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Shopping center like a sanctuary of consumption

A well-dressed attractive girl walks along the sidewalk, half a step behind her is a less nice-looking and attractively dressed friend. The first one stopped in front of the proximity sensor before the open door of the large shopping gallery and said “Breathe in, you are entering paradise.” This story is the same scene observed by the author of this article. At the same time, it serves as a confirmation of the ideas of many sociologists and economists who have talked for several decades about materialist consumerism as a sort of new religion and about the shopping centers being like sanctuaries.

A place where you change and climb higher

Religion gives believers a sense of their being. It tells them where they came from, why they are here and gives them a goal. This may be salvation, an afterlife, encounters with loved ones in the world. In the Buddhist tradition, the highest state is nirvana. Every time it is a kind of reward for following a certain code of rules that you should follow best throughout life.

Consuming religions bear many common elements. The goal one sets is much more within reach, you just have to pay for it. Experiencing the experience or the ownership is an act of transformation. Many ads are based on the aspiration principle. When you have an XY product, you will be attractive, you will be happier, you will be in a group of “better people”. Propagation in general is a form of prayer and praise.

The department store confirms this message. As with the Catholic Church, the more monumental it is, the better and more convincing. The honesty of the churches gives meaning to faith, creates respect, the images of the saints in the images and Jesus on the cross which is to provoke the godliness as well as gratitude for the sacrifice that has been made for us. Frescoes depicting hell or the unfortunate fate of those who have succumbed to temptation should discourage us from unwanted behavior. The temple ceilings and the lights coming through the windows symbolize salvation and heaven.

Shopping galleries are scared. Instead of the images of the saints, our logos of brands, advertisements and posters are fighting for our attention. They refer not only to the characteristics of the products represented but also to a particular philosophy of life. Some brands fit on the basis of similar values (and may be offered in one store) while others are in conflict. The only great god is the God of Consumption. Like in ancient Greece under the Diem, there are many different gods and goddesses there who are together but it may also happen that they do not have to stand. If you decide to follow the goddess of victory Nike (sorry, Nike) or succumb to a tougher image of Under Armor, then it is entirely up to you. But one thing is certain. By purchasing, you confirm your desired identity to yourself as well as others and you will feel great.

Buying brings a sense of fulfillment but it is only for a moment

A visit to church represents the act of belonging for the people who act in solidarity with a religious community. It strengthens the reception of the Eucharist as a reminder of the sacrifice of Christ and his worship. In the context of Catholic practice, the confession is a cleansing process that has a calming effect.

However, there are many people who do not need a church meeting for their faith. They take it as an intimate affair. However, those who worship the God of Consumption need to visit the shops. Buying something that makes them happy brings – at least for a moment – a feeling of fulfillment and has a calming effect.

Its duration is not eternal. Consumerism is based on the endless pursuit of desire and continuous fulfillment but the ultimate fulfillment never occurs. There is always something on the horizon, something more expensive, more luxurious, newer or just another one that could be better.

But with all this shopping is an attractive element of security. This is much higher than, for example, when investing energy and time into interpersonal relationships. You just know that buying a nice skirt, jacket or your favorite ice cream will lift your mood. This is why shopping for some people is a kind of therapy, a regular remedy for a bad mood or a reward.

At the same time, it is a materialized form of redemption. The church keeps a man whose life is good. It helps him to forgive himself. Shopping centers give the feeling that life is good and we have great confidence in purchasing things that will serve its purpose. And if not, we can usually return it…

The shopping center is like a meeting place for the community

Churches did not only serve as a religious purpose. Regular Sunday worship was also a meeting point for similar minded people belonging to one community. Festively dressed people then went on a walk. They looked at each other, comparing their dresses, greeted each other and talked. The city promenade was the place to compare and confirm social status as well as have opportunities for mutual interaction. New shops and marriages were closed here.

For large sections of the population, for families and teenagers, this is also the shopping center (OC). It is the place where they are among their own people. Although they are strangers to others around, they share the same idea when it comes to spending leisure time. People compare each other. What they like and what they buy confirms their identity. And sometimes it is enough just look in the windows and dream.

It is the aspect of dreaming and the aimless wandering between shop windows which is characteristic of adolescent visitors to shopping centers who go there not only to shop but also to live. They are inspired. Clarifying what they are longing for is also part of their identity. Well-known social theorists Walter Benjamin and Bauman write about exile in a modern urban area. It is part of watching things and people around as well as imagining their stories. Shopping centers are places where teenagers can roam, meet friends and be seen by your friends (to be “in”). Interestingly enough, this phenomenon has remained valid for several decades, as evidenced by works and studies by many sociologists and philosophers such as Jarboe and McDaniel (1987), Kunce, Frantál and Toneva (2010), Jackson, Stoela, and Brantley (2011) or Spilkova (2012).

No place

The shopping center according to Baumann (2002b) is like the church with a large open space. It reminds one of a big ship, it is a city in one big house.

It only allows people to meet certain criteria in their gut. Problem elements will be caught by the security guard. Likewise, the shopping center is not the place for political action as it is not a public space. Under the supervision of cameras and colleagues who are watching, it is not even a private space in the individual sense of the word. It is not one nor the other. It is something between a characteristically rational institution described by, for example, Webmer (1998) or Ritzer (1996).

Jean Baudrillard (1970) speaks of shopping centers like something between a combination of a carnival and a fairground, with plenty of colors, lights, events and stimuli without any trace of visitors. They are becoming increasingly demanding, so the “carnival” is more and more prominent. Shopping centers organize exhibitions, concerts, performances of stand-up comics and at the very highest level in the United Arab Emirates, you can also enjoy skiing.

Just as soothing as it is scary at the same time is the uniformity of shopping centers. They look like each other all over the world. Sebastian Baumann (2002b) speaks of them as locations. They are not linked to the historical roots of the cities and countries where they stand. At best, they adapt to the local conditions to a certain extent. However, anywhere you are in the world, you know their common features. You realize that you are entering a LOCATION that aims to devour you and get you to buy. Strengthened by their gradual transformation into community, leisure and entertainment centres in the context of the growing importance of on-line shopping, this concept still works.

Daniel Jesenský

Respond to: daniel.jesensky@dago.cz

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