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Shopping For American Culture Essay

961 words - 4 pages

When James J. Farrell, professor of history, American studies, and American conversations at St. Olaf College wrote his article “Shopping for American Culture,” there were more malls than high schools within the United States. Malls were also generating more than 46.6 billion dollars in sales tax, which is “almost half of all state tax revenue.”1 Farrell recognizes these statements in the introduction of his article. In fact, he uses these statistics and determines that because of the population going to malls, shopping centers accurately reflect American culture.
James Farrell suggests that to truly understand Americans and their culture, one must go to the places in which Americans congregate (malls). He supports the idea that shopping, even if money is not spent, is therapeutic and “fun” (Farrell 250). At the same time, however, he also admits that consumption is planned and manipulated to create the most income. To do this, retailers enforce classic American values that encourage capitalism and consumerism. Finally, Farrell submits that individual stores within the mall tell an exciting and different story. However, Farrell does not admit that, while the malls of America do demonstrate the capitalist nature of America, they are not flawless descriptions of American culture as not everyone enjoys the mall and the people that go to the mall are not going to analyze the structure at the mall.
For example, Farrell claims that everyone enjoys going to the mall. “Yet we also go to buy more important things--an identity, a secure sense of self, a set of social relationships, a deeper sense of community, an expression of who we are and who we would like to be” (Farrell 252). This assertion is based on the assumption that everybody enjoys going to the mall and goes there to feel fulfilled. Unfortunately, he does not include statistical evidence for his reasoning (i.e. polls, survey questions, etc.). He cannot make that assumption because there are people who do not enjoy going to the mall. Another fault in Farrell’s reasoning is that one cannot buy an identity. While clothes and material objects can certainly create an identity of a sort, in today’s world of credit cards, expensive clothes do not necessarily indicate the wealth of a person.
In the course of his article, Farrell promotes that the mall is the only source of American cultural information. “In short, malls help teach us the common sense of our culture. If we look closely at malls, we will soon be looking inside our own heads” (Farrell 251). First of all, not everybody goes to the mall to create or stimulate culture. Malls are also an enclosed environment and George Lewis in his article “Community Through exclusion and Illusion,” addresses the idea that since malls are enclosed, there is a false sense of community. “ Malls can, and do, lure and assemble collectivities and crowds of shoppers, but these groups seldom share the common ties and engage in the sort of social...

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