So every now and then a legality story comes around that defies all matters of common sense . These stories usually originate in my home state and this one in particular falls well under that description. A Ypsilanti woman was shocked to find out that her mother appeared on the website "People of Walmart". If you're unfamiliar with the website follow the link and bask in the glory of all things ugly and hilarious. I don't know how Walmart manages to attract these people but it reminds me why I don't shop there.
The woman contests in this story:
"The thing is if you take a picture of someone in public, they're in public," she said. "My argument is you're in a Walmart. We have no privacy shopping? … So, I could go into any store and take a picture of anybody or their children and put it up on a web page." (Ms. Walmart Jr)
Well Mrs. Daisy, technically yeah you can. Welcome to the U.S.A. and the year 2011. I don't claim to be a legal expert or a fashion guru but I'm pretty aware of how I look before I walk out the door into public. As a college student who has rolled out of bed, many days, 20 minutes before my class was due to begin--I've learned how to rock that "just off a weekend bender with a side of homelessness" look very well. See as college students we get away with that kind of thing. I've gone weeks without shaving. Here in the mitten we tend to call that the NHL playoffs. Many of us feel that if our team doesn't win we should continue to sport the beards--as a sign of mourning and protest. On the other hand if our team wins--the beard is a sign of victory and manhood! Grab a beer and flaunt your beard!
That being said I'm aware that to some people the whole hippie look seems ridiculous and what's the word work used with me, ummm, oh yeah, "unprofessional" (air-quotes). I'm aware that going out in public looking like a modern day caveman will get stares and criticism. I'm aware that people may not appreciate the fact that my facial hair is now a home for a rare species of endangered birds. So I take on that risk when I enter the public arena looking like I belong on a Geico commercial.
As for Miss Daisy and her ridiculous looking mother--the same rule of thumb applies. If everybody else on planet Earth has to groom and pay attention to what they wear, how they act, what they do, how they smell, how they look, etc.; you and your fellow Walmart shopper of a circus clown mother have to as well. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover but you certainly aren't going to jump at reading one that's covered in cobwebs and mold. Just saying.
However let us break this down a little further. Is it legal to post online pictures of the crazy ass Morlocks that inhabit Walmarts around America for us to laugh, leer, and gag at? Well to answer that question let us first look into the actual action of taking photographs of people in public.
According to a 2008 USA Today article in regards to rules and laws about taking pictures in public:
"You can photograph people in public places without consent. There are exceptions, though. If subjects have a reasonable expectation of privacy, don't photograph them. For example, don't photograph someone in a restroom or locker room." (Kim Komando, 2008)
As much as your local Walmart resembles (& probably smells like) a restroom or locker room; it is neither of the two. You can no more walk around naked in Walmart (or near naked if you've seen the people on that website) than you can at your local elementary school (it's frowned upon like masturbating on a plane). So "expectations of privacy" do not exist in Walmart outside of its restrooms and employee locker rooms. I'm assuming that Walmart allows its employees access to lockers of some kind since it spent many years treating workers like they belonged in cages...but I digress.
The only such provision that exists that could possibly work in the defense of this woman is the provision in regards to private companies regulating and prohibiting photography upon their premises. That being said I don't know of Walmart having any such widespread rules in place ragging on flash photography. You need permission to take photos on private property but since Walmart falls under the category of "private places open to the public" the store can legally prohibit flash photography only on the grounds that the prohibited activities are "CLEARLY PRESENTED". This is why when you walk into your local AMC Theater you'll see signs every 20 feet saying, "No Flash & Video Photography Please". Something tells me those signs aren't littering Walmart. Words and letters could scare away their core demographic.
So ugly shoppers of America--you're out of luck. Tell Uncle Billy & Aunt Miff that they better leave their spandex one pieces and lycra thongs at home or expect a portfolio or two of their gelatinous figures on the world wide web.
Ms. Wheeler continued in reference to the photo itself:
"The picture's of … like the back of her right shoulder, so they were doing it … about stomach level where no one would see that they were holding a camera up to do it," Wheeler said. "She was upset about it. Her first reaction when I told her was I want the picture taken off. Can you do it? And I'm like no, I don't run the website."
A couple things came to mind reading this.
1.) Ignorance of the law is no excuse. In this case it's no defense.
This woman dressed like an idiot and went out into public looking like a slob. That's her problem. By the photographer stealthily snapping a candid of ol Nessie here she probably "unknowingly"guaranteed that another provision was followed in regards to public photography. SHE DID NOT CREATE A DISTURBANCE TO THE PUBLIC. The only thing disturbing was the alleged woman in the picture. *Shudders*
2.) She maybe able to get the photograph taken off the website if she can prove that the picture causes mental (how about the rest of us having to see her fugly ass) or economic duress. Also the picture would have to be physically identifiable and distinguishable as her.
This image is of the "back of her right shoulder" as Walmart Jr. points out. This in my opinion would probably make it a little difficult to prove as physically identifiable or distinguishable. That being said I'm sure that if this story gets enough heat behind it--the website will probably take down the picture as a precaution anyways. Somehow I doubt this is going to get that much movement though. The woman dresses like a dingbat. There's no grounds for defamation there. She looks like an idiot via the exhibition of the incriminating evidence: a photo of her dressed like an idiot in public. Case closed.
3.) What in the hell was this woman doing on "People of Walmart" to begin with if she wasn't already engaging in the act of laughing at other goofy Walmart shoppers herself?
It comes back to the old saying about "those who live in glass houses". Unless this woman was tipped off by somebody (which the way it was worded in the article does not seem to be the case at all) that this dame on the website looked an awful lot like her mother; I really don't see what this woman is bitching about? Sounds to me like Ms. Wheeler had no problem laughing and scowling at the other 99.9% of the images on this website until her dear old Mom showed up. If that's the case honey-STOP WHINING!
My favorite part of the entire story was the little snippet about Walmart "in no way supporting the website." I had to chuckle there. Real talk.
Face it. People like to go into Walmart and walk around for the same reasons that people like to slow down and gawk at car wrecks on the highway. We live in a rubbernecking society. People have morbid and bizarre curiosity by human nature. Walmart doesn't care about "People of Walmart" nor should they. They're the single largest company in the world and if you were the big fish in the pond you wouldn't really give a shit about the little fish either. You'd just give a shit that there were little fish to shop in your store and buy your Chinese...fish food...okay that analogy sucked but you get my point.
"People of Walmart" gets people into those stores to look for more people to post on that site. It's American voyeurism at its very finest and just goes to prove that there is no publicity worse than no publicity. "People of Walmart" provides the "Where's Waldo?" factor to Walmart's existence. It gets people in the store looking for Waldo. Voilà! Walmart's got you in their store. Problem solved. Everybody's happy.
So the moral of this story is: Don't dress like an idiot and you won't end up on People of Walmart.
However if you don't mind looking like an idiot--do as the Romans (me) and just avoid going to Walmart.
Until next time,
Peace & Love