12 January 2008


In order to counter head-on my symptomology as a mega-mall topophobe (aversion to a place), I propose that you, the reader, and I immerse ourselves for the cure by imaginatively flying to the world’s largest structure of the kind: the West Edmonton Mall (“The Greatest Indoor Show on Earth,” as its Web page claims), in Alberta, Canada. Its 800+ retail stores double those of the Mall of America and include eight anchor stores. It has a 335-room hotel with 11 types of themed rooms, including one type that sounds like it was modeled for Nanook of the North, with an igloo theme! (The hotel is imaginatively (!) named the Fantasyland Hotel.) The mall has themed streets, including Bourbon Street, so that we don’t have to travel to the “real” New Orleans, which is always too messy and dank and real for many people. Surely its 100+ restaurants will suffice (might they offer walrus sandwiches?) and the six amusement attractions (I saw the photo of the full-scale pirate ship sailing around!) ought to be enough for any geographer looking for some (in)authentic entertainment. In case we become disoriented, the mall encourages us to download on our Palm organizer or pocket PC device a copy of the “West Edmonton Mall Map,” so that we can securely anchor our mental maps and locate the next exciting place to shop!

While there, though, we should read George Ritzer’s book: The Globalization of Nothing (2004), about how our lives are being dominated by “nothing.” (The book’s rhetoric sounds Lewis Carrollian.) “Nothing,” though, other than the opposite of “something” (uniqueness) has a concrete definition: social forms which are centrally conceived, controlled, and comparatively devoid of distinctive substantive content. He elaborates on four types of nullities: non-things, non-people, non-services, and non-places. Fast-food restaurants (which replace local cafes) are non-places, staffed by non-people (who know next to nothing about the products they sell and are scripted to say certain things--nearly nothing). A fascinating example of nothingness is the so-called “Docs-in-a-Box” concept, which is the medical equivalent of fast-food restaurants. (Ritzer is not critical of all nothingness.) Shopping malls are obviously non-places with little or no distinctive content.

Increasing nothingness is the reality of our hyper-consumption society. And, a trip to the "Greatest Indoor Show on Earth" would be a (non)experience of much to do about Nothing.

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