There’s this one detail from the NY Times article “Our Love Affair With Shopping Malls is on the Rocks” that Sarah and I were laughing about because it seemed such a sadly apt emblem for the U.S. economy.
The economic crisis has caused shoppers to go into an essentials-only mode. But the mall has never trafficked in essentials. You can’t, for instance, fill a prescription at the Mall of America, because it doesn’t have a pharmacy. You can, however, buy a vanilla hazelnut fragrance candle in the shape of a miniature cooking skillet. Or a $13 baseball hat that looks as though it’s made of cheddar cheese. A store called Corda-Roy’s sells a variety of bean bags that convert into beds. Magnet Max sells a battery-operated guinea pig that runs continuously on a spinning exercise wheel.
It’s the battery-operated guinea pig that stuck in my mind as a little icon of pointless/wasteful U.S consumerism (and maybe of the U.S. consumer too). We went on a post-Xmas expedition to the Indianapolis “Fashion Mall” a few weeks ago and I had the thought that 80% of what was on offer constituted a sort of money-laundering operation, just in the sense that it really only exists in order to have something to spend your money on. (The heavily marked-down Christmas gifts and paraphernalia especially conveyed this impression.)
A different article in today’s Times mentions the popular iPhone application iFart: “as you can pretty much deduce from the name, it enables your $200 to $300 mobile device to emit a variety of noises simulating flatulence.” Compared to the vanilla hazelnut fragrance candles in the shape of a miniature cooking skillet, etc., though, at least the iFart application is cheap (99 cents) and will not end up in a landfill.
By the way, speaking of guinea pigs, when we got home last night at 8:30 or so we stepped over a big garbage bag in front of our front door. It says something about our housekeeping that no one commented on it; I assumed it was something Sarah had left there for some reason. As soon as we got in the door, the phone rang; it was Steve across the street letting us know that the bag contained a load of guinea pig poop from their pets, which Sarah covets for our backyard compost heap. There’s quite a lot of traffic in guinea pig poop between the two households, although unfortunately Steve will not accept the contents of Pot Luck and Daisy’s litter box in exchange.