Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Nostalgia and the Shopping Mall

Since I'm leading discussion tomorrow (I think!) i'm saving my most insightful questions for discussion. However, I was struck while reading the first Goss piece for this week. Malls, he argues, are developer's representation of a time and place rooted in nostalgia. By incorporating the trappings of traditional civic spaces, places to meet, linger, and converse with others, in a setting recreating nature, shoppers feel transported to another place in time. As a result, they can justify their consumption behavior, which Goss argues goes against Americans' Puritanical upbringing.

My question arises from analysis of the current generation of consumers who have grown up in a society inundated by malls. Malls have been the substitute for civic spaces for as long as people my age and younger have been alive. As a result, I wonder whether this age cohort truly experiences the nostalgia Goss proposes. Or possibly more interesting, how can we feel nostalgia for something we've never truly experienced? If we do feel nostalgia is it generated by social conceptions, possibly through the use of the trappings of the old town square, and media representations of this previous time period? Or has this age cohort confused civic space with commercial space to the point that the two are one in the same?

7 comments:

Will W. said...

Good questions. I think the answer to the first two is that the nostalgia we feel is largely mediated. But the authenticity and sense of historical space invoked with nostalgic appeals still holds tremendous power with a generation that has little experience with either. For the last question, I'd bring Lizbeth Cohen to bear, as she describes how consumerism empowers; by shopping we are experiencing a sense of control over our lives and environment. But I'd add to that the sense of public space as a reflective one, in that we see ourselves reflected in those around us.

hmm... perhaps I've meandered too much. better go eat another donut.

Will W. said...

Good questions. I think the answer to the first two is that the nostalgia we feel is largely mediated. But the authenticity and sense of historical space invoked with nostalgic appeals still holds tremendous power with a generation that has little experience with either. For the last question, I'd bring Lizbeth Cohen to bear, as she describes how consumerism empowers; by shopping we are experiencing a sense of control over our lives and environment. But I'd add to that the sense of public space as a reflective one, in that we see ourselves reflected in those around us.

hmm... perhaps I've meandered too much. better go eat another donut.

Chris said...

I rarely visit the mall these days because I usually find the complexity of the shopping experience there far too time-consuming and expensive. Instead I have become a convert to shopping online and the ease of both finding and evaluating what I'm looking for but also getting it at bottom-dollar pricing. Now when I go into a physical store-e.g., a big-box bookseller--I am often frustrated by the physical design of the space and the friction that the limitations of the physical design create in the process of consumption. Perhaps if I were there to occupy a reading or hang out at the coffee bar and meet people or at the mall to try to experience community there would be a reason to be there other than shopping. But the highly refracted and constructed social settings that these commercial spaces somehow feel to me like Skinner Boxes for adults.

Amanda said...

On whether Generation Y has grown up in a world where civic space and commercial space are incredibly confused, I would say yes, they have. The mall is their gathering place; it was my gathering place when I was in high school ten years ago.

Civic space has largely become lost or inaccessible, and just plain uncool in America; particularly in mid-sized cities such as Madison and the Illinois Quad Cities, where I grew up.

umaysay said...

When I was in L.A., I often went to shopping malls because my wife, who was at that time my girlfriend, enjoyed window shopping.^^ Among the malls, "The Grove" is exactly what Gross tries to analyze. The mall is like a big, old station; actually, a tramp circulates in the mall. There is an old type clock. In addition, they have a farmer's market in the mall. I think that the mall increases a liminal experience. However, as Mark points out, how can we experience a nostalgia which is from the era we have never experienced? I think that one of the main causes is media. Media make frames of old time experience by various contents and genres.

Kevin said...

I think this depends on the region you live in. For me, during the days of awkward adolescence, I went to the mall when I had nothing better to do. However, Green Bay didn't really offer much else for us to do. I think a city like Madison offers much more in the way of activities for adolescents, so the mall becomes less important.

But, then again, when I have to swallow my pride and go to the mall (I like them as much as Chris does), I do see the obligatory presence of "mallrats," but they don't seem to be as numerous as in the past. This may be due to the availability of online activities as an option for socializing.

Anybody want to go to Sbarro?

Linda said...

I didn't post a question last week because I was also to lead the discussion. Here in Madison the white middle class kids and the white homeless kids hang out on State Street as much as in the malls. But the African-American and Latino low-income kids call State Street "white world" and don't feel welcome there. They hang out at the malls, where they are followed around by security guards most of the time. any guesses as to why?