Retail giant Wal-Mart is the world’s largest public company, and whether or not you’re a fan of shopping at the House that Sam Walton Built, you’ve got to admit that the store stocks just about everything. But not quite, though. There are a number of things that Wal-Mart has banned from its stores at some point. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
In 2002 Wal-Mart cleared its shelves of Barbie’s pregnant friend, Midge. The doll, which featured a removable stomach complete with deliverable baby, was part of Mattel’s “Happy Family” set that also included her husband and son. However, customers complained about seeing pregnancy enter into Barbie’s universe, and Wal-Mart pulled all of the Happy Family sets from its stores.
That’s right: panties that say, “Who needs credit cards…” on the front and “When you have Santa” on the rear. The undergarments started showing up in Wal-Mart’s juniors departments in December 2007 and quickly started an Internet firestorm over the perceived message of using Kris Kringle as a sugar daddy. While the same joke would be fairly harmless on, say, a t-shirt, many women felt that its placement on underwear added a sinister sexual undertone aimed at adolescent girls. In response to the public outcry, Wal-Mart pulled the offending underthings from its shelves.
You may remember the raucous debate about whether the Confederate flag should be flown over the South Carolina State House in 2000, but you probably didn’t know the battle spilled over into Wal-Mart’s grocery aisles. At the time, 90 Southern Wal-Marts were marketing a mustard-based sauce created by Maurice Bessinger, an outspoken advocate of flying the Rebel flag over the State House and owner of eight Piggie Park restaurants.
During the flag debate, Bessinger replaced all American flags at his eateries with Confederate flags, a move that Wal-Mart saw as objectionable and needlessly provocative, so the company yanked his sauces from its stores. (Don’t feel too bad for Bessinger, though; it took nothing less than a 1976 Supreme Court intervention to force him to serve African Americans in his restaurants.)
In 1995 a Miami-area Wal-Mart pulled this shirt from its racks after consumer complaints. The shirt, which featured the character Margaret from Dennis the Menace, ran afoul of “the company’s family values,” so it went back to the stock rooms. Eventually more reasonable, non-Stone-Age heads prevailed, and the shirt made it back onto the shelves after three months in limbo.
In November 2005, German courts ruled that Wal-Mart could not ban all workplace romance at its German stores. The retailer had unsuccessfully tried to force all employees to sign off on a 28-page code of ethics that included prohibitions on “lustful glances and ambiguous jokes” and “sexually meaningful communication of any type.”
In 1999 Wal-Mart put the brakes on selling an action figure featuring WWE hardcore wrestler Al Snow. Snow’s wrestling gimmick at the time involved walking to the ring while carrying and talking to a mannequin head. Naturally, his action figure came with the head as an accessory, but two professors at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University saw the inclusion of the head as a problem. They told the press that by selling the action figure society was “normalizing violent treatment of women. We are telling little boys that this is acceptable behavior.” (Please, parents: don’t ever give your sons the impression that carrying and talking to part of a mannequin is acceptable.) Following this high-profile outcry, Wal-Mart quit stocking the Al Snow action figure.
The Wal-Mart in the starlet’s hometown supposedly banned her for life following a teenage shoplifting bust. A 2008 report on contactmusic.com alleged that Fox got the heave-ho after being caught swiping a $7 tube of lip gloss during a rebellious shoplifting spree, which earned her the lifetime ban.
If you’re a frisky 17-year-old looking for the latest Maxim, Stuff, or FHM, don’t head to Wal-Mart. Since 2003 the store has banned the so-called “lad mags” due to their racy photo spreads and bawdy editorial content.
It’s actually not all the uncommon for Wal-Mart to give a single issue of a magazine an ax, too. In the past, the store has refused to stock issues of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition and a 2001 issue of InStyle that featured an artistic nude shot of Kate Hudson.
Wal-Mart has long declined to stock any music bearing a parental advisory warning for explicit lyrical content, but the company’s fastidiousness with regards to music doesn’t stop there. When the store carried Nirvana’s album In Utero, it changed the song title “Rape Me” to the less offensive (and less coherent) “Waif Me.” Similarly, the store declined to carry Prince’s 1988 album Lovesexy because of a fairly tame cover that featured a nude photo of the artist.
When the comedy Superbad hit store shelves in 2007, it came with a little extra: a replica of the fake Hawaii driver’s license used by the self-dubbed “McLovin’.” Most movie fans would simply see this freebie as a little reminder of one of the movie’s funniest scenes, but Hawaiian authorities simply felt it was a fake ID. Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann requested that Wal-Mart pull the DVD from store shelves across the state, and the retailer quickly complied.
Wal-Mart’s Canadian stores found themselves in a pickle in 1997. The Canadian subsidiary had begun selling Cuban-made pajamas at eight bucks a pop across our neighbor to the North, which enraged both the company’s home office and the U.S. Treasury Department.
The stores quickly pulled the offending PJ’s, which led to a second problem: this action may have violated a Canadian law that forbids abiding by the American embargo of Cuba. After the Ottawa government pointed out that Wal-Mart could face a million-dollar fine for pulling the sleepwear from its shelves, the Canadian Wal-Marts reversed the ban after one week. [Underwear & T-shirt images courtesy of Feministing.com.]
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