My Own Private Target Boycott

I’m shocked by the recent Target story!

It caught me totally by surprise. Never in a million years did I think this would happen. Never did I expect to see so many lefties getting upset about Target giving money to a right-wing Chamber of Commerce political group.

[This is me being shocked.]

Of course, I am being sarcastic. Nobody should be surprised by a large corporation donating money to right-wing politicians. Of course Target is funding Tom Emmer. Corporate PACs have been funding right-wing politicians for eons. I'm sure Target money went to Pawlenty and Carlson and Grunseth and all the rest.

The Chamber of Commerce, at both local and national levels, has long been a consistent right-wing lobby. Sure they occasionally will push for an increased gas tax or immigration reform, but that's maybe 2% of the time. The rest of the time, they consistently support decreasing regulatory power, decreasing tax rates (and opening loopholes) for both corporations and upper-bracket earners, and making sure that the costs of social obligations (e.g. health care) do not fall on the company’s doormat.* As The Consumerist points out, the only difference now is that, instead of channeling the money through individual donors and PACs, thanks to the Citizen’s United case, Target can send the money straightaway.

Since the Target story broke a month or so ago, I’ve overheard dozens of conversations (and dozens of news stories, and dozens of tweets) about whether or not to boycott Target. I’ve talked with people who have been galvanized by this one small gesture. I’m still not sure I understand why people are surprised…

Perhaps Target presents a special, hometown circumstance. It’s only understandable to have local pride because they’re based here in Minneapolis. Many people here in town are economically dependent on Target, and their roots go way back locally (Mr. Dayton is running for governor, after all, somewhat ironically** pushing the “tax the rich” campaign.)

Perhaps Target’s well-publicized corporate philanthropy strategy has paid off in spades, and they’ve managed to convince people that they are ‘good’ corporate citizens.

Perhaps people can’t resist low, low prices?

Whatever the reason, it's interesting that folks are latching onto this donation to look at Target's political role in our community. It's interesting that this one $150K donation has singlehandedly
*** undermined countless millions of dollars of Target advertisting.

Unlike Trader Joe's, I have nothing personally against Target. Sure, I despise every minute I spend inside the stores. They give me the creeps.
I don't really like that shade of red. There's something gross about the plastic of the shopping carts. I don't like fluorescent lighting, or the fact that there are no windows. I don't like the huge ceilings. I get an odd vertigo surrounded by the endless rows of stuff, just massed there uselessly. I don't like looking at people in there. I feel like I'm competing with them in some sort of grand lab experiment. I don't like the way people push their carts as if they're in NASCAR. I don't like those squinty side-long glances, as if any moment a fight is going to break out. I don't like the way cashiers are being replaced by robots. I don't like the way people act when they're parking their cars, or trying to exit. I hate their real estate tax breaks, and I don't like the uselessness of their buildings. I don't like the way that big box retail is always expanding and cannibalizing each other. The whole place just doesn't encourage anyone to act in interesting ways. I don't like the kind of person I am when I'm inside there.

[This one isn't even that big.]

But, heck, there are a lot of stores like that. Target's probably ever-so-slightly better than most of them. Still, they all seem the same. For me, the biggest question to ask is, How does the store relate to its neighborhood?

Can you walk there? I.e. does it fit neatly into its environment without insisting on endlessly large parking lots?

Is it transparent enough so that you know who is in charge? If so, are they assholes?

Where do the profits go? I.e. Do they go to German Billionaire bothers Theo und Karl Albrecht? Do they go to fund ludicrous Hecker-esque levels of conspicuous consumption?

Does it allow for diversity? Does the store make your neighborhood or community better? Does it add something unique and special to the area?

Obviously neither Target nor any other big box store works on any of these levels. Of course, I’m a little nuts. (And I have an irrational hatred of Trader Joe’s.)****

Let's be frank, nobody's going to stop shopping at Target. Our neighborhoods and lifestyles are designed around Target (or pick any other large big box corporation, they are all the same). We have huge cars and huge houses and huge fridges and huge parking lots and huge commutes. Nobody has any spare time.

And nobody that doesn't live in one of the Twin Cities' few urban neighborhoods is going to stop making their twice-a-week, all-you-can-fit trip to Target for groceries, clothes, hardware, pharmacy, and-ever-expanding-everything-else, and choose instead to make a dozen of smaller, shorter visits to locally-owned business on street corners.

Still, no matter what the reason, it's interesting to see Minnesotans start asking questions about the role of big box retail in society.

* For a great example of this business-centric myopia, look at the W 7th Street restaurant owner’s claim that his servers make $100K/year as justification for cutting wages across the state. What an asshole!)

** 'Tragic irony', not 'irony irony'.

*** 'Single-dollar-ly'?

**** Now I’m wondering whether or not the Target backlash is as simple as it seems. The Right has been using social issues as a wedge for a long time, and it seems like an interesting example of that strategy being applied on the other side of the coin. But, I wonder if the larger context of the US economy should be part of this discussion? Is Target’s funding of anti-gay candidates and organizations a stand-in for American’s frustration with the corporate world in general?

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