Wal-Mart Takes Ozarks on International Path

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Commentator Andrei Codrescu finds that the growth of Wal-Mart's presence in the Ozarks of Arkansas has turned a rural landscape into a worldly one. A modern airport rises out of farm land and people head off for international destinations.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Over the years, commentator Andrei Codrescu has had many places to call home. It could be Romania, Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and now, the Ozarks. But as he has discovered, his rural Arkansas retreat is now a center of big business.

ANDREI CODRESCU: I'm flying to Minneapolis St. Paul nonstop from a half-built future international airport set amid vast, empty pastures. There are nonstop flights here to far-flung cities of the Earth, and that the ticketing machines are programmed to respond in Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese. Four major airlines operate from a half-finished terminal here and there are hangars housing hundreds of corporate jets.

Beyond the pastures that'll soon be new runways and hangars, there is a swarm of quickly rising McMansions serviced by mega-stores, mega-restaurants and mega-churches.

I'm at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport set inside a future corporate universe that is merging the cities of Rogers, Bentonville, Springdale and Fayetteville. This is the heart of the beast, headquarters of Wal-Mart. The land, bowing to the obvious will of empire, is rapidly losing all of the features of landscape - trees, cows, farmers, crops, bottomland, hilltops. The pastures - now worth jillions - are still warm from the bodies of volatilized farm animals and native crops, though parts of it had already been domesticated by Tyson, whose factories of pain mass fed us millions of chemically raised chickens.

With the arrival of the Wal-Mart Death Star however, even the tormented lives of Tyson chickens seem like a bit of sad nature dying out. The Death Star is making itself a city fortress that will eventually bring to itself all the couples of the myriads of production units that supply it, expand and annex new territories. The restaurants, fueling stations and launch pads are being readied by armies of Mexicans and Central Americans who work day and night.

The arriving couples will be of other nationalities, from countries where the products themselves are being assembled in smaller instant cities. On the airplane, a Caucasian corporate wife is lecturing a Chinese rep on traffic in Beijing.

NORRIS: Andrei Codrescu teaches English at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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