Sunday Morning! J.G. Ballard’s Shopping Maul

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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23 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    1990, I *LOVED* going to Chapel Hills Mall. It had an arcade, it had computer game stores, it had a food court, it had toy stores, it was *AWESOME*.

    I had to go to there for something or other last October. No more arcade. No computer game stores. No toy stores. It had a food court, but it’s not very good anymore. Sbarro is gone and the greek place uses tzatziki that comes from a can that could easily be mistaken for mayo.

    Soap stores. Hip Clothing stores. Jewelry stores. Sporting Goods stores.

    I thought that they might have a Gamestop there but it was gone, so I had to get what I needed at wallyworld (I never shop there, unless I have to).

    The mall used to have something for everybody. Now it doesn’t.Report

    • fillyjonk in reply to Jaybird says:

      Chapel Hill in northeast Ohio? Brother, that was my home mall. Though my family had moved away by 1990, and I had left for college in ’87.

      But that was where we went for movies – where I saw the 70s incarnation of Pete’s Dragon, and later, with a school friend, “The Goonies.” It was where “school shoes” were purchased at Miller’s Stride-Rite. It was where I promised my mother to do the dishes every night for a month, PROMISE, if she advanced me the money for a stuffed animal I wanted at the toy store….

      I admit it: I kind of miss malls. The one nearest me is moribund, having been largely replaced by one of those weird reincarnations of the “strip malls” (which, when I was a kid, were definitely seen as a poor second to a “real” mall). I get that enclosed malls are hard to heat and cool, and they have the “loiterer” problem, but….in a hot climate like where I live now, it sucks to try to walk between megastores on the too-small and not shaded outdoor sidewalks, and it feels wasteful to get BACK in your car after going to Target and drive the equivalent of a few blocks (and have to find parking again) if you want to go to the Books-A-Million.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to fillyjonk says:

        The mall on North Academy Boulevard in Colorado Springs is also called “Chapel Hills”.

        Malls used to be awesome until the internet. The internet is better, of course… but I still miss malls.Report

        • fillyjonk in reply to Jaybird says:

          Oh, okay. I was thinking maybe I’d encountered another “expatriate” NE Ohioan…

          I miss malls and I don’t. I miss being able to easily try on shoes and clothes, and the “destination” where there was a lot of shopping. I don’t miss the crowds, and I don’t miss the rude kids who were unpleasant to be around….Report

  2. Murali says:

    I suspect that the reason that shopping malls are dying in the US and the UK* is that you guys never really figured out the trick of getting traffic.

    If you can get a supermarket, a cineplex, a department store, a stationery and book store, a few fast food places and food courts into the same building you will get traffic.The key is to locate these in such a way that people have to pass by the other shops in the mall in order to get to these places. The problem for you guys is that you already tend to have all these housed in other buildings. So, unless you are specifically doing some clothes shopping (some of which is migrating online) shopping malls which don’t have these amenities will not attract traffic.

    *In Singapore, there is a constant process where malls get built, become obsolete and then get renovated/replaced by other malls.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Murali says:

      Lots of American malls have anchor stores that are big department stores. The big mall in San Francisco (the Westfield, right on market street) contains a Nordstrom and a Bloomingdales. There is also a cinema and a great food court (because this is San Francisco, duh).

      There used to be a super market there too called Bristol Farms but it shut down. You are right that we don’t do Supermarkets in shopping malls as much.Report

    • Maribou in reply to Murali says:

      @murali The process in Colorado is much as you describe in Singapore except since we’re not all that crowded (especially down here in the Springs), the “replacement malls” have turned into mini-shopping villages that have all those things you list, I’d call them strip malls but they’re really far too vast to be called that. They’re tiny cities worth of very large shops, cheekbyjowl, with restaurants mingled in and a giant multiplex to anchor.

      Since we are not that crowded, the actual old school malls also die a slow lingering death rather than getting ripped down and destroyed at crowded-urban-island rates. I can think of one of them that’s being turned into a tiny-city-of-megastore-shopping village, actually, and several of those have also sprung up in the *vicinity* of the mall Jaybird is mourning.

      tl;dr it’s not that the thing is missing, or we don’t know how; it’s just wearing slightly different clothes.Report

  3. Aaron David says:

    As far as Will Self on this; his first point has been obvious for a long time, the only issue being that Ballard was never taken as seriously as he should have been. The second point, this is now obvious and I can’t stop thinking “of course.”

    I grew up in a small college town, about 30k people when I was a kid. The downtown was, if not famous, considered quite an asset. There was a small mall out on the edge of town, but it was never a thing that people when to hang out in/at. So the mall culture thing kinda passed me by. But, as my son went to college there, I would find myself back as an adult but with the memory patterns of the kid who grew up in that place. It had simply morphed into an outdoor mall. The shops, formerly small indies and local businesses, now became imports of corporate commercial culture. There were still holdouts, the record store, a locals bar, etc. But the number of used bookstores had dropped to one, no local clothing stores, the art supply and hobby shop was replaced by Michaels. And you know the rest. Commercialism had replaced localism.

    I now live college town adjacent, but in another state, and see that little town fight to keep those forces at bay. I am not sure that they can without severely bending the ideas of freedom. I am not sure I want them to.

    Nice thoughtful piece RufusReport

  4. LeeEsq says:

    There is incidentally a very good history of consumerism that came out in 2016 called Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First. The thesis is that humans have had consumerist tendencies since we evolved, anti-consumerist critiques existed just as long, and consumerism isn’t going away.

    Democracies have been debating whether consumerism hurts democracy ever since Ancient Athens. The nature of consumerism varies. The Ancient Athenians were very worried about people loosing virtue because they could eat tuna rather than the traditionally austere ancient Greek diet. The belief that some amount of self-denial, especially when it comes to material goods, might be as old as material goods themselves.

    I’m off two minds about it. On the one hand, I can see their point. Many people really do loose themselves in consumerism and suffer problems, sometimes quite serious ones, as a result. They possibly aren’t as happy as they belief they are.

    In a more pro-consumerist direction, we have seen the types of societies that very austere people create when they have a chance. They aren’t necessarily conducive to human happiness either. Many of them, say the Taliban’s Afghanistan, were actively against happiness. Other austere regimes, let us use the Communists as an example, were in favor of human happiness but not quite as good as providing. Joy seems to require a certain amount of frippery and frivolousness; which might explain why very serious people have not been that big on joy as an emotion. Consumerism provides the frippery and frivolousness.Report

  5. LeeEsq says:

    Incidentally, the Shopping Mall as we know it was created by a refugee Jew from Austria trying to provide what he saw as a bit of glamorous downtown Vienna into what he saw as dreariness of American shopping/living. It did not quite work out how he expected.Report

  6. Ballard really did contain multitudes. I’m most familiar with his SF from the 60s. He was one one of the leading figures of the New Wave, a group of writers who introduced mainstream literary techniques and tropes into the genre. This was highly controversial at the time (the traditionalists’ anger is very similar to the Sad Puppies’), though looking back it’s hard to see what the fuss was about; good SF writers had always gone beyond the supposed boundaries of the field. But Ballard’s stuff, the Vermillion Sands stories being a good example, remain as fresh and strange as the day they were written,Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      A good chunk of science fiction fandom always interpreted science fiction as being the anti-literary genre. It was sort of a nerd vs. jock fight but you replace jocks with cool, artistic people with decent social skills.Report

  7. Rufus F. says:

    It’s hard to find a more perfect short story than The Drowned Giant.Report

  8. Our local mall is struggling badly. Not quite the problems you depict but still half-abandoned. They are now talking about putting a mini-casino in there (it’s been on hold for years because the local govt will neither approve nor reject the application).

    One thing they’re doing though, which more malls should do, is putting in things you can’t get online. My daughter’s dance studio is there. They just put a bounce house place in. A gym has moved in. If they converted one of the abandoned megastores into a hotel/conference center, they’d be sitting pretty.Report

  9. Maribou says:

    I reread Sydney Taylor’s All of A Kind Family this week and while I mostly was struck by the juxtaposition of real problems and idyllic family life, I also spent a fair amount of time thinking about her description of the shops, their market-like character, and how much they reminded me of the market streets I’ve been to in Paris. Now thinking about that in this context as well. So many thoughts.Report

  10. I’m reading Atrocity Exhibitions right now, actually, slowly.

    As far as nominee for perfect short story, I would offer either Leiningen Versus the Ants or A Hunger ArtistReport