Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mauled Shopping

Seemingly along with every other industry, American shopping malls are slipping into the Slough of Despond that they helped to create, leaving Romero's zombies and incompetent teenaged cashiers with nowhere to go and nothing to buy- the American equivalent of nihilism. This news would mark a gala day for me, were it not for the depressing note that a dead mall, "can devastate the surrounding community". Many small towns are at risk of going belly up without the local mall anchoring their economy, huge swaths of the nation having gone from farms and factories to Abercrombie & Fitch in just a few decades.

Think I'm kidding? One of the characters in Dawn of the Dead has to have a shopping mall explained to him because the 1978 audience couldn't be expected to have seen one yet. Three decades later, and European friends tell me how amazed they were to travel the country and see nothing but vast exapnses of these cubic shrines to consumption.

According to the article, something like 400 malls have gone under, and there's now only one big mall being built- what its developer refers to with the non-term "shoppertainment" complex, although it's not clear if that word came from his mouth or the other end. And from the sound of it, there might be no end to the collapse of malls. Admittedly, my natural response to that is to squeel ''Oooooh, yes!!''

Malls are the natural habitat of a bourgeois middle class that might well be vanishing in the United States. Wal-Mart is now thriving. For the most part though, malls offer very little of real value, outside of a certain ''experience''. Experiences have been the common currency of bourgeois life since the 1800s. This is the story of modernity- separated from any real political objectives, the middle class tries to live as if they're dreaming- cultivating experiences- the more theatricalized the better- becomes more important than satisfying real needs. So, maybe this hollowing out of the middle class and their malls will mean a return to seriousness. On the other hand, the idea of Americans experimenting with seriousness makes me as uneasy as a monkey experimenting with a handgun.


Holly said...

Oh, come on! A mall is like an airport, without the imminent threat of being strapped into a very expensive thrill ride. You get dropped off there, or drop someone off there, and there is a happy reunion at some later point, often with presents! What's the problem?

I'm not sad the malls are dying off in droves, but I am sad the WalMarts aren't. Those things are hard to kill.

Rufus said...

Eh, what can I say? I love airports, but for me, going to the mall is slightly less enjoyable than going to the dump and shooting rats. I think Wal-Mart is going strong because it's the cheaper version of the mall. Of course, going there is a bit like being trapped in the middle of a looting. But, again, if people like that sort of thing...

narrator said...

I remember my introduction to the American mall. Odd though it was... urban, tiered parking... but an entire structure devoted to riding escalators for no apparent purpose. Oh well, here's to "The Mall in New Rochelle" - since replaced with a "sports and entertainment mall" (18 theaters, IMAX, indoor amusement park, hockey rink, race track) - which, though perhaps delayed by financial collapse, is supposed to be converted back to shopping (Target/Kohl's). Round and round we go, but I'll always remember the cut-rate faux-abstract sculptures and fountains of my adolescence. And "World Imports"- the biggest paraphernalia store of my experience to that point.