(Blog Post #3) Individual vs. Society: An Ode to the Walmart Shopper


Have you ever people watched? I mean, not everyone does it for fun (*raises hand* guilty), but you know how it goes. You’ve been walking around all day, and you finally spot the first bench you’ve seen in 20 minutes. Relief is in sight! You make your way over to the seat, and you make yourself comfortable. You let out a sigh that’s half exhaustion and half relief. Once you’re all comfortable, you start to notice everyone walking around you. You see a lady pushing her fussy toddler in a stroller, a man who could easily be Hulk Hogan’s body double, and an elderly man who gingerly makes his way forward using his cane. (It’s amazing what you start to notice when your eyes aren’t glued to the screen of your phone every time you’re bored in public. Don’t lie, we all do it.)

I thought about this whole people-watching concept, and then I realized how relevant it is to Simmel’s 3 assumptions about the individual and society. Just to recap, they are:

  1. Individuals are both within and outside society.
  2. Individuals are both objects and subjects within networks of communicative interaction
  3. Individuals have the impulse to be self-fulfilling and self-completing, that is, they seek an integrated self-concept.

When we look at people around us, we have the power to decide what is deemed acceptable and what is considered deviant. Now, deviance is relative. What may be seen as deviant in one setting may be the norm in another. As for me, I love wearing Jordans. They’re comfortable shoes, and they look cool. More importantly, I feel cool when I wear them. If I wear them at QC, I sometimes get compliments on them. If I wear them in my 98% Caucasian neighborhood, I’m bound to get some strange, sideways looks. Apparently, I missed the memo that white girls aren’t allowed to wear certain sneakers.

If you’ve never been to http://www.peopleofwalmart.com before, you’re welcome. You’ve never really people-watched unless you’ve been to Walmart, let’s be honest. When we people-watch, these Walmart shoppers are the objects and subjects. Unfortunately, some of them are the object of cringe-worthy reactions, but they are also the subject of our attention. Adversely, we also become the subject of someone’s attention when we least expect it. And whether we like it or not, you’re bound to spot that Abercrombie model look-a-like as you’re stuffing an Auntie Anne’s pretzel into your mouth. We all have our moments. Shrug it off.

With all of these ads that are posted in the mall, it’s hard not to feel pressured. Vendors at those little kiosks try to come up to you and say, “Wear this! You’ll look sexy!” “Spray this perfume! We promise you won’t smell like your Great Aunt Nancy!” (<–Okay, so that one was a stretch, but you get the point.) We are constantly looking to improve upon ourselves by buying the latest technologies, following the latest fashion trends, and learning how to make those puke-colored green smoothies that everyone raves about. I mean, do you know how many self-help books are out there? A LOT. We are a society that constantly strives for perfection, and just when we think we’re satisfied, BOOM! Apple comes out with a brand new iPhone. Suddenly, your “smart” phone starts looking like it came off the set of “Saved By the Bell.” The truth is, we’ll never truly be happy unless we stop trying to use the money we don’t have to buy the things we don’t need in order to impress people we don’t even like.

So. The next time you go to the mall, I encourage you to sit down, put your phone in your pocket, and look at people. I mean, really look at people. We are all misfits in one way or another, so we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Perhaps that mother with the baby was once an Olympic swimmer. Maybe that body builder has a soft spot for his miniature poodle, Fifi. And maybe that elderly gentleman injured his leg when he fought for our country. Who knows? Maybe it’s not individual vs. society, but rather the individual vs self. So let’s be nice to ourselves, and let’s be understanding of others. Everyone’s just trying to get by. So let’s grab a hot Auntie Anne’s pretzel and call it a day. We all deserve it.

Treat yo’ self.


6 responses to “(Blog Post #3) Individual vs. Society: An Ode to the Walmart Shopper

  1. What you speak of is the ugly truth. How will we ever be happy if we allow the market to set a mobile happiness bar that only moves ten steps higher as soon as we reach it? In order to be happy we must first define ourselves, and understand what we want, not what crazy technology companies want to sell us. I’ve “people-watched” a few times, and i must admit that it brings me some sort of strange comfort. It gives me a little reminder that we’re in the together; the world does not revolve around my phone and i. People-watching allows me to step out of the picture for a second and give a little merely by empathizing, or at least trying to.

    • That’s exactly my point. I feel like we, as society, set unreasonably high expectations for ourselves in our pursuit of perfection. It’s the ultimate psych. It’s a losing game, and nobody wins. You’ll be chasing windmills for the rest of your life. I don’t think we’ll ever truly be satisfied with our lives until we shift our focus from the things we lack, to the things we have.

      My mom once told me, “You can be the richest person in the world. You can have the biggest house, the fanciest cars, the finest china, and the most expensive jewels. But when you die, you can’t take it with you.”

  2. There will always be someone labeling a person on where they shop how they walk talk dress because in this day and age society is always judging someone. I feel as an individual you just have to be complete with ones self and not depend on how others may view you in society because their feelings are just opinions and if your making steady progress and successful in your eyes whether you shop at convenient or expensive stores that is your own business.

  3. I definitely agree that sometimes as individuals that belong to an individualistic, innovative, capitalist society we tend to be so sucked in by latest high tech innovations or even ourselves to notice more important things around us with a more careful eye like meaningful interactions and taking part of society not just as consumers or victims of capitalism but as interactive beings.That is why we are part of an individualistic society. It is not about the group or people around us but sadly ourselves. We become so attached to the things that we own and our insatiable cravings for more. It relates to status anxiety and commodity fetishism. As Simmel stated we do have an impulse for self-fullfiment and completion. We set our bars high…in fact maybe too high sometimes and it leads to dissatisfaction. We always want MORE. Moreover, I do agree that when we die….it all stays behind. Also, we certainly we do tend to judge people immediately.

  4. Im not going to lie, I am guilty of people watching not just at walmart but everywhere. Its so facinating seeing different types of people and who they are, and living in NYC I get to see different types. I wonder about their lives, their culture, why they dress the way they do, and so many other things. Some people I watch make me think negatively of myself (fashion and trying to fit in), while sometimes it makes me feel alot better about my self. I also cant help but think, that the person across looks at me and thinks the same thing about me.

  5. Lvstar83-post 2—I have to admit and agree with this. I’ve watched people and wonder what they’re actually thinking about. Its very true, when you really start looking or ” starring” at people, i start noticing the littlest things. I don’t really judge people but i do wonder or rather question myself about how they act or why do they do what they do. To me at least i find it interested looking at other people cultural dress or culture in itself. I also find myself comparing to others as well.

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