I’M TOLD THE CULTURE of giant shopping malls is ending. But this wouldn’t be evident by driving past South Coast Plaza here in Orange County, California. Even without holiday shopping, the place is renowned worldwide with special parking for tour buses.
I recall years ago spending a few days at London’s Chelsea Arts Club. When I mentioned that Orange County, California, was my home, one clubber responded, “That’s where South Coast Plaza is, right?”
Andrew O’Hagan shares his mall musings in “I Think We’re Alone Now,”London Review of Books, December 15, 2022. Like other examples of his erudite writing, this one is replete with quotable tidbits.
Teen Icon Tiffany. For instance, the title of his article comes from Tiffany Darwish, teen icon of the 80s. Somehow I managed to avoid her back then (hot cars at R&T and all….), but Daughter Suz remembers her vividly.
O’Hagan writes, “I look back with a certain nostalgia to the days of the teen icon Tiffany, the person responsible for the deathless ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ of 1987. I know what you’re all thinking: that was a big year for Prince and the Pet Shop Boys, and the Smiths split up, but it was the red-haired Tiffany Darwish who took metaphysics to the people. ‘The Beautiful You: Celebrating the Good Life Shopping Mall Tour ’87’ doesn’t get the plaudits it deserves.”
“Tiffany,” O’Hagan says, “embodied a notion of suburban desire that was chirpily pre-millennial, skyrocketing on surplus fuel, as if only in the malls did young people know how to be, their anxiety flattening out like the last few steps on an escalator.”
I like that description.
A Sarah Palin Tidbit. O’Hagan recalls, “The mall rats of the 1980s became the soccer moms of the 2000s, devoted, like Sarah Palin, not only to guns and the ‘sanctity of life’ but to coloured pop socks. In September 2008, during her vice-presidential campaign, it was reported that the Republican National Committee had spent $150,000 of campaign donations on clothes, hairdos and make-up for Palin and her people.”
Ouch. Glad my donations went to Obama.
A Mall’s Raison d’Etre. “Malls are playgrounds with parking,” O’Hagan says. “They are nightclubs without drinks and with muzak for music. They are billboards of aspiration and churches of boredom.”
He continues, “You don’t wander round a shopping mall in order to be thrilled, but to overcome the wish to be thrilled; if you buy something, that’s fine, but you belong there just as much when you don’t. (To say you’re only shopping when you’re buying stuff is like saying you’re only a sexual person when you’re having sex.)”
“That’s what teenagers understood: the mall was freedom with walls, a habitat much closer to their wants and not-wants than anything built by their parents,” O’Hagan says.
“Malls are closing now, one after the other,” O’Hagan reports, “but Lange is right when she tells us that the U.S. is ‘over malled: the country has approximately 24 square feet of retail space for every American compared with … 4.6 in the UK and 2.8 in China.’ As that space shrinks in real time, it grows in the imagination, and we think of Amazon aisles that stretch out beyond an invisible horizon, even as shopping malls become the industrial wastelands of the post-Trump era.”