And the Simple Girl Buys What She’s Told to Buy

The Mall of America is holding a contest for a “Writer-in-Residence.” I’m  fairly certain that my published remarks about the place disqualify me.

Not that I think any writer should accept the position. Sure, it would be an easy way to make $2,500 (plus a $400 gift card to “buy food and drinks” in the food court!) in an industry that generally seems more interested in ripping your soul from your body. But that’s just it. The MOA wants to rip out a little more of that soul in the name of a marketing scheme.

Make no mistake. $2,500 would be nice, and for a writer that sum often goes a long way. But it is hardly the “generous honorarium” the MOA claims it to be. For in order to be awarded the position, said writer must agree that their work “must not be inaccurate, derogatory, incompatible with, inconsistent with, or otherwise contradictory to the Mall of America’s desired presentation of the Mall or the patrons, tenants, licensees, invitees, or employees of the Mall.” Oh, is that all? There’s plenty of space for serious art within the structures of corporate mandates. That’s why all the best writers are sponsored by Wal-Mart.

And what will this lucky writer do during his residency? Why, immerse himself in the “atmosphere” of the mall, of course. You know, for “inspiration.” But also, he’ll be spending a “minimum” of 4 hours each day at his desk while mall patrons gawk at the curious, endangered breed of half-human on display there. “Look, Johnny, a writer in their natural habitat!” And on a large monitor outside their cage will be displayed their work in “almost-real time.” Why almost? Why, because a commissar of MOA propaganda (er, I mean, a marketing rep) will be actively vetting everything being written. Can’t let the monkeys eat their own shit in front of the paying public, now, can we?

All this seems entirely consistent with what I learned of the MOA during my visit there. I was lured there by a great hotel rate I found online on a night I decided not to spend outside. Clearly subsidized by the mall, I woke up to the site of the concrete behemoth in the near distance . . . just a short excursion across a parking lot, and I too could experience the wonder of a galleria essentially comprised of the same stores that malls across America have– only bigger, and with a freaking theme park inside! And just look at My logo, it called out across the sea of asphalt between us. 128 stars above a red, white, and blue streamer. What red-blooded patriot dares turn his back on Me?

Not this one, as it turned out. Though I suspect it thinks me a heretic still.

Sure, I initially resisted the urge to go to what I would soon call “the Hagia Sofia of American mega-malls– a cathedral of consumption” because, well, I pretty much hate all malls, and this one promised to be particularly obnoxious to my better senses. But I ultimately convinced myself that objectivity and a self-imposed charge to investigate America in all the corners I came upon demanded I not dismiss this most American of places out of hand. And so I went. And I gave it full shrift. And it only crystallized my view of it. It is capitalism personified. Its pretense of exceptionalism barely obscures its ravenous appetite for pointless spending. And its victims are the easiest marks for its elaborate, communal con: men and women who think they’re experiencing something special because of a blissful ignorance of the truly distinctive, for whom success is a trunk-full of crap they already have twelve of.

But oh, what choices for dinner! Shall we eat shrimp harvested by a movie character, a facsimile of a cheeseburger a rock star crooned about, or a lava cake served next to a fake volcano? Let’s go back and see what that writer thinks is the most authentic experience. I always wanted to know which Sysco truck Walt Whitman preferred his meals from!

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