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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.

A Statistical Tidbit. He cites Alexandra Lange’s Meet Me By The Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall, Bloomsbury, 2022.

“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.”

O’Hagan also cites “the best title in history, Anthony Wolf’s book Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? (1991).” 

This one and Lange’s sound like two more books I simply must read, along with my LRB. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

5 comments on “MALL MUSINGS

  1. Jack Albrecht
    December 14, 2022

    I grew up with the advent of Malls. First in Minneapolis with “The Dales” (this was pre-Mall of America) and then in Houston.

    Malls are community open spaces. Sure we had school and sports groups and close friends. Malls were places where teenagers could hang out that were public but you weren’t trespassing and didn’t require you to spend money. So if you wanted to hang with someone you didn’t know that well, or meet that cute girl from your English class, you could go to the mall. Malls are a very non-threatening environment because exiting is very easy.

    The Dales are still in Minneapolis, but the malls of my teenage years in Houston are dying or dead. What I’ve read and believe is that it is Houston’s lack of city planning that killed them. Houston has been allowed to expand forever outward towards cheaper land, but then lost the concentrated purchasing power near the existing malls.

    I’ll note that my mall experience is 35 years ago before there was a mass shooting on average every single day in America. I’m sure that is also a factor playing in people’s minds now.

    • sabresoftware
      December 15, 2022

      In Edmonton we have had three malls partially demolished with some new buildings added to turn them into the currently more fashionable (shopping) commons with no interior corridors.

      Two more have been turned into medical complexes, with clinics, labs, etc. and a few shops like pharmacies and other related services.

      We still have four large malls, including North America’s largest, West Edmonton Mall, and these remain fairly popular.

      And then there are about a half dozen more that are on life support, with several owners talking about redeveloping the sites into high rise apartment complexes (rental, condo or a mix) with some retail included. Especially the ones that are located along our Light Rail Transit lines.

  2. -Nate
    December 14, 2022

    Interesting thoughts .

    I grew up Down East where indoor shopping malls were invented, I liked them well enough as a child but less so once I became an adult (or at least grown up) .

    The whole idea of a place to hang out never attracted me .

    My Sweet used to love going to the South Bay Galleria in So. Cal. (? Hawthorne maybe ?) and after one of my Motocycle crashes in Winter we’d go there for me to do my walking physical therapy but other than that we only go for the big AMC movie theater and since covid not even that .

    I wonder of the many abandoned shopping malls could be repurposed for something ? .

    The old Hawthorne Mall at 120Th street and Hawthorne Blvd. sits empty, the North end is being used by the public school system and the large parking lot by various auto makers for storage but I see so many homeless and ponder kitting them out as barracks .

    I’ve been homeless, my own damn fault, no one else’s . I didn’t like it and so made the life changes & choices that allowed me to have a roof over my head ever since .

    I only support solidly built barracks for the homeless, they will be fine just like I was in jail in the 1960’s ~ nothing I didn’t need nor things easily damaged / destroyed : solid brick or concrete construction with floor drains, easily clean able by the inevitable damage caused by those who need a helping hand .

    LIVE in the world as it is, WORK to make the world as it should be

  3. Myrna Dillon
    December 14, 2022

    Dennis, Griffin and I continue to enjoy your comments. They provide us with a lot of chuckles…and knowledge! Bring ’em on!

    • simanaitissays
      December 14, 2022

      Thank you, Myrna. Isn’t interesting how an item will generate memories (and comments). I seem to have the best bunch of readers (you and Griff among them!).

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