America’s great values



Great Value: this is the bargain brand produced by and for, and marketed at, Wal-Mart. Under its name is sold spaghetti and sauce, salted soup crackers, canned pears and peaches, toothbrushes, cauldrons, cough suppressants: anything that can be made generic. Such as a thermal tote.

Great Value products read, underneath the abbreviated “GV” version of the brand’s logo (tailored for narrow surfaces like the spines of pasta boxes), “When quality counts.” This is Great Value’s slogan; pause on it. A brand whose name means “inexpensive without being cheap” is represented by “When quality counts”—when quality counts, it tells us, buy that which is inexpensive but not cheap; when quality counts, seek out a Great Value. Yet does this not completely unseat the characteristic of “quality” from its presumed place as an at all important characteristic one evaluates when choosing a product? Does not “value,” precisely because it is used to simultaneously gauge quality and cost, deemphasize quality to the point of its disappearance as a genuine criterion for purchase? Is not quality dissolved altogether by inclusion in this doubly-abstract term “value”—a characteristic that is always dependent more on an item’s relative cheapness than on that its relative quality? How can we earnestly speak of “quality” as a virtue at all in an atmosphere in which all major discernable goals, that of the producer to make a profit and that of the consumer to spend as little as possible, have money, rather than taste or comfort or innovation or functionality, at their core? What does “quality” then denote in this atmosphere, in which quality is conflated with cost?: “value,” which makes no tangible statement about quality whatsoever. That exalting of money may be a “value” of a sort, but it’s certainly not a “great” one. Nonetheless, it is the value that’s quietly battered into to each time you pass those colorful 50-cent Sam’s Choice soda machines, exchange pleasantries with an elderly woman, and enter Sam Walton’s Hobbesian, postmodern, uniquely American wonderland.

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