THE MEGA MALL AS CULTURAL SPACE Mall of America and the malls of America: Shopping and consumer culture in the United States.I will be examining the cultural space of the large suburban shopping mall with a focus on the USA. I will be using America’s largest mall, Mall of America (hereafter MOA) in Minnesota as the main example thereof, in a more general study of malls and the culture of shopping and consumerism in America.
REPRESENTATIONnon-academic source: MOA website www.mallofamerica.com“Since opening its doors in 1992, Mall of America® has revolutionized the shopping experience and become a leader in retail, entertainment and attractions. Mall of America is one of the top tourist destinations in the country as well as one of the most recognizable brands.” -only half the mall’s space is devoted to retail MOA features cinemas, a theme park, an aquarium, restaurants… -“lifestyle shopping”, “shoppertainment”academic source: Moss, Mark. Shopping as an Entertainment Experience. Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2007. Print.Malls capitalize on the idea of shopping as leisure. They are represented as self-contained community centers that can serve all of its consumer’s needs.non-academic source: Mallrats. Dir. And Writ. Kevin Smith. Perf. Shannen Doherty, Jeremy London and Jason Lee. Gramercy Pictures, 1995. Film.The suburban mall is represented in popular culture as having strong ties with youth culture. In film and TV it is often shown as a destination for teenagers.Mallrats chronicles a day in the life of a group of teenagers, with the majority of the action taking place in a mall in New Jersey. (trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eVo7aBze1w)
PRODUCTIONOrigin story Moss (Shopping as an Entertainment Experience) talks about the rise of the mall after WWII. Victor Gruen (1903-80) can be identified as the “father” of the modern mall, recognized as a pioneer of mall design. He was notably inspired by the European town square and market, and New York’s Broadway and Central Park.MOA includes thousands of plants, a waterfall, thematic regions… Mall design aims to create an indoor/outdoor multifunctional “town center” experience. (While the exterior is usually an unremarkable block surrounded by sprawling parking space.) The mall reveals an underlying discourse of COMMUNITY in its production. CONSUMPTIONThe large suburban mall caters to a variety of consumers. I will focus on 4 groups from its core demographic: Families with children; “Tweens” and teenagers; Females; Senior citizens; “mall walkers”Each group uses the mall differently, demonstrating different spending patterns, using the mall space in different ways…academic source: Timothy, Dallen J. Shopping Tourism, Retailing, and Leisure. Clevedon: Channel View Publications, 2005.I will also look at malls as tourist attractions. Shopping malls constitute a multi-billion dollar tourism industry in the USA.MOA features souvenir stores and its own Tourism Department. Its website boasts 37 hotels in the vicinity.
IDENTITYacademic source: Miller, Daniel, et al. Shopping, Place and Identity. London: Routledge, 1998.The mall (and how it is consumed) is tied to shoppers’ values and identities of: community and socialization; suburbia and middle-class life; leisure and entertainment; age and genderIt would be interesting to examine youth identity tied with mall culture especially. The mall stands as a testament to teenage identity in the USA as an integral part of social life. It is represented as such in many movies; the aforementioned Mallrats, Clueless, Mean Girls, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Valley Girl… the list goes on.academic source: Edwards, Tim. Contradictions of Consumption: Concepts, Practices and Politics in Consumer Society. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 2000.The mall as a ubiquitous feature of everyday American life is tied to capitalist ideas of consumerism and materialism. Consumption is tied to identity. Acquisition of material goods corresponds to acquisition of personal worth.
REGULATIONacademic source: Underhill, Paco. The Call of the Mall: Why We Shop.The mall is an artificial, controlled environment. Location and conception mean there is a “self-regulating mechanism” in place that, for the most part, ensures that only a certain type of shopper frequents the mall.Just in case, MOA’s website assures its visitors that “The Security Department is staffed with over 100 highly-trained personnel” to keep them safe.non-academic source Schaefer, Kayleen. “New Policies Exterminating Teen Mall Rats." ABC News 23 Sep. 2010. Newsbank Newspapers. Web. 21 May 2012.Why are malls alienating one of their main consumer groups? Some malls across America have taken to imposing curfews and other regulations upon teenagers.
CHALLENGES/FURTHER QUESTIONSExplaining malls’ enduring popularity despite common accusations of homogeneity and the ilk. In Production I talked about Gruen’s legacy in the history of malls. However, it is not a well known narrative. The mall exists in and of itself. It has become a part of the suburban American landscape. While the retailers and brands it houses work to create strong images, the mall just is. The investigation of production is largely confined to a discussion of mall design, which is very standard and does not seem to cater to any one type of consumer – understandably, as the mall attracts a wide variety of shoppers. Using MOA as a specific example is helpful, as I can discuss its features and look at how it represents itself in referring to the website.The consumer categories are numerous, with sources available on all of them. There is just as much on white middle-class family identity at the mall, as there is about minority ethnic identity. Hence in Consumption I suggested a focus on 4 groups, and in Identity an even narrower focus on teenagers (using popular culture – movies in particular – as important non-academic sources).