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The Wal(mart)s Between Us: Defining the ‘All’ in ‘All In’

Blue Light Special on irony: Auburn fans distressed by the Coaches' Trophy recent tour of Walmart take heart — some of the most Bama-fan looking people to pose with it were, in fact, Bama fans.

I told Auburn Police Captain James Tatum about the Facebook campaign to keep the BCS National Championship trophy out of Walmart.

“Now that’s just stupid. That’s just the work of some small-minded people, you know what I’m saying. These last two years have been good for the whole state. I just don’t understand this whole taking sides thing, this fanaticism. That’s just like when I hear talk radio. I can’t listen to it. I have to turn the station. Just small-minded people.”

Tatum, a 23-year member of the AUPD, volunteered to watch Auburn fans stand in front of a “second-tier soda” mural and cheese it up with the crystal football from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

I asked him if he was an Alabama fan, because I knew I was going to write something about the experience.* And wouldn’t it be convenient and a great big hyuck-hyuck, and an interesting anecdote to boot, if a cop that pulled for Bama had to stand resolute and proud in uniform for four hours as a parade of Auburn released 54 years of frustration in front of Diet and regular Dr. Pepper fridge packs, the white Diets inset in the red regulars to spell “War Eagle,” in the clothing section of the Auburn Walmart.

“What difference does it make?”

I’d found the only non-partisan person in the entire Auburn Walmart.

“I don’t take sides. I like for both teams to do well, you know what I’m saying. I even hope Troy does well.”

He had a very Walmart-ian viewpoint.

+++

Walmart is vulgar. There’s a website dedicated to the store’s patrons, at least the absurd and disturbing and downright disgusting ones. (Old man in the hotdog hat excluded.) It’s been accused of improperly employing illegal immigrants and forcing workers to work overtime and off-the-clock without pay. The “Criticism of Walmart” Wikipedia page has 115 references. Walmart is coarse. Walmart is rude.

But the reason some Auburn fans were so indignant about the prospect of the Coaches’ Trophy on display at Walmart stems from the other definition of vulgar — characteristic of or belonging to the masses. The goal of Walmart is to be everything for everybody. Need a toothbrush? Got it. How about a prescription filled? Check. Why don’t you get your oil changed while you’re at it. And grab you some of them Zatarain’s microwavable chicken alfredos. They’re 3 for $5 right now.

Here’s the problem, and here’s the reason for all the letters, groups, and cries of protest: Auburn is not for everyone. We are a select group, not necessarily exclusive but not necessarily inclusive either. We like to think of Auburn as a family. The Family, we say. “Today was a great win for the Auburn Family. He’s doing the Auburn Family proud. She is an asset to the Family. The Family wills it. Drink this, it’s from the Family. Don the familial robes. For the Family.” And etc. and etc. and I took that a bit too far but you get the point, I hope. Some of you maybe.

We have all these high-minded ideals of what an Auburn Man or an Auburn Woman should be, what they should look like, how they should act, what income level they should achieve, but… you can’t pick your fans. Sometimes the Auburn fan is the small Filipino man wearing a championship hat and giving a thumbs-up or chubby Larry David sporting a gray 2010 Iron Bowl shirt (“2 Much for Tuscaloosa”) or unimpressed lady in a Carhartt jacket holding up the No. 1 finger.

Last year, after Alabama won not only its first Heisman Trophy but its 85th national championship, the Auburn fan’s only solace — outside of the “moral victory” of the Iron Bowl — was Alabama’s trophy tour around the state’s Walmarts. Oh! the rednecks and recluses and crazed Alabama Mans. What backwoods degenerates and people of questionable pedigree. We Auburn fans would never stoop so low.

Oops.

It seems we’re all in this together. Each side feels superior; that’s how sports work. All Alabama fans sacrifice small animals at the final resting place of Bear Bryant’s chalk-white carcass and all Auburn fans smell of cow manure and suffer from little-brother syndrome. The more we accentuate the differences, the more the similarities become apparent.

We stereotype because life is infinitely confusing and complex. If you took the time to truly try to understand each and every person you met, you’d go crazy. There isn’t enough time in the day. Stereotypes are what keep the world spinning. This group is narrow-minded and naïve and that group is greedy and selfish and that one over there smells funny and eats too much cheese.

But sometimes, I think, I hope, and I here argue to some effect maybe, you remember a broad-generalization or stereotype rarely does an individual justice. (Yay for togetherness and empathy.) Sometimes you look in the mirror.**

To summarize: Who cares if people wearing Auburn apparel take pictures in front of Dr. Pepper fridge packs in the middle of the clothing section of Walmart. We’re all hypocrites. It’s not that big a deal.

We all live in Alabama.

* Which is always a weird conundrum. Because part of my brain is always constructing and arranging the experience for the eventual writing. It’s all: this is a good opening and here’s an interesting anecdote and I should stand over here and not talk to that person because he or she might destroy the delicate web I’m trying to weave here. I am trying to develop what Gay Talese calls the “art of hanging out.”

** For the record: I still think Auburn fans are superior to Alabama fans in every way.


Ben Bartley is a graduate of Auburn University. He would one day like to get paid for this whole writing business. (Feel free to offer him money.) In the meantime, he’s TWER’s assistant editor / water boy. Write to him at [email protected]. Did you read his essay on coming to unspeakably marvelous terms with the personal impact of Auburn football? You should.

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