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October 24, 2005

The Walt Scale of Crass Commercialism

A new way to measure the scale of tacky commercialization in a place – the Walt scale.

Over at Stay Free!, one of my favorite blogs, Jason Torchinsky has proposed a brilliant new unit of measurement: the “Walt Scale” of crass commercialism. Think about it: we have Nielsen ratings for levels of TV viewership, “Q” ratings for the likability of celebrities, and hedonics analysis to put a price tag on pleasure denied. In physics, there are ohms and ergs and rems. Why not a unit of measurement to more precisely describe the level of trashy, commodified culture?

Torchinsky explains the origins of the scale and why it’s called “Walt”:

Ever been to Myrtle Beach, SC? It’s a craphole. What makes it a craphole is not so much the actual beach landscape itself, but rather the sheer volume of crap-vending, advertising, and generally far too much commerce in too small a volume. Not good commerce, either; lots of “12 for $5” t-shirt places, Hooters, and similar offal.
So I was thinking, how would I inform someone who, say, was trying to decide whether to vacation at Myrtle Beach or the Outer Banks of NC? I suppose I could describe the overdevelopment of Myrtle Beach compared to the relatively unspoiled Outer Banks, but that would require lots of descriptions, modifiers, opinions, etc., all of which involve lots of me talking, which I can’t imagine is a pleasant experience for my perplexed inquisitor.
There’s got to be a better way. And now there is: the Walt Scale of Crass Commercialization.
I’ve developed this new metric, based on two diametrically opposed Walts: Walt Whitman and Walt Disney. The Whitman side ends at 0, the realm of a purely natural, unspoiled environment, Leaves of Grass and all that. At the other end of the scale, topping out at 100 Walts, is Disney, culminating in, say, Disneyland: an area designed solely for the maximum commercial potential.
Now, this is not a scale of worth: I’m passing no judgments here – in fact, I think the worst places probably fall in the 35-45 and the 65-75 Walts range of the scale: places that purport to be non-commercial (or commercial) and yet are tainted with either a crippling lack of commerce or a painful overindulgence. And, I think there’s a sweet spot in the middle. See, a place rated at 90+ Walts is just fine, if what you’re looking for is commercial by nature; same goes for places 10 Walts and below if you’re looking for a place that is natural by nature; the bastardizations in that middle range probably satisfy nobody. For example, I’d peg Myrtle Beach at about 72 Walts.

The Walt Scale: What a conceptual breakthrough!