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Dignity Road Report* - June 27, 2014

maul of america 1Merchandising Humanity

Some say shopping malls in America are dying, going out of style. Could it be that shopping is finally slipping out of favor as an unofficial religion (a.k.a. addiction)? Or, more likely, has it merely gone online? Regardless, real-time shopaholism lives on at America’s most mammoth mall, the Mall of America (MOA). The MOA is expanding. It is enlarging its mission to colonize the minds of consumers searching for a destination vacation characterized by a plethora of instant gratification stations for the whole family! Reluctantly, I participated in a recent expedition to this expensive exhibition of manipulation. Here are a few of the lowlights.

It is clear that the MOA is designed to entice and entrap the minds of all ages at all times. During my expedition, my co-explorers included a modern family with small children who sought a play location sheltered away from a soggy day. I'd like to think of them as unwitting victims, but it’s complicated. They gleefully participated in their own indoctrination and exploitation. How does this happen?

Once you find your way in, you quickly discover that the first strategy of MOA marketing is creating a maze of amazement. Children and adults are plunged into sights, sounds, and activities designed to generate reaction and distraction. At the heart of the MOA is a colorful carnival of cartoon rides inspired by children's most beloved characters, from Ninja Turtles and Blue Dogs, to endearing friends of Dora the Explorer. What child could resist being lured into the din?
As a MOA amateur, I was captivated by the heroic efforts of parents attempting to mind their children amidst a sea of selling. They spent mega-watts of energy keeping their offspring from springing off to wild rides embedded among glitzy product promotions. For example, I observed a small child fall prey to a tempting toy and, consequently, busted for borderline shoplifting. Another tiny tot became stuck on an endless loop amusement ride after his parents lost track of him. He wasn't allowed to get off until his parents arrived to assume responsibility. The panicked parents had launched an emergency manhunt throughout the complex MOA complex. They were relieved to find the floundering child safely held hostage on a tiny-tot Choo-Choo Train.

Even seeking a restroom at the MOA appeared designed to entrap families when they are the most desperate and vulnerable. Hidden in an obscure locations, families faced a ridiculously restless restroom experience with only one family friendly stall for a lineup of worried, and in a hurry, parents urgently focused on preventing wetting. Amplifying personal hygiene problems, hand cleaner dispensers didn’t exist in this petrie dish of early childhood entertainment. Someone should notify the CDC.

As one might expect, over the course of hours, humans must also address their hunger, especially children. When one discovers the futility of easily escaping the MOA, one succumbs to the inevitable trip to the "food" court, which involves neither food nor a court. This area is filled with venders of food pollution, food pumped full of additives, super sweet sugary "treats" conjured up from high-fructose corn syrup and served with a side dish of salt smothered, fat-enhanced cheesy fries. If humans had to survive a nuclear holocaust, perhaps these substances could be confused with food. Yet, by today’s standards, I was shocked to see so many ignore the early warning signs of a deadly diet evident in varying degrees of visibly bloated bodies.

The MOA is a towering inferno of intrusive—abusive—marketing. For a few distressing, depressing hours I navigated this cesspool of consumption that processes children like a genetically modified corn crop. I was stunned by the popularity of this massive monetizing machine, especially in light of Minneapolis’s many engaging entertainment alternatives, including museums, scenic lakes, and fabulously fun family parks. Tragically, the MOA merchandising meth-odology may be spreading. Apparently Texas plans to build its own version of the MOA three times the size of the original Frankenstein. These modern monstrosities of American living are designed to merchandise every aspect of the human experience, especially our need for relaxation and play. The MOA is a take-it-all example of a ruthless capitalism that cannibalizes lives. Let’s just call it what it is: The Maul of America.*

Reporting: Linda M. Hartling, Ph.D.

* Dignity Road Report: Inspired by the work of Evelin Lindner and collaborative community, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies. (For more information, please see: www.humiliationstudies.org)