An assignment was given to describe our shopping mall experience, with the requirement to keep an open mind and analyze the infrastructure. After reading Lizabeth Cohen’s Consumer’s Republic, my last trip to the mall was some what different ; I noticed many things I did not acknowledge before. World inside the mall had its own structure, unspoken laws and a system which it runs on. However, even after such close observation I found myself unable to agree with much of Cohen’s opinion.
First of all let’s talk about my experiences. The mall had everything, close to everything at least, from every day items like make up, house decorations and shoes to luxurious goods. One thing the mall doesn’t have is grocery, doesn’t seem to fit in with the whole theme. It is structured just like down town, to simulate the traditional shopping environment. The lights were decorated as street lamps and stores divided into small sections put side by side. A lot of these stores are operated by private owners who are also average consumers. this opens up a lot of possibilities because consumers understand each other, and they’re able to adjust their business to accommodate each others’ needs. They’ll know what trend is popular, what material goods are in demand and can easily adapt to match current market needs. In addition, the gathering of different stores make shopping much easier. Consumers do not have to travel all over the place in order to find what they need. Furthermore, people are free to pursue self-interest needs in specialized locations which allows them to satisfy their desire. The mall provides more than mere shopping options but a food court as well. Food options had a large variety to choose from such as Asian BBQ, burritos, Italian bread and more.All kinds of people eat here, I saw teenagers, couples, families and many others. It is a very nice resting area that allows customers to relax during their shopping spree and get refreshments. The stores themselves were also maintained nicely. Clean windows, damp revealing lights and fancy displays resonated a classy atmosphere. It’s a very nice environment, in my opinion for, the mall is designed to be such an appealing place. This however, is a problem according to Cohen.
In her book A Consumer’s Republic she argues because these stores are privatized they are free to exclude any undesirable members of society. Cohen claims the mall is designed for middle class families and divides the social gap between classes. During World War II the American people view consumerism as a way to support the war and being patriotic, as a result the middle class size doubled and “citizen consumer” became favorable for middle class. I agree that the mall is middle class friendly because they have the ability to afford material goods, but disagree that the mall is strictly for upper and middle class. “middle class size doubled” means lower class people have accumulated more health, as a result of our change in consumerism so to put in simple terms it is the lower class people have benefited the most from the mall because the circulation of economy increased an the poor became wealthier.
In chapter 7 of her book, Cohen talks about the core problem of shopping malls. “in commercializing public space, they brought to community life the market segmentation that increasingly shaped commerce and residence; in privatizing public space, they privileged the rights of private property owners over citizens’ traditional rights of free speech in community forums; and in feminizing public space, they enhanced women’s claim on the suburban landscape while circumscribing the power they wielded there” All in all, Cohen is unsatisfied with the idea that consumers shop for self-benefits or interest and malls created a social segregation between class, race and gender. what she failed to realized is, in my opinion, the mall does not reject lower class families but rather encourage middle class families to consume. There’s a difference. The mall is built for those who are willing to pay, it does not deliberately turn away another particular group. If a family is unable to afford much, then shopping anywhere will be a problem. By focusing on poor people’s inability to consume, Cohen created this false image of a political structure that circumscribes social classes.However, mass consumption works quite different. It draws out money that wealthy people hold and circulates them back into the economy, creating jobs and opportunity for those who are willing to work. It’s not a system that confines the poor but a way for them to catch up to those who are already wealthy. People now have the opportunity to start their own business, more alternatives to become richer because there are such high demands in material goods. This opportunity is open to all race and gender.
The middle to upper class atmosphere shopping malls create is an incentive for those who are already rich to put their money back into the market. For poor people who don’t have money, it doesn’t matter how the are malls structured, they still won’t be able to afford anything anyways and without as many ways to spend their money, the rich will hold on to their wealthy and stay wealthy while the poor continue to be poor.
What Cohen wants is a government controlled market in which private owners can not discourage costumers but a controlled market is not democracy! She assumes the government will create an equal market system but no where in her book did she identify the corruptive nature of government. With all the self serving politicians around, the common people who do not have the power to lobby they will never be able to enjoy or given the equal opportunity to that consumerism provides. Where is the democracy if the government holds the power to distribute wealth? When the people can not distribute jobs themselves?
I do not share the same opinions as Cohen regarding consumerism therefore I cannot agree on changes she thinks that will improve the shopping mall experience. I will however, provide my own methods.
The problems shopping centers like Vally Fair Mall has is not that the stores are privatized like Cohen claims. It is not perfect, but nothing is ever perfect. A change I can think of that can make the mall more welcoming is to include in cheaper stores. Right now most of the stores sell popular brand items like Arbercrombie and Macies. If less known brands or local stores were embedded that sell same materials at cheaper prices, the competition between business will be more fierce which will in turn make prices more affordable and attainable to poorer families. Moreover, there should be more malls within the cities then it will be more accessible to people who have transportation difficulties.