One of the poll's most interesting findings was that 48 percent of respondents felt that Walmart "best symbolizes America today." The discovery -- and the magazine's extreme surprise at it -- suggests that Vanity Fair has a lot to learn about the American people, or at least that fairly large proportion of the American people who live outside of Manhattan. The magazine's take on the poll was predictably smug, stating that the respondents who saw a connection between Walmart and the country "might have meant that cynically. (But only a cynic would really think that.)" In other words, Vanity Fair is suggesting that there are three possible explanations for Walmart's popularity: the respondents were either making an ironic statement about America, were cynical, or were clueless.
What Vanity Fair neglected to consider is that Walmart -- both in its strengths and in its weaknesses -- is a fairly accurate reflection of the American consumer. It is a store of contrasts: while it positions itself for customers who are living paycheck to paycheck, it also stocks aspirational brands; while it builds huge box stores, it is also pushing eco-labeling; while it positions itself as the ideal store for blue-collar workers, it has often been cited for the substandard treatment of its employees. In other words, like many of its customers, Walmart often has to chart a difficult course between ideals and realities, expanding employee benefits while keeping a close eye on the bottom line.
The poll's other conclusions were less surprising. For example, Vanity Fair found that more male readers wanted to trade places with George Clooney than with Barack Obama for a week, and a majority thought that a 50 percent tax on the incomes of multimillionaires was fine and dandy.
As Vanity Fair and 60 Minutes continue their monthly polls, it will be interesting to see what new surprises await. The biggest shocker may well be Vanity Fair's growing awareness of the world beyond the banks of the Hudson River.