Wal-Mart Flash cartoon jabs low wages, union busting

“It was summer ’05 When Wal-Mart and I Signed the biggest deal of the year. They gave me a pin And a smiley face grin and said, Garth boy, you’ll love it here But I had my doubts So I went to find out what’s Hidden behind Wal-Mart’s smirk I opened that door My jaw hit the floor That’s one f****d up place to work.”

520.jpg So begins the latest Flash cartoon to attack an important issue with humor. This one called “Friends with Low Wages” plays on the exclusive Garth Brooks contract with Wal-Mart using a hilarious reworking of his 1990 hit, “Friends in Low Places,” to make points about Wal-Mart’s pathetic wages, working conditions and rabid anti-union policies.

The cartoon follows Brooks as he watches Wal-Mart employees work. One scene depicts employees driven by whips as if they were Egyptian slaves dragging blocks to a pyramid construction site. Another employee is forced to clean a toilet bowl with his tongue. That one might be a little over the top but the message is clear — Wal-Mart treats its employees like dirt.

Eventually, the song turns to union organizing and Garth sings, “When those Wal-Mart guys hear the word unionize, they go completely insane.” We see a suited smiley face guy hitting a red “union panic button,” and Wal-Mart parachutes in its anti-union brigades to chase down any union sympathizers. It is particularly funny to see Norma Rae holding up her “union” sign and line dancing employees behind Brooks.

The animation closes with the cartoon Brooks proclaiming, “Its time for us to be courageous to stop these union bustin’ outrages because I don’t need anymore friends with low wages.” Now those are words to live by.

The cartoon, produced by American Rights at Work, is another example of what I like to call the “Jib Jabbing” of political humor. Jib Jab, a small company started by two brothers, specializes in this type of animation using a computer program called Flash. They became very prominent during the 2005 election with animations lampooning G.W. Bush and John Kerry. Their style is instantly recognizable with cartoon bodies and animated photographic faces. I was not able top obtain any production information as to whether “Friend’s with Low Wages” is a Jib Jab cartoon. Flash allows the animation to load very quickly for smooth viewing on most computers. It is also popular to e-mail links to these cartoons around the Internet so friends and relatives can be amused. Since they are disseminated very quickly, they become a very effective method to spread a political message — especially if the cartoon is as funny as “Friends with Low Wages.” Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of American Rights at Work, hopes that people find the cartoon hilarious but that they not forget the serious issue. American Rights at Work “encourages the public to find out the truth about Wal-Mart’s unionbusting ways and to speak out against its ruthless tactics.”

The animation can be found at www.walmartworkersrights.org.