Thursday, February 01, 2007


I have to admit something- I hate shopping malls. I hate being in them, trying to navigate their endless halls, being politely harassed by their kindly staff; I hate how personalized the experience is, how pseudo-therapeutic. I hate the music they play there and the way that everything assaults you pleasantly- like being beaten with a feather pillow. Most of all, I think I hate the feeling I get when I'm in a shopping mall that there are Mall People who are totally in their element there. I get the feeling that this is there public square and I don't belong. I fear that the Mall People will single me out with and chant Auslander! while pelting me with cups of Orange Julius until I run off screaming.

Claire can attest that I'm pretty much a miserable sod whenever we have to go to the Mall. I try to hide it but I'm never successful. The place gives me the creeps- it is fueled by fads, but denies any trace of the passage of time. There is no time in the mall; no history or death. It is a place that denies any sort of weight. I think that's what creeps me out the most about the mall; I hate its defensive triviality; I can't stand when I'm depressed and someone tells me "Well, you ought to go buy yourself something!" I hate that this is supposed to be my release in life.

Also, it seems to have changed somehow. The Mall descends not so much from the old department stores as from the European arcades of the nineteenth century. But we didn't really get malls in America until the 1970s. The characters in George Romero's vicious satire "Dawn of the Dead" (1977) aren't sure what the Mall is when they first see it. By the 1980s, mall rats were commonplace. Watch "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" next. But also notice how the mall crawlers used to be mainly teenagers. Indeed, teenagers still socialize at the mall. However, it seems to have been taken over by adults in some way. I remember parents and older relatives going to the mall three or four times a year. People my age, who came up thinking the mall was the happiest place on earth, seem to go there three or four times a week.

Everything else seems to resemble the mall too. Ballard writes of people "who looked like they were shopping whatever they were doing." It's that sort of weird somnambulist disinterest that you see in people nowadays- as if the world around them is both minimized by their world view and vaguely irritating to them. Often, when I'm in public places, I feel like a bit of furniture that is in the way, or a senile old person who has wandered onto a movie set where I'm not wanted. But I think they're that way with everyone.

In Claire's profession, they speak of "mental health consumers"; in mine, administrators speak of "consumers of education". A sort of numb self-absorbed shopper is the ideal in the same way that the citizen used to be the ideal. But consumption is based on the gratification of desires, while democracy is based on the denial of desires for the greater good. Eventually, someone will offer the shoppers the sort of totalitarianism they crave- Ikea meets state control. Eventually, the model will be something like a nursing home/ day spa. The denial of history and death will become state policy.

No comments: