Jamie Smith’s profound book, Desiring the Kingdom, lays out a captivating description of the shopping mall as seen through the eyes of a Martian. In doing so, Smith gives us new eyes to see the ways in which the mall speaks cultural truths.
Smith exposes three truths that the mall tells us about ourselves as consumers and I’ve added a fourth:
1) “I’m broken, therefore I shop.” The mall latches onto our own sense of deficit and insecurity; it creates desires and offers fulfillment for those desires, whether it is a PS4 or a new wardrobe or a salty soft pretzel coupled with a tart and sweet lemonade.
2) “I shop with others.” Despite our tacit assumption that we are individualistic as a society, the mall actually betrays that we are built around social connection around shared desires and competition in those desires.
3) “I shop therefore I am.” We are implicitly told at the mall that consumption is redemption. Shopping is therapy, we lose ourselves in “the labyrinth of racks and find new delights and surprises that – at least for a time – cover over the doldrums of our workaday existence.”[i] In addition, shopping creates a sense of identity in what we acquire. We “seek to find” to acquire and become what we hope for.
4) “I am in control.” The phrase “the customer is always right” is ubiquitous and shapes our experience as consumers. It doesn’t matter who we are or what station we have in life, when we walk into the mall, with $5 or $500 to burn, we are in control and treated as royalty.
There ought to be a prick in our conscience as we read these truths about who we are as consumers. Even for those who fight the way in which we’ve been shaped by our culture’s cathedral of consumerism, the reality is that there are none of who have been unaffected.
The next post will turn to how this impacts the way we engage our faith: we will first consider how it shapes the way we experience the local church.
[i] James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 99.
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