(I know I said I would give an account of my anthropological observations in Anthropologie. Well, they kind of morphed into whatever you’d call this…)
I am fascinated by malls. Not exactly in the same way that I am by, say, metamorphosis or humpback whale migration or Indian pole gymnastics, but fascinated, nonetheless.
Why? Because although they appear to be real, every time I’m in one (or one of their kind) I hear this nagging voice inside of me that just won’t shut up. I even remember hearing it as a kid, “Hold on now, this can’t be all there is to it. Something just doesn’t add up here. This place doesn’t feel real. Where’s the rest of the story?”
Last time I visited a mall, I felt like I was in a giant game of Candy Land. Harmless enough, right? I mean, gingerbread plumb trees are cool, I guess. And what’s not to love about gumdrop mountains? ‘Tis the season for peppermint stick forests, after all. But where on the game board is the Canyon of Cavities? Or what about the Hollows of Hyperactivity? I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but a land of candy is sure to have a Desert of Diabetes.
Unfortunately, the game extends well beyond the walls of malls. It’s woven into the very ways we’re taught to consume. The entire retail “reality” is displayed to seem so perfect. So limitless. So unaffecting to anything beyond the parking lot. Whether we are hooked by the tidy stacks of sweaters in our favorite colorway, the scent wafting from Cinnabon, conveniently located near an AC intake, or the larger-than-life photoshopped beauties in pushup bras suggesting easy access to sex-filled, frost-free winter wonderlands for only $49.99, it’s little wonder that we go in for underwear and come out with three bags of bullshit.
Millions of dollars are spent every year to keep us believing that our decisions are of no consequence to the whole of humanity. But it’s not true, and on some level we all know it. These are kindergarten ethics, people. One kid in the class doesn’t get to hog all the crayons. It just isn’t fair. You can’t pick the macaroni off of someone else’s cardboard and glue it to your own. That’s not tolerated. You’d be sent to the school counselor for an emotional evaluation if you uprooted all the beans sprouting between wet paper towels on the windowsill. But on a global scale, with people and the planet on the line, somehow greed is considered glamorous, as long as it’s displayed well and priced right.
As a culture, we’re living as if the fairy tale were real. Shopping is now considered an acceptable pastime like soccer or whittling or bird watching. If this isn’t considered pretending problems away, I don’t know what is.
Just like in Candy Land, there are winners and there are losers in this real time game. Only, many of the losers live in third world countries and will never set foot in a mall (not that they would be allowed to anyway because they have no shoes). And the rest of the losers? Well, they’re not even born yet. I daresay future generations will pay greatest price for our haphazard consumption.
My intentions are not to sour your eggnog on this fine December afternoon. My intentions are simply to call the kettle black. Because the second I set foot on U.S. soil, somehow the kettle turns a million shades of gray again. Not because it isn’t actually black, but because there’s no Canyon of Cavities on the game board. The ugly realities are on the other side of the world, tucked neatly out of sight for the sake of profits.
Living amidst so much poverty has changed me. Seeing firsthand the giant chasm of disparity between a people of plenty and a people of dire need brings up emotions in me that I’m still trying to reckon with. Strangely enough though, I’m not overwhelmed with pity for the the plight of the poor, nor do I feel the need to save them from their situations.
You know what I do feel? I feel embarrassed. By our waste and our greed and our “profits before people” mentality. I feel saddened by our abuse of power and our irresponsible monetary influence. I feel a desire to protect the developing world from our unsustainable systems and mountains of needless, polluting goods. I feel that we have just as much to learn from them as they do from us.
Above all though, I feel inspired here. By the examples I see every day of how to live life without pretending the realities away. Of so many people still connected to their food source, unaffected by hurry and focused on their families. Of consumers who don’t buy needlessly or throw away carelessly. Of people more content in their poverty than we are in our wealth.
It is because of the nameless, smiling faces that I pass in the street, the shoeless children running along behind them, and the countless lessons I’m learning from their lives that I’ll continue to call the kettle black. Because if we’re honest, that’s the color it really is.