Every Spring I take my Package Design students to Wal-Mart for a field trip. We don't go to buy, but to look. I challenge the students to see Wal-Mart as a gallery of modernity—a big box filled with products that represent our values as a culture. I provide a worksheet that guides them through a process of looking.
Two years ago on one such trip, we entered through the grocery door. I gave some verbal instructions and passed out a checklist of things to find, observe and document. A few moments later I was approached by a security officer; we'd been detected. He was alarmed by "a group of young people with a leader." Fair enough. He was trying to extinguish whatever uprising we'd planned. This was around the time of multiple in-store demonstrations at Wal-Mart stores around the country, spin-offs of the "occupy" movement.
As we left, I found this pencil, smashed and splintered in the parking lot. Its career as a writing device—long division, grocery-list making, journal confessions—now over. It became a perfect symbol for censorship. What better way to quell an uprising than to suppress the voice and disperse the people.