I’ve spent the last month in my home country, Australia. During my stay I found myself spending a lot of time in malls. Oddly beautiful shrines to youth culture, I’m drawn to their temperature controlled environs.
Malls bring out the suburbanite in me and tend induce sudden and intense urges to quit my job, pop out a few kids and take up interior decorating for “something to do”. Malls didn’t always inspire me to own a Land Rover and wear ballet flats. In fact, as I remember the malls of my childhood, upper-middle class spending traps do not immediately spring to mind.
Before I delve any deeper, may I add: What is a tagine? And who owns one? No, honestly, who? I saw them in every Melbourne mall I visited and while they look very pretty, I haven’t the slightest clue as to what to do with them. Tagines are the biggest “My cooking dick’s bigger than yours” phenomenon in the Western world. It’s up there with homemade sushi.
This leads me to my next point: Melbourne’s malls are in the midst of an identity crisis. They know they’re not cool enough to be boutiques filled with second-hand knickknacks, but darn it if they don’t want to give it a red-hot go. They’re like miniature cities with the Paris end of town crammed into one corner and the funky café district crammed into another. What we’re left with is a culturally awkward orgy of consumerism.
This symbiotic relationship allows the cool kids to feel cooler by boycotting the fancy labels, while making the oldies feel relevant because they bought a set of resin salad servers from a sales person with a ring in their nose. I’m not sure when this happened, but Australia’s malls became posh.
As a child, I remember going with my parents to these once Bon Jovi-loving tribal lands. Our local mall was essentially a tiled barn of teenage angst: Cool, grungy, filled with the possibility of being beaten up by BMX-riding kids. Decent people avoided them and that’s what made me want to be in them so badly.
I was jealous of the older girls who would sit in the food courts, their waist-length bleach-blonde hair tied atop their heads with fluorescent scrunchies. Their high-waisted whitewashed Levis made them the envy of every tubby seven year old. These girls had names like Britney and Crystal and their boyfriends looked like backup dancers for New Kids On The Block. Not that they would ever be backup dancers, that would be faggy.
For the young and impressionable, suburban malls were your sun and your moon. But entrance into this coven was decided by an exclusive group of adolescent underachievers. That didn’t stop me from dreaming.
My childhood mall fantasies consisted of me wearing cut-off denim shorts with white tennis shoes and baggy Nirvana T-shirts. I’d smoke as I sat in the lap of my football-playing boyfriend or hang with the girls outside the $2 Dollar Shop while listening to Silver Chair on my walkman.
That fantasy never became a reality. My family moved into the city before puberty hit and I wouldn’t visit a suburban mall for years to follow. By the time I was old enough to venture out to the land where little girls’ dreams came true, I was an outsider.
So, back to my recent trip to the mall. There I was in the middle of a department store in the middle of a mall looking at Gucci loafers and homewares with my girlfriend and her boyfriend.
My friend’s boyfriend is Jewish; the only reason I bring this up is because he uses this as an excuse for his anal-retentive purchasing practices. He wields a credit card like I wield my remote control: With grace, dignity and complete certainty. Every expense is calculated and compared with like-products to gauge their value. Even his choice of credit card is factored into the equation.
“If I use the Visa I get frequent flyer points but my Amex has a lower interest rate. Then again, if we buy the Myer card we get a $200 voucher and a discount on future purchases. But the card costs $100 which negates the $200 voucher deal.”
Wait, what just happened? Did you buy something? As it happens, he had purchased a lovely set of knifes. As I don’t know how to cook and my knife collection consists of a single meat cleaver, I felt a mixture of shame and pride: Shame because I have not reached the level of maturity that requires high quality kitchenware; and pride because at least I have friends who have.
As we carried our nice purchases back to the car, passing yummy mummies and hipsters as we went, I scanned the parking lot. Ne’er a BMX nor plaid shirted teen was to be found.