Livin the American Dream

Last week, we focused on shopping malls and how they have transformed the American consumer society. We started off the week by watching a Hillsdale Shopping Mall promotional video from 1957 entitled: “Shopping Can Be Fun”. Although it seemed a little goofy, many of the gimmicks used to attract shoppers to the Hillsdale Mall are still used today, such as fashion shows, holiday displays, and car expos. Tyson’s Corner Mall, located ten minutes from my house, is always using some kind of sale or special exhibit to attract shoppers. Their holiday displays at Easter and Christmas attract more people than the stores do

The “Storm Over Manassas” article we read shed light on the controversial attempt to put up a shopping mall over the Manassas Battle Field. We discussed how problems such as these arise in “exburbs” like Manassas and even Fredericksburg. Exburbs are the areas located on the outer fringes of suburbia. Rapid development and lack of infrastructure are two problems that exburbs such as Manassas face. When the Hazel Peterson Company proposed buying the Manassas Battle Field to put up an amusement park, preservationists were outraged. Arguments about what should be considered “sacred ground” became so intense that the Federal Government eventually bought the land. This article reminded me of the controversy over “building up” the historical district in Fredericksburg. It is hard to decide when a community should be promoting commercial growth versus protecting their history.

On Wednesday, we discussed Fiske’s article “Shopping for Pleasure: Malls, Power, and Resistance”. Fiske’s article, because he is part of the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies, is a critique of Marx’s views on capitalism. He shifts the idea of value as use value and exchange value. Fiske argues that Marx’s religious allegory of Marx’s fetish does not work – consumerism is more like geurilla warfare than a religious experience! Shoppers can manipulate the system on its own terms, which perpetuates the cycle of buying and selling. Consumers posses power when they buy a certain product, especially in making choices to reject or accept an item. Fiske points out that 90% of new products fail because consumers’ power to accept or reject a product is so important to the success of a product. Youth and women are especially empowered by this power in buying, returning, comparing, rejecting, ownership, and self-display. Fiske points out that this is not real power! Shopping may be a liberating experience, but it is anything but radical. Shopping doesn’t change the system – it feeds into the system. This contributes to the separate spheres of gender that consumerism creates. Women are good at shopping, yet men make money off of it! This is how the male-dominated system of consumerism perpetuates itself based on the false empowerment of women. I was so upset when I read Fiske’s analysis – because it is true! Women are told that they are good at shopping; it is a cultural norm. The only female-dominated sphere of influence is one that is shallow and ultimately, benefits the men who own companies that sell things to women! Women are tricked into believing that buying certain clothes or products will make them happy. It is so upsetting that women think they can be fulfilled by accumulating material goods as a result of our consumer society.

The safe, controlled, female-dominated environment that Fiske writes about came alive on our trip to the Spotsylvania Town Center on Friday, which will be discussed in the following post…

Comments

2 Responses to “Shopping Malls: Cathedrals of Consumption?”

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