Katy Burns: The people of Market Basket
So who, exactly, are the people of Market Basket? Are you one of them?
Think of our local supermarkets as neighborhoods.
We’ve got the upscale – Shaw’s, admired for its broad avenues/aisles and chichi sections (the wine department is especially attractive) but little patronized – and the middle-class redoubt of Hannaford, an overall pleasant place with the occasional pretentious feature (fake trees in the produce section! made-to-order sushi!).
Then there’s Market Basket, the unashamedly down-to-earth food emporium known for diversity and – it’s widely believed – low costs. Concord’s two Market Baskets bustle with assorted humanity, from folks who look vaguely like street people to harried mothers loading their carts with cereal and bananas and gray-haired darlings leaning on their shopping carts while spending endless minutes contemplating with rapt attention the various brands of mustard available in the cluttered condiment aisle.
In fact, clutter is a hallmark of Market Baskets, whatever aisle one prowls. And they’re noisy, with PA systems overflowing with a stream of announcements of sales and specials.
Market Baskets can be fairly termed funky – and fun. They harbor on their shelves more than a few unexpected treats along with the bargains.
So it was with a certain amount of anticipatory delight I learned there was a website called “The People of Market Basket” as well as a related Facebook page.
I had to check them out, and initially they looked promising. The parent site, peopleofmb.com, is basically an endless stream of photos of folks shopping at Market Baskets in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
The photos – clearly taken with cell phones – are accompanied by snarky comments written by someone (or perhaps a group of someones) writing as WeAreThePeopleOf, who I’m guessing originated and maintains the site.
Anyone submitting a photo is sternly warned that they should get releases from any people who appear in the photos, but clearly that is something honored mainly in the breach, unless one can maintain with a straight face that, say, the rotund man leaning over a cooler with most of his large, pink posterior bursting from the top of his pants graciously consented to be mocked by hundreds of unknown internet users. Or that the large older woman in bright blue sweats and what appear to be pink fuzzy slippers cheerfully agreed to pose for a stranger.
And this is why the People of Market Basket site is disquieting – and, ultimately, a distasteful and depressing example of one of the worst aspects of the internet we all now view as our personal playground.
In addition to offering a spectacular range of information there for the asking – how deep is Lake Nakuru, where can I buy garam masala, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1954 – the internet can connect us with a whole universe of people, ideas and opinions. With access to the internet we can pay our bills, reserve a room in a remote romantic inn, check out the latest photographs transmitted by the Mars rover Curiosity, or watch clips of love scenes from Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights.
But that same internet also allows – in fact, encourages e_SEnD some to make extraordinary mischief or engage in just plain old meanness on a massive scale. And anonymous mischief and meanness at that.
Look at the malicious websites that abound, proffering outlandishly false information – from “the truth” about our Kenyan/Muslim/communist president to can’t-miss financial “investment” tips that would likely lead to bankruptcy – and accountable to no one. They can vanish one day and pop up the next, and no one even knows who is behind them.
The same is true of the emails peddling “urban myths” – a kind way of saying outrageous lies – that recirculate endlessly, clogging email boxes and alarming gullible recipients about imaginary “death panels,” for example.
The internet is the best weapon snoops and stalkers have. They can do their dirty work without leaving fingerprints.
And bullies are right at home in cyberspace, from the pitiable souls who make social media sites little better than minefields to the commenters who infest almost all websites today. Wrapped in their comfortable anonymity, they delight in attacking people who are courageous enough to attach their names to their words. The Monitor has its share of these cowards, but it is hardly alone. In fact, the comments on the lofty Washington Post website exist in a virtual cesspool of malice and misinformation.
And then there’s the casual bullying of such websites as The People of Market Basket. They’re the 21st century equivalent of a gang of teenage girls or boys who think nothing of tormenting people they perceive as different – as not up to their lofty standards.
It’s pathetic enough that so many people have nothing better to do than haunt what they consider downscale markets to snap candid shots of the stores’ seemingly downscale patrons.
It is worse, somehow, that the photos are then used to mock people who have no idea that they’re objects of ridicule for perhaps hundreds of other souls.
Those subjected to this casual derision, after all, are not anonymous, even if an occasional face is pixilated. That young woman who’s bulging out of her bizarre open-backed top would, should she stumble on the website, surely be humiliated to be the object of jeers, however odd her choice of clothing.
The truth is that the same folks who are having such a high old time violating the privacy and dignity of folks who pop up in their cell phone cameras are, themselves, likely to have more than a few unsightly candid moments that they’d be mortified to find captured by anonymous voyeurs with cameras.
The victims here are not, after all, auditioning for America’s Beautiful People or some other reality show coming soon to a cable channel near us all.
They are innocently grocery shopping, for goodness’ sake! As one who shops at all three stores in question, I can testify that darned few people of any age, weight or shape dress up for a trip to the grocery store. And they likely won’t in the future. But maybe now the people of Market Basket – and everyone else – will all be a bit more wary of snickering people wielding cell phones.
(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)