisms became inevitable.

And now, those kids have grown up – as was evident from the concert that was on last night (which, I presume was filmed fairly recently.)  Yes, it appears that most of these people are still dopes.  I\’m not sure I could sit through a show where two balding guys high-five each other and hug every time a song they recognize starts.  Most crowd shots displayed women in their mid-20\’s screaming the lyrics at the top of their lungs while in some kind of transcendent musical coma.  But to these people, the music really means something.  And that can\’t be discounted.

As I thought more about it, music really isn\’t the only place where we judge entities based on their clientele.  Take Wal-Mart for example.  If you told the mayor of a squalor-ridden inner city that you were going to drop a store in the heart of downtown that employed hundreds of people and sold goods to poor people for really cheap prices, he\’d probably propose to you.  Yet many (mostly wealthy, white) people fight Wal-Mart with all their being.  Why?  For the same reason the \”smart\” people don\’t like Dave Matthews – they don\’t like their customers.

Despite all the drummed-up rhetoric about Wal-Mart paying their employees nothing and working them to death, the fact remains that these people continue to work there.  This argument is simply a chimera, meant to mask the real reason suburbanites don\’t like Wal-Mart: they don\’t want Wal-Mart\’s customers in their neighborhoods.  Walk into any Wal-Mart one of these days, and you see people taking advantage of low prices.  And you know who these people are?  Here\’s a hint: they\’re not wealthy white people.  Many of them are blacks and Latinos of modest means – translation: not the kind of people most suburbanites want to attract.

So while Wal-Mart should be commended for ensuring people on the lower end of the economic scale can have access to the diapers and medicine they need, they are generally reviled.  Not because of the store itself, but because of who shops there.  As such, Wal-Mart is the victim of the Dave Matthews Effect.

In fairness, I have to admit when I\’m guilty of such snobbery.  I still have yet to see the appeal of NASCAR and modern country music.  But that\’s not so much because of the people that enjoy it than it is because, in order: 1.  Watching cars take a left turn for two hours is boring, and 2.  The music is generally legitimately terrible.

SIDE NOTE:  Back to Wal-Mart:  Think about Barack Obama\’s tax plan: he plans on giving tax credits to \”95% of working people.\”  Actually, he\’s just handing out checks to the 40% of Americans who don\’t make enough money to pay taxes.  But here, in Wal-Mart, you actually have a business providing actual relief to these same people, through lower prices.  In practice, Wal-Mart is the same type of tax relief Obama\’s looking for.  But, apparently, in order for a tax benefit to be considered legitimate, it has to come out of the hide of someone else.

Also, I took my kids to the cheap theater to see WALL-E this weekend.  The message of the movie is clear: if stores like Wal-Mart are allowed to multiply, the world will be unliveable, forcing humans into space, where they will all be fat, lazy, and incapable of original thought.  It\’s ironic, since I\’ve actually been thinking a lot lately that that\’s exactly where our government is headed – government health care removes any responsibility for humans to take control of their own health.  Excessive government regulation eliminates the incentive for innovation and individuality.  Basically, the larger government grows, the more incapable citizens will be of fully developing their full senses of self.  If you accept that the nightmare scenario envisioned by WALL-E is going to come true, it will be excessive government regulation that makes us all infants, not bargain hunting.

2 Comments

  1. Hey Chris. I’m guilty of the same snobbery, but when I’m forced to go into a Wal Mart, I have to say that Blacks and Latinos are not the clientele. It’s poor white people. At least that’s what I see in NoVa ( and a few of the other southern places I’ve been). So I can imagine in the red states where Wal Mart does it’s business, it’s more of the same. So to your larger point, I think it’s more of class warfare then race. Besides, Wal Mart stores suck!!!

  2. Christian Schneider

    October 27, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Of course, I didn’t mean to conflate ethnicity with poverty; but I have been to the Wal-Mart here in Madison plenty, and it’s definitely not the upper class white crowd shopping there.

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