Now Shopping Malls Want You To Believe They’re Good For Society

Observatory

Beijing-Mall-China

In ‘Millennium People’ futurist author JG Ballard imagined a five-minutes-from-now world of gated communities and shopping malls where a quiet rebellion against middle-class normality is taking place. As civic responsibility and the trappings of consumer society are jettisoned, the movement grows belligerent and Ballard’s hero is lured in by the idea of revolution and terror. The shopping mall becomes a symbol of oppression are is smashed.

Ever since George A Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’, the shopping mall has been seen as the ultimate sign of aggravated consumerism and conformity (not to mention prepackaged tastelessness), but it seems that in different places shopping malls mean different things.

In America, according to people the Daily Beast interviewed this week, malls offer something that online retailers can’t provide: social interaction. The argument is that without developed historic areas, communities still need a central place in which to gather and shopping malls come close to delivering them. They’re guarded, warm, clean, safe and watched over. Now some are being given makeovers to become specifically ethnic in terms of visiting shoppers, who are catered for by separate shops.

The malls’ marketing shills don’t deny they are building closed-off hubs for immigrants, and see no problem with the idea. As someone who believes strongly in integration mixed with a little chaos, I find this downright creepy. Isn’t this segregation by any other name? The idea of ghetto-ising malls because whites think they’re not good enough is patronising and deeply disturbing.

In other societies, the public’s relationship with shopping malls  is more complex.

In Japan, arguably the world’s most consumerist nation, department stores trump malls because their staffs act with formal rigour and grace, keeping the quality of the experience high, but it’s hard to gather in any area that not specifically in a park without being sold something.

In Spain malls are virtually non-existent; in Barcelona one is built out in the sea and only accessible by a footbridge, homegrown farmers’ markets still rule, and barrios have locally-run free community centres. People of every age and ethnicity gather wherever there is a bench and interact so well that it feels impossible to be alone.

In London the absence of large available space has relegated malls to the outskirts of the city, catering only to suburbanites. They are often seen as the ultimate in unfashionability, or even vulgarity. In Bloomsbury, the Brunswick Centre sells itself on being a community until you try and take a photograph, when a guard will arrive and tell you to stop.

China, Canada and the Phillippines have some of the world’s largest but emptiest malls.

So does it simply come down to a lie? That the owners want us to believe we can make communities there when all they want to do is sell more?

8 comments on “Now Shopping Malls Want You To Believe They’re Good For Society”

  1. Dave says:

    Indoor malls do have one unexpected advantage. If disabled or having mobility problems, it can be wonderful to shop, eat, visit the cinema etc in a warm dry environment.

    I have MS and visiting somewhere like Bluewater is so much easier than spending time in a crowded high street.

  2. Cathy says:

    Going to “The Mall” was my idea of heaven when I was a teen. I lived in a very rural town (no movie theatre, 1 grocery store), and we would go to a bigger town 20 miles away to do shop. It had a movie theatre and my mom would drop us there (this was in the 70’s, obviously) while she shopped. I would run into friends, which I couldn’t do at home since my parents lived out of town.

    Now, I live in a fairly large city and I won’t go to the mall at all. There is a nice mall probably 5 miles from our house, but it is too crowded, too bright and too much for me. The same with IKEA, I won’t go there anymore, it just gives me the creeps.

  3. Gaz says:

    I saw DAWN OF THE DEAD long before I set foot in a Shopping Mall, and as a result I’ve never really been easy in them. I’ve never been attacked by one of the Living Dead, but I’ve encountered more than my fair share of them in malls. My home town has a mall as well as open air shopping, and it’s quite noticeable that the al fresco spaces are doing better than the enclosed ones. The former are muckier and more chaotic, but the shoppers seems to feel more like people and less like consumer units.

  4. admin says:

    The weirdest one I’ve been in was in the Middle East – four aisles for breakfast cereal? You can read about it in ‘The Sand Men’ this summer.

  5. Vivienne says:

    willl definitely look out for The Sandmen. Today I was sent a survey- they said it would take 20 minutes- to give my opinion on Westfield. This is a place where you can just go to buy a glass of champagne without being looked at askance, so that has its advantages and there are some shops worth visiting: Foyles? And All Saints! Also I might one day get on the skating rink, so I am not absolutely against but do not, obviously I hope, want any sort of segregation.

  6. Mike Cane says:

    >>>it feels impossible to be alone

    *shivers*

  7. Chris McCall says:

    Two weeks in Vegas last year made me see Malls as the future. Not a bright future but fascinating all the same. Where else could you get a Ricky Martin bobble head at 4 a.m along with a skinny latte and some plasters.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    I read a pre publication copy of a YA novel set in Arizona (?) where the people who were safe shopped in the mall and those who weren’t tried sneaking around corners into the mall where you wouldn’t be attacked by creatures or slave hunters, but would be thrown out by security. It had a great passage on the Snake River. I watched for it afterward but never saw it. I was doing a children’s lit course at the time and the prof was prominent so we got to see quite a bit of new stuff. That was one of the best and really gave a scary view of have and have nots, using the mall as a visual of the separation.

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