December 2, 2020

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

In the April 18th issue of The Journal, Andrea Sisney published an op-ed piece inviting us to “go to the mall before 3 p.m.” The odd time constraint in the title is an indignant reference to the curfew system in place at the malls, which inconveniently inhibits the author’s leisurely shopping activities after 3 p.m. Claiming that she is commonly mistaken as a teenager, Sisney complains about the shameful and insistent harassment of the security guards. She argues for a reconsideration of these curfew policies so that we can all enjoy our shopping trips in peace.

Yet, and we are very sorry to say so, we must decline the invitation — be it before or after 3 p.m. And we must also refuse to partake in her indignation. We do, however, have concerns of our own. In her piece, Sisney makes many uncritical matter-of-fact claims about the practice of shopping and the institution of the mall. Fake problems are problematized and real ones are obfuscated. Though shopping may seem like a quirky cultural peculiarity that unifies all Americans, the profound and lamentable implications of this cultural system cannot remain unquestioned.

However significant curfews may be, it is disquieting to think that this issue would be in any case preponderant to some other things we might bemoan at the mall: the reality that most of the colorful paraphernalia on the shelves was most likely produced by impoverished workers on starvation wages; the systematic illusions of advertising and ‘store presentation’ which serve to dissimulate this reality; the pernicious entrancing messages on which these illusions perpetuate themselves; the evident but mystified presence of class marginalization and privileges; the naive worship of “fashion” and “style” that dictates and imposes standards of beauty; the reduction of meaningful social relationships to the technocratic and authoritarian interplay of the latest gadgets and social fads; the demeaning but undeniable fact that the mall (not the museum nor the park nor the concert hall) is the epicenter of our culture; the prevalence of disturbing and out-of-control consumption habits which are shamefully wasteful and environmentally unsustainable; or even the dissolution of our collective identity into that of ‘the consumer.’

It is very curious that many of the above issues are treated as uncomplicated givens or else downright omitted by Ms. Sisney in her article.

From the very start, she finds it unequivocally natural to define herself as a consumer and to standardize consumer behavior. “Therapeutic shopping” becomes an unambiguous and already justified concept, with no regard to the cultural or sociopolitical implications of such an attitude. Gender stereotypes, too, are seamlessly reinforced. The fact that the mall, the heart of our cultural decadence, has come to “serve a community function” is not considered a disturbing matter — nor is the wasteful and meaningless way of life for which it stands. Even the bloody origins of that H&M Bangladeshi skirt she “cannot stop thinking about” are never discussed in a critical light. The grim realities of the capitalist system are no longer relevant. Rather, all the criticism and indignation found here comes from the safe and sleepy Eden of suburbia, where mall curfews and the profit deficit of corporations become the deepest and most intolerable injustices.

When petty mall regulations obstruct our daily consumption habits, some loyal patrons become pugnacious. But about the devastating practices and demoralizing tendencies, which drive the system that sustains the mall, there is only silence. The omnipresent banality of the consumer society goes unchallenged; the animating logic of this particular ‘order of things’ remains absolute. The standardized commonplace of ‘everyone loves to shop’ (“particularly females,” according to Sisney) is mistaken for a sacrosanct caveat, impervious to all adverse interpretations and critical dissent.

— Larry Busk, junior philosophy major, and Pedro Della Rosa, senior philosophy major

Share this post

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail