Essay #2 Assignment: The Argument by David Guterson and Kenneth Jackson

            David Guterson, in his paper entitled ‘The Mall as Prison’, came to the recently opened Mall of America somewhere in Minneapolis during the month of April to observe how the mall goers take the mall.  With a skeptical eye, he agreed with what James Farrell indicated that “one can take the pulse of American culture by spending time in malls” (Guterson 286).  What is the sense of shopping malls in America?  Can it be that the malls could be a center too, of community life?  Would it be an authentic community life?

            This paper revolves around shopping malls in America and what the author sees in relation to community life.  In the end, the author argues that shopping malls could be an authentic place for community life; however, it is not always a fine and excellent community life that lingers in malls.  Films alone and the media could be sources of youth aggressiveness and violence.  On the other hand, it could also be a place for empowering and motivating communities in general.  Shopping malls could be the best or worst place in the community.

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Main Body

David Guterson’s Argument

            Two authors, David Guterson and Kenneth Jackson, argue that the bazaars and marketplaces of old are places to engage in the give and take of community life.  In David Guterson’s article entitled ‘The Mall as Prison’, he establishes the argument that shopping malls and bazaars are places that institute the economy of the community.  As stated,

Eleven thousand articles, the press kit warned me, had already been written on the mall.  Four hundred trees had been planted in its gardens, $625 million had been spent to build it, 350 stores had been leased.  Three thousand bus tours were anticipated each year along with a half-million Canadian visitors and 200,000 Japanese tourists.  Sales were projected at $650 million for 1993 and at $1 billion for 1996… (Guterson 287)

It was created to represent, not a mall, but a national tourist spot for vacationers in America.  These large buildings like the malls, according to Guterson, stand as “markers in the lives of nations and in the stream of a people’s history” (287).  Despite the extravagance and the profligacy of a mall, it only appeared to be a place for claustrophobia, sensory deprivation, as well as disorientation (288). As described by Guterson,

Here we are free to wander endlessly and to furtively watch our fellow wanderers, thousands upon thousands of milling strangers who have come with the intent of losing themselves in the mall’s grand, stimulating design. (Guterson 288)

            From here it appears that, despite the luxury and extravagance that shopping malls and bazaars bring us, they could also be defined as prisons as based on Guterson’s argument.  It does not reflect communal relationship or interaction—one that can be found in simple marketplaces and smaller stores—but a private interaction with oneself or with others.  From here it is being made evident that, as reflected in the article of Guterson, shopping malls should be seen as a center for community life; however, as seen in this case, it is being manifested that shopping malls do not appear to be a place for genuine community life but a clandestine, secretive one.  Going alone in shopping malls and bazaars is being alone.

            There are other cultures wherein big public buildings, such as the shopping malls, tend to be places of communal relationship.  It just so happened that America has a culture wherein urban life mirrors one that is more secretive and private.  It should be a center for community life however.  Lots of things could happen there that includes interacting with other people, however stranger they may be.  I have been to other places where shopping malls are seen as places for communication and interaction… even between strangers.  It is evident that whether or not shopping malls are being accepted as places for community enhancing lies on the culture of the specific place.  Culture creates the exact environment that allows people to intermingle with one another.  As for America, I have to agree that yes, shopping malls are becoming more like ‘prisons’, with people going to and fro just to look at the site.  Unless one goes there with others to shop it remains to be a prison where strangers meet and outsiders remain to stand almost everywhere.

            In the 1990s, youth apocalypse films emerged, which usually entertained fourteen-year-old boys and girls.  Films such as Natural Born Killers (1994), Kids (1995), and The Basketball Diaries (1995) came out of the shopping malls, while presenting violence and aggressiveness, and violence to these teenagers (Benjamin 1).  The Doom Generation in 1995 even presented heterosexual disaster movie that share dark orientations to teenagers.  All these are being shown in the movie houses of the shopping malls, and even outside the movie houses where teenagers meet and relate with other teenagers in the community.  It is evident therefore that, as shopping malls are places for media and entertainment that do not always create the perfect type of environment for the kids, shopping malls could also be dangerous.

Kenneth Jackson’s Argument

            Kenneth Jackson also argues that the bazaars and marketplaces should be places to engage in the give and take of community life.  As America contains the best shopping malls in the world, the American community will not be complete without the existence of these shopping malls.  Jackson implied in his article ‘A Brief History of Malls’ that…

By 1992, there were 38,966 operating shopping centers in the United States, 1,835 of them large, regional malls, and increasingly they were featuring the same products, the same stores, and the same antiseptic environment. (274)

It appears that the whole of America is actually one shopping center that is freely expanding at the speed of light (Jackson 274).  Despite the fact that shopping malls were not invented or first created in America but in the Middle East, it became a global phenomenon by the 20th century, after modern malls were initiated in Hong Kong, and stores such as these we are now having started to spread about the country.  In Osaka there were also about a million people per day buying clothes, food, toys, lizards, and seeweeds (Jackson 276).  Nevertheless, according to Jackson, “it is in the United States that the shopping center and the shopping mall have found especially fertile ground” (276).  There was large-scale retailing in North America, while the Country Club Plaza in 1923 became “the first automobile-oriented shopping center” (276).  It was in the mid-1930s, however, that shopping malls began to contain only one management association, complete with parking facilities.  It is being stated,

The first major planned retail shopping center in the world went up in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1949, the brainchild of Homer Hoyt, a well-known author and demographer best remembered for his sector model of urban growth.  Another early prototype was Northgate, which opened on the outskirts of Seattle in 1950. (Jackson 277)

By 1970s, it is said that the typical Americans were spending more and more of their time in shopping centers and malls instead of other places aside from their own homes (277).  It is, according to Jackson, “the most distinctive product of the American postwar years” (277).

            From the statements made by Jackson, it reflects that neither are shopping malls the places to go to in order to engage in the give and take of community life, or not the place to go to in order to engage in the give and take of community life.  In concentrating more on the history of shopping centers or malls, Jackson chose to stay neutral on whether or not shopping centers are places to engage in communal sharing and relationship.  Because it focuses more on how shopping malls and centers basically started around the world, it does not consider the effects brought by shopping centers and malls.  It just mentions that America has been a place famous for its superb shopping centers, but the culture and environment inside the shopping centers and bazaars are being excluded out of the argument.  Considering the most common environment of malls in the United States, it can be justified then that the type of culture being emphasized in Jackson’s article would be the kind of environment that Guterson has tried to explain.  On the other hand, his use of the phrase “the same antiseptic environment” (274), however, insists that he is more on the side of the statement that shopping malls are places where communal relationship and interaction take place.  Being antiseptic is similar to being clean and uncontaminated; thus, the shopping malls are purely uncontaminated of the bad elements (e.g., dark orientations to teenagers) that may prevail.

            If shopping centers and malls are uncontaminated, and if it is a place for communal relationship and interaction, then what authors John Bolland and Debra McCallum of the University of Alabama could be done here.  In their article entitled ‘Neighboring and Community Mobilization in High-Poverty Inner-City Neighborhoods’, it is specified that empowerment, the sense of community, and neighboring behavior are the keys in the discussion of community issues and community life.

Analysis of the Argument

            There are opposing views on the article written by Guterson and Jackson.  The former accepts the statement that bazaars and shopping malls are places to engage in the give and take of community life.  He establishes the argument that these places are used in instituting the economy of the community and not the communal relationship of the community.  There is extravagance and luxury in the shopping malls, but it only appears to be a prison for those who seek communal relationship and neighborhood.  There is not much community life in these areas, since private interaction is thing most common in these areas.  Thus, shopping malls do not appear to be the right place for genuine community life.  Being in shopping malls is being alone with the cultural environment.

            As for Jackson’s argument, he positions himself more on the statement that shopping centers and malls are indeed, places to engage in the give and take of community life.  He establishes the argument that these places are used in the communal relationship of the neighborhood or the community.  It should not be taken as a prison, especially that the history of the United States would have not been complete without the development of the shopping centers and malls.  America alone is one extra large shopping center situated in the West.  As more and more Americans spend their time alone or with friends and family inside the shopping malls, we should acknowledge the fact that shopping centers and malls are not prisons but places of communal giving and taking—the place for neighborhood motivation.

            Between the two opposite arguments—Guterson’s that stays on the side of shopping malls not being a place for communal interaction, as well as, Jackson that stays on the side of shopping malls being a place for communal interaction, the writer believes that shopping malls and bazaars are neither on the side of the two.  Because cultural environment dictates whichever of the two is the correct one, and that the people themselves carry the cultural environment of the whole community, then it is unmistakable that malls do not carry the final say.  Shopping centers and malls are merely buildings; they do not hold the culture itself.


            As Guterson implied, one can indeed take the pulse of the culture of America by spending one whole day in the malls.  The sense of shopping malls rests on culture, and if the community allows, it could be a strong place for community life and interaction. It could be an authentic community life if the culture permits the place being a place for neighborhood mobilization.  Otherwise, it is not a genuine place for communal interaction and giving.  A fine and excellent community life may just be around the corner of the malls.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Richard. “The Sense of an Ending: Youth Apocalypse Films.” Journal of Film and Video 56.4 (2004): 34-49.

Bolland, John M., and Debra Moehle McCallum. “Neighboring and Community Mobilization in High-Poverty Inner-City Neighborhoods.” Urban Affairs Review 38.1 (2002, September): 42-69.

Guterson, David. “The Mall as Prison.” Title of book. Ed. (name of editor). Place: publisher, year. 286-293.

Jackson, Kenneth. “The History of Malls.” Title of book. Ed. (name of editor). Place: publisher, year. 274-277.


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