July 10th, 2017

Calvin and Hobbes

Ruminations on Shopping Malls

We ended up taking the kids to the mall yesterday. Simon sat and ate a piece of pizza in the food court while Helen and Calvin ran some errands. It took him along time to finish his food, so it gave me time to sit and think about how malls have changed over the years.

Growing up in a small town in the 80's and 90's gave me a particular perspective on shopping malls that perhaps other kids did not have. For us, it was our occasional exposure to the wider world. The Tri-Cities was hardly "urban", but our occasional trip up there always felt like our main way to connect with the hip, happening world of contemporary culture. (For kids growing up in Hermiston, the Tri-Cities practically equaled "shopping mall"). There were CD stores, selling and playing the latest music. There were clothing stores, showing off new fashions, with actual name brand clothes. There were movie stores, that would have independent and foreign film sections. There was even a video game arcade. It all felt very cosmopolitan to a kid that was excited to have a Walmart finally open up in their town. And in the 1980's and 1990's, malls were still very popular, trendy places to be. Teens and 20-somethings were happy to waste their time and/or money there.

Fast forward to the 2010's. The mall is just no longer representative of popular culture. In the 1990's, the mall was popular culture. Things like the internet would try and replicate it, but the mall was the real deal. Now everything feels flipped on its head. The internet is where you really buy things and engage in contemporary culture. The mall is just hoping to sell enough things to keep itself afloat.

It's weird how mental paradigms can shift like this. Our kids love to go to the mall, but I doubt it will represent an insight into popular culture or city life for them like it did for us. Much of that is probably just from the fact they aren't growing up in a rural town like I did. Multi-lane highways aren't an unusual thing for them. Going to the mall doesn't seem like a radical departure from their normal life. It's simply the place where orange julius and Barnes & Noble are at.

I wonder if people who grow up in truly large cities can appreciate the awe and wonder that rural kids feel when going into more urban settings. I believe that was part of what L. Frank Baum was trying to get at when he wrote the Wizard of Oz, talking about Dorothy's gray rural environment, and how much that contrasted from the colorful busy world of Oz and the Emerald City. And honestly, that's kind of the feeling I had as a kid, when we'd go up to that mid-size shopping mall in Kennewick. It may not seem like much to someone from a big city, but to a kid in rural eastern Oregon, it was a taste of city life.