During my research on the dystopian aspects of consumerism, I came across many sources with original and creative ideas in directions that I’ve never thought about. The book America at the Mall: The Cultural Role of a Retail Utopia by Lisa Scharoun is a good example. The book examines the origin and development of shopping malls in the U.S. throughout history, analyzes the influence on different populations, especially seniors and the youth, brought by the malls, and outlines a possible future for malls based on the recent decline in popularity. Chapter 4, titled “The Mall and Religion”, is especially worth noting because it inspects malls, a secular place, from a religious perspective as the temple of consumerism, from which Scharoun derives original conclusions on people’s belief and behavior.
In this chapter, Scharoun first claims that consumerism is a new form of religion. Consumerism is compared to a traditional religion, Christianity: the analogy indicates that consumerism promotes acquiring material as the ultimate goal of life, similar to Christianity’s life after death; malls are the “sacred places” that embody the religious symbol of consumerism, which people can experience through the “ritual” of shopping, not unlike churches and masses in Christianity. She then uses other’s research and quote demonstrating that “consumerism has surpassed all other belief systems” around the world to prove her point.
Next, she further portrays the mall as a temple by noting its architectural features. The atrium, the most conspicuous part of a mall, for example, is often circular, which symbolizes perfection and are also present in religious symbols as well as churches. Water fountain is usually found in the atrium, too, because water is a strong religious symbol associated with purity and sublimation. Such design appeal to people’s spiritual pursuit, shaping them to view consumerism as sacred. However, Scharoun then points out the difference in consumerism and traditional religions lies in that consumerism corrodes morality and community values promoted by most religions.
By quoting many scholars, from Adam Smith to David Loy, Scharoun demonstrates that consumerism eliminates public life and direct people to engage in socially costly behaviors. Finally, it is shown from a survey that most people now choose to “worship at the ‘temple of consumerism’” rather than go to churches, which points to consumerism and malls as a powerful and dangerous force.
The arguments and evidence provided by this chapter is unique in its viewpoint. The religious and spiritual impact of consumerism is seldomly considered but well interpreted by Scharoun, and it may complement other aspects to allow people to evaluate consumerism and shopping behavior more thoroughly. Though it is centered on consumerism, the analysis on religion and architecture may prove valuable to Catherine in her paper “The Cult of Religion in Perfect Ruin and Real-Life Dystopias” as well as Sydney in her paper “Architecture: The Implications of Dystopian Architecture.” As Catherine focused more on individual worship as a religion, this might lead her to think about worshipping values promoted by a dystopia and how a simple idea may be constructed as a religion by the people with power. And the analogy of malls and churches may help Sydney to consider the spiritual and even religious functions of architectures in dystopia. I hope such a useful source can be read by more people and add to their research findings.