Walking through the mall-filled streets of Los Angeles, the author of ‘Mall Culture’ mulls over a thought he believes could change the world − the magical idea of doing away with want, desire, and discontent. If this superb plan could ever be carried out, man’s life as he knows it would come to an abrupt end. The reasoning behind it is relatively simple. After all, if we don’t need anything, why would we need to do anything to fulfill non-existent needs? Goodbye selling, marketing, advertising, craving, unhappiness and most importantly, malls.
The author talks of how malls literally breed ‘wanting’, as kids stand and gawk at flashy display cabinets, learning very young to ache for things they may never have. Yes, the mall is a much safer place for kids to hang out in and yet it has also become a substitute for everything − meeting places, social activities, sporting events, even parks and beaches. Entertainment in its many forms is being tailor made for a generation that has forgotten how to entertain it self or worse, seek entertainment from within.
What is most disheartening about mall culture is that it has buried the ‘art of reflection’, ‘solitude’ and ‘providing for yourself’, replacing it instead with material desires, intense dissatisfaction, the vicious cycle of wanting, buying, having and then wanting more. Customers are no longer people anymore. They’ve become substitutes for the money in their wallets. That’s the end goal and marketing tactics will do anything to draw it out. The author definitely doesn’t want this lifestyle for his twelve year old son, much less for anyone else. But how much can he do about it? That’s where the challenge lies.
Yes, the malls are wolves in sheep clothing. Yes, they’re necessary evils. Yes, impressionable young minds should stay far, far away from it. Greed, want, desire − malls are propagators and mass producers of those qualities.
I’d like to rewind to when video killed the radio. An entire generation lamented over the many minds it numbed and how children were turning into couch potatoes it generated. And yet, television continues to extend its prolific influence over the world. Has it made a difference? Yes, both positive and negative.
It seems like Shepherd is doing pretty much the same thing by dissecting the mall. There’s ‘boy-girl stuff’ happening in these malls, it’s replacing all forms of social activity, it’s making robots of our children, and all though it looks safe, it actually isn’t.
Says Patrice Duker, media relations manager for the International Council of Shopping Centers, “Each decade has its own development trend. In the ’70s and ’80s it was enclosed malls. In the 1990s it was power centers – strips of big box stores like Wal-Mart, Staples and Petco all in a row.”
Shepherd’s essay also has a solution to this dilemma that his son and most kids his age are in − a fantastic fantasy. What if desire could be replaced with satiation, want with contentment?
Well, on a more realistic note, what if we could work out a balance between the mall culture and a lifestyle that comprises other forms of entertainment as well? How about ensuring kids make it to those organizations that teach children to read and clean landscape? How about looking at the silver lining − your son isn’t watching television!
 Botelho, Bridget, October 10, 2004. Open-air retail markets outstrip mall mentality. Providence Business News, Issue 19-26. May 16, 2007
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