#367 A Mall and the Hype Visitor

[Welcome Carnival of the Mundaners! This column originally ran September 26, 2005]

The Hyperion Chronicles
“There were three hats…and one of them was black”

#367 A Mall and the Hype Visitor

I went to the Mall the other day to buy a hat. Believe me; it was not without massive angst and discomfort that I journeyed to this place. To wit: I hate the Mall.

I haven’t done the exact calculations, but the Mall easily illustrates 60% of what’s wrong with modern North America. I don’t mean to be one of those sky-is-falling Nabobs of Negativism, but it is not difficult—after a journey to the Mall—to come away with the belief that evil does exist, and it resides just south of Abercrombie, just north of Fitch.

(Welcome to the real Hotel California)

When I walk into the Mall, shoes ringing hollowly on the faux-marble parquet floor, the jangle of sound as various stores compete with the ambient “music,” air artificially cooled and slightly sweet and greasy—emanating from some distant food court conveniently set up for mid-mall snacking, lights bright and cheery like the flip side of Vegas: I truly feel like a knight heading into battle. There be dragons in this Mall, and don’t they look fetching in Tommy jeans and a Givenci baby tee?

Speaking of those baby tees, it brings me to the first stand-on-my-soapbox harangue. The modern trend is not only to shrink the shirts to the size of underwear (although underwear is now shrinking to the size of eye-patches, but that’s another story), but the new thing is to put provocative and sleazy expressions across the chest.

For a long time women have been championing the Arts by emblazoning Literature on their upper torsos, all in a worthy effort to get men to read. However, lately this practice has gone to the most vulgar and sexually suggestive phrases imaginable. What used to be the realm of “Spencer’s” and other naughty stores is now as ubiquitous as the Mall’s many different Gaps.

(On a side note, seriously: somebody must halt The Gap in their quest to become the Starbucks of the Mall. First there was The Gap, then Kids Gap and Baby Gap. Now there are Girls Gap, Boys Gap, Granny Gap, Gay Gap, Circus Gap (for that Rodeo Clown look), Trailer Gap and coming soon….Gangsta Gap. People: it must stop. You don't your child to be a "Gangsta Gapper." But I digress. Back to the potty-mouthed shirts.)

(Finally, a Gap we can all get behind)

There was a kiosk in the middle of the walkway, blocking progress, demanding to be perused. Actually, there were many, but this particular damnation on wheels was selling the aforementioned vulgar tees. I present two actual shirts here and note: for those of you easily offended, I proffer the least objectionable ones.

One shirt read “I may have a bad mouth but I can go great things with it!” Another had the offset Jack-in-the Box square with the words “You should taste my box!” (Forget the fact that since I’m in Canada maybe only 4% of the population would get that this shirt spoofs a California restaurant chain. By importing it up here, they make the shirt 63% dirtier just through ignorance. But again, I digress.)

People, I’m not going to argue that filth has no place on the chest of a woman. That war’s over, and while I think it says more about the intelligence of the “lady” in question, it’s a more-or-less free country.

What bothers me so much is that these shirts were not marketed at ironic co-eds, trying to stand out from the crowd at a Good Charlotte concert. No, these shirts were aimed at girls 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and, if their growth was stunted to the point of Keri Strug-like levels, 14 year olds.

Readers of Hyperion-X already know how I feel about the sexualization of these kids. You hear about the sex trade of kids in South America and Asia, but how many steps removed is it from dressing young girls as prostitutes? I’m not saying it’s the same thing, but you can see one place from the other.

Lest you think I’m old and crotchety, consider this: baby tees are designed for women with smaller figures, to make them look sexier, right? Now, which segment of the population generally has smaller breasts? Young girls. So in effect, this garment single-handedly attempts to sex kids up.

Case in point: at one gathering of benches there were group of guys hanging out, 5 of them, probably 20-25 years old. They were watching the girls, and spent a large amount of time focused on girls who I’m sure weren’t in high school yet. I realize guys look at girls no matter what, but these guys would have been less inclined to ogle those so young if the girls weren’t all attired in “whore-chic.”

It’s human nature people: when a girl shows off more than a normal amount of skin, and wears ridiculously small clothing that accentuates and emphasizes whatever curves there are to begin with (often helped by structural-support lingerie and good old Charmin), when these girls further have flirtatious sexually suggestive logos across these curves, men are going to look at them. I’ve seen girls get offended at this but let’s be honest: men’s gazes is the whole point.

These guys should have better judgment, but in one sense I can’t blame them. By dressing younger girls sluttier and sluttier it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell how old anyone is. (This is why Hyperion has suggested collars for those who are under age, but that might actually help create a niche market for pedophiles, so maybe not.)

Obviously I could go on for another 6500 words on this topic alone, but there is so much to hate at the Mall let’s move on by talking about idiotic consumerism. In doing research for this column (here at Denny’s, where I’m writing this), I asked Kristin and Sam, two women much more knowledgeable about the Mall than I, about store names at the Mall. Check some of these out: Hot Gossip, French Connection, Bootlegger, Suzie Shier, Le Chateau, Lulu Lemon, Garage Clothing (not to be confused with Garage Antique Furniture), Dynamite, Urban Trade, Underground, La Senza, Blue Notes, Stitches, DKNY, Phat Pharm and Banana Republic; which use to be a Central American country and now sells bananas world-wide. (Just kidding. I think they sell all kinds of fruit, and some vegetables too.)

(Even beer commericals are more honest)

Why do I mention these stores, other than to highlight the silliness that is the Mall? For this reason: each of these places (along with more established stores and the 14 Gaps per Mall) sell clothing that is scads more expensive simply because it is at the Mall. Also, many of the stores hope to attract non-thinking people with exotic or dangerous-sounding names. Put a French or Italian word up there and you can mark-up 60%. The same clothing—often the same brands!—can be found elsewhere much cheaper, but somehow the Mall reduces people to sheep-like behavior, forcing them to over spend.

One of my research assistants I talked to—Kristin—told me a story about a friend of hers who wanted a wife-beater (ribbed undershirt). They were 10 dollars for a pack of 6 at Wal-Mart. But this girl paid 19 dollars for only one just so she could say she got it at Hot Gossip. (This story brings up another issue: that we call these shirts “wife-beaters” without any outrage. Sadly, this too must be dealt with in another column, as I believe you now realize: I digress.)

I recall this when I was young: Ryan Adrian paying 5 times what jeans were going for just to get that Guess Question Mark on the back pocket. Kids have been doing that for as long as there’s been name brands. But it’s such a slick operation these days. Celebrities are given the clothes and pop up on Entertainment Tonight and MTV Cribs wearing the latest fashions. This filters down to college, high school and then Middle School.

But it’s more insidious than that. Recently I found myself watching Saturday morning cartoons, shows that no one above a 10 year old girl would find interesting. The characters on the shows—10-14 year old girls—were dressed as provocatively as anyone in the Mall. (there’s a rich tradition of this from Sailor Moon days, but it’s so much worse than you realize today.) Then there were the commercials. The same clothes I’ve been deriding was advertised on these Kids’ cartoons.

And don’t even get me started on Jessica Simpson and six year olds wearing “Daisy Dukes.”

(If this is your daughter's hero, you have failed as a parent. Might as well get her pole.)

The Mall makes me so weary. I swear they limit the number of escalators for the express purpose of making you walk as far as possible on one floor before you can go up, and then back-track to the store you actually want. (Is it possible they know what store you want as soon as you enter, reading your brain waves and then move the store far enough away that you will have to walk by every other store first?)

On my never-ending trek to climb Mt. Everest—I mean find a hat—I passed Build-A-Bear.

(If this looks interesting, Hyperion has some swamp land to sell you)

I don’t mean to pour salt on the wounds of your poor saps who have fallen for this, but you do realize it’s the worst rip-off since the Pet Rock, right? It would be one thing if some 85 year old grandma sat in her rocking chair hand sewing the bear just for your girlfriend’s birthday. But the process is so assembly-line commercial. First the empty bears are sodomized by a tube that fills them with fluff. I ask you: where’s the dignity? And the apparel? It’s cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all, each one at additional cost. You know what Build-A-Bear is? Barbie with fur. I’m sorry, but if I’m’ going to pay over 80 dollars for a Bear, I’ll send my friend Bear a bus ticket to come up here so I can beat him down in manly philosophical argument.

Then there’s the Food Court.

I realize people got to eat (one look at me and you’ll know I get it), but do they have to eat this? The same principle on display in the shops are showcased here. Panda Express, Bourbon Street Grill (it’s fast food but there’s alcohol in the title; what teen can resist?). And on and on. Even a cherished Mall treat of my youth—Orange Julius—I realized it was just OJ and foam. I can make that at home without breaking a twenty.

(I prefer my Panda barbecued, but I heard the wraps are good too)

I haven’t even gotten to my ordeal with the hat. Nor have I told you Sam’s story of the 13 year old cheerleaders and the girl with her jaw wired shut (although that one made my eyes bulge so maybe I should skip it).

However, I am as weary writing about the Mall as if I went there, so the rest of my hellish adventure will have to wait until another day. I leave you with a conversation I had with an old dude, who too seemed out of place at the Mall. He was standing in a fog holding his (I presume) wife’s purse, and looking around for her with a baffled expression.

I walked over to him to help. He told me, “She said she’d be in the store with the back-to-school display. I ask you, what girl would be caught dead at school in any of these outfits?”

I panned around, taking in the various womannequins in the state of (un)dress; they might as well have come with a banner that read “You too can be a whore! Come find out how!”

I put my hand on the old dude’s shoulder soothingly.

“Friend.” I said. “We are truly pilgrims in an unholy land.”

September 26, 2005

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Thanks to Sam and Kristin
Thanks to Izzy the Denny’s server for trying, even though she knows nothing about the Mall

Motto and Title Explanation
“Amal and the Night Visitors” is a famous opera by Gian-Carlo Menotti about the Three Wise Men who visit a crippled boy and his mother on their way to the Christ child. When they show up Amal keeps going to the door and returning to tell his mother there is a King, then two Kings, and finally “The Kings are three, and one of them is black!” (To an Israelite, this would have been quite a site. Tradition holds that one or more of the Magi may have come from as far away as Ethiopia, which would indeed make him black. Menotti has Balthazar play this role.) One may wonder why I put a title and motto that only three of you (at most) will get, but those three will surely love me.


Mama Duck said...

Oh my goodness. I am LOL about the build-a-bear sodomy, too funny!!

Anonymous said...

hahahahh this was sooo damn funny. I can't believe I didn't fully read it until now.

Thanks to your informative post, now all know that if we want to dress up as a pirate at a time of year when the halloween costumes are out of stock, we can just run over to the mall and get a pair underwear to use as an eyepatch! LOL