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January 7, 2008

The Mauling (sp-intentional) of America

This rant is precipitated by comments made in The World is Flat and several other such renderings I have more recently read.

Neil Postman once observed that Las Vegas is a metaphor of our national aspiration: a city devoted to entertainment: i.e. faux reality. It is, in essence, a prototypic American mall—on steroids! Like our modern shopping malls it is without significant statuary or public squares; public art is replaced by plastic plants arranged around contrived storefronts; artificial lighting is associated with “neat” electronic tricks. Everything is simulated. The occasional skylight admits a little sunshine from time to time.

Malls have been declared to be private places, with notable displacement of the public square where full freedom used to be exercised, right down to the nut on the soap box. It has turned us away from the authentic drama played out on city streets which are no longer the focus of a community. Instead, we have a 50-100 acre regional expanse “at the far end of the road.” There are even different types of malls catering to lifestyle, income, values, and décor – just as we have with neighborhoods of uniform homes in the same price range.

Commerce prevails over all other human values, thus diminishing the sense of citizenship, and one further senses a diminished sense of self-worth. No one really questions whether the loss of community is really a fair trade for the maximum in shopping values and options. Is citizenship more important then consumerism? One doubts it!

Carole Rifkind has observed cogently that consumption has replaced community as a means of identification, while William Kowinski commented that the mall is “the TV you walk around in.”

Cities smaller and less historic than New York and Chicago are disappearing. We end up with LA in varietal permutations. I grew up in a neighborhood where there were falling down houses rented to the poor, admixed with lower middle-class, middle class, and even relatively expensive homes.

Now there are subdivisions of near identical homes with prices varying little more than a few thousand dollars, separated from one another and from down town areas by miles of four-lane roads and freeways; and even the expensive ones are tacky, “kit homes”which remind of the Pete Seger song from half a century ago in which he was champed about Levittowns as “houses made of ticky-tacky all standing in a row.”

My move to Florida has been disappointing because there is a seriously diminished variety of all manner of things, associated with an over-arching vacuity. My prior promise to myself was that I’d “never live more than a few miles removed from oak leaf lettuce.” Here they’ve never heard of it, along with uncountable other kinds of produce . . . not to mention gourmet pasta, unusual types of meat and fish! . . . and class is spelled with a “K”.

Posted by respeto at January 7, 2008 4:35 PM