“Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”: U.S. Consumers, Wal-Mart, and the Commodification of Patriotism



In the immediate post-9/11 world, it appeared that the retail sector might rank second to the airline industry on the list of economic casualties. Pollsters depicted the post-9/11 American as a survival-ist, sealed hermetically or at least with duct tape in a home loaded down with canned goods, connected to the world primarily through the television cable. Locked into news channels, their remotes seemingly incapable of processing connections to the shopping network, television viewers appeared unable to respond positively to the invitations of advertisers on any channel. “There are very few events that can actually scare some consumers from spending, [but] the events of [September 11] fall into that category,” stated Diane Swonk, chief economist at Bank One in Chicago.1 The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon threatened to undermine not only the nation’s infrastructure and reputation but also its equation of spending with citizenship. “There is a risk of a sudden attack of prudence,” noted David Wyss of Standard and Poor’s, in a particularly apt turn of phrase. If people stop living beyond their means, this could turn into a recession.”2 Fortunately for the economy, however, and in keeping with a historical tradition of spending, the dual afflictions of “affluenza” and “mall-aria” came out of remission, patriotism was recast as consumerism, and people quickly resumed their customary practices.3


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  1. 26.
    For one example of this, see Victor Davis Hanson’s collection of essays on September 11, Victor David Hanson, ed., An Autumn of War: What America Learned from September 11 and the War on Terrorism (New York: Anchor Books, 2002).Google Scholar
  2. 27.
    Robert Thompson quoted in Damien Cave, “The Spam Spoils of War,” in Signs of Life in the U.S.A.: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003), 124.Google Scholar
  3. 28.
    Christopher P. Campbell, “Commodifying September 11: Advertising, Myth, and Hegemony,” Media Representations of September 11, ed. Chermak, Bailey, and Brown (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2003), 47–65.Google Scholar
  4. 78.
    Stephen J. Arnold, et al., “Hometown Ideology and Retailer Legitimation: The Institutional Semiotics of Wal-Mart Flyers,” Journal of Retailing 77 (2001): 243–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 80.
    Paul Schmidt, “Blood and Disaster—Supply and Demand,” New England Journal of Medicine 346, no. 8 (2002): 618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 84.
    William Leach, Land of Desire (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), xiii.Google Scholar

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© Dana Heller 2005

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