People of WalMart: One ugly Internet phenomenon

A wildly popular site pokes fun at the horror of big box shoppers, and proves how unattractive the Web can be

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published August 17, 2010 6:18PM (EDT)

There's a reason a lot of us prefer to shop online. Exhibit A though Z – the funny/awful/retina-burning glory that is, the self-explanatorily titled, so-popular-of-course-there's-a-book-coming-out blog that celebrates the patrons of the big box store we love to hate.

Since it launched a year ago, People of Walmart has become a bona fide repository of Americana, a collection of anecdotes about cat litter and OxyContin, videos of dancing grannies -- and photos. Terrible, terrible photos. If it served no other purpose, the site could exist purely for the rest of the planet to point and say, "Do you see why we call your land the Great Satan?"

But that's not PoW's true raison d'etre. No, it is to feel better about one's own relative attractiveness. Though site creators Andrew Kipple, Adam Kipple and Luke Wherry tell would-be contributors, "There is no reason to send us pictures of people that are seriously and unfortunately handicapped so don’t be an asshole," pretty much everything else is fair game. And we are not a pretty people, America. We have a surplus of back fat and a shortage of teeth and sartorial judgment.

Sure, it's all in good fun, and frankly if you're traipsing around the storage solutions aisle in a hospital gown, you may be the textbook definition of "asking for it." And seriously, nobody needs to draw on eyebrows ever

Yet is it possible to read the comments under a photograph of an obese person on a mobility scooter, snarking on her "rolls of Twinkie fat" and "lardass" and not feel like giving your paycheck to Greenpeace just to balance out some of the epic douchieness in the universe?

For all the ire that WalMart, evil empire, inspires, it would appear our greatest disdain is reserved not for the corporation but for those trashy, lardy, pathetic people who roam their aisles. How dare they be guilty of shopping while hideous? Of having a baby and showing off "thunder thighs"? Of being just so goddamm unself-aware? In the words of Nelson Muntz, "Ha HA!"

I'd wager that on our worst days, most of us don't meet the extreme standards of mullet-rocking, butt-crack-showing excess it takes to earn a place on PoW. Yet it doesn’t take much perusing of the images – many with faces totally unobscured -- to feel utterly mortified for the subjects, and to marvel at how easy the Web makes it to laugh at some fat loser in Texas who left her house in a tube top this morning without consulting the whole wide world on her weight, wardrobe and overall lack of comeliness. And it makes one weary, very quickly, of how very ugly we truly are.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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