April 12 2015 / 865 Saint Marks Ave
On the Mall / Joan Didion / 1979
Excerpt from The Heart of Our Cities / Victor Gruen / 1965
THE GRUEN TRANSFER / TALENE MONTGOMERY AND
Shortly after World War II, an Austrian emigre by the name of Victor Gruen bestowed the mall upon America. Victor's lofty intention: to carve out civic space in the dehumanized, anti-urban landscape of the automobile. He preached "The Mall" as a way to create new urban centers, and revitalize decaying ones, frankensteining the European "city center" into his new American context.
Victor later regretted his monster, believing it strayed from his initial intent. Unfortunately, this very "losing track of intent" became his enduring legacy. In a phenomenon known as The Gruen Transfer identity and desire are suppressed (if not altogether forgotten), and replaced by new identities, new desires reified through impulse purchases.
The mall metastasized into the de facto space of public interaction in late 20th century America, a residual experience of the grand civic space Gruen touted. The private status of the mall signalled “safety” to concerned parents and the geriatric set, isolated by racial and class segregation. This mostly suburban population had grown fearful of a public realm perceived to have devolved into violence. Community groups, social clubs, special events, protests and acts of civil disobedience moved into the mall as well, in tenuous coexistence with impulse redirection and controlled access. In the space of the mall the unpredictability of the city is reproduced as tame simulacra in air-conditioned promenades, under glittering glass canopies, and trees replaced semi-annually.
MALL RATS / MAYA PORATH
“Let me show you something amazing!”
Across the US, Israeli mall cart vendors recite this line as they approach shoppers entering and exiting stores. Extending their hands, the vendors reel in mall-goers and bestow upon them demonstrations, samples and well practiced pitches. More often than not, this ritual results in a large sale. Motivated by the commission based job, Israelis are employed as energetic and effective salespeople, earning tens of thousands of dollars in just a few months.
Many of the vendors, between the ages of 21 and 25, are recruited by large companies to work at malls in the US following their military service. Without the appropriate visas, workers spend up to 18 hour shifts during the holiday season selling dead sea cosmetics, massage therapy pillows, head massagers, and nail care products.
Vendors are trained to view the The Mall as the fertile apparatus of exploitation of one of America’s weakest cultural traits: Shopping.