Abattoirs awash with our blood. That's malls

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KNACKERED. RED-EYE flight, a grey Min-neapolis morning, and a hectic PR person, come to seize us and take us off on an inexplicable treat. "You'll have heard of it," she says. "The Mall of the Americas." The statistics begin to flow. I am unable to comprehend them,my numeracy atrophied in the exhausted grey morning. My brain, shutting down ineluctably, garbles them into fantasy: a floor area bigger than Jupiter, clouds forming in the upper atrium, small personal tornados whirling around Wayne's World of Spatulas, seizing smallchildren and whisking them beyond the rainbow: "Gee, Toto, I don't think we're in The Mall of the Americas any more ... "

At check-in, we are given special badges to wear in case we ... in case we what? Don't spend enough? Don't smile enough? Whatever it is, the security guards (no - the Consumer Personal Assurance Team Members, surely?) will see our badges and restrain themselves from beating us over our cynical toffee-nosed non- participatory egg-sucking scumbag loser heads before dragging us out, bleeding and gibbering, into the snow, with the smokers and the losers ... into the outside world.

Yes indeed. The Lamentations of Jeremiah don't even begin to cover it. Ovos omnes, you pitiable folk who only know Whiteleys of Bayswater, or the Victoria Centre, Nottingham, or the Thurrock Lakeside, or, particularly and terribly, Brent Cross ... what can ye know who have not seen The Mall of the Americas, the Ultimate Mall Experience, the ne plus ultra of late 20th-century consumerism, a giant, up-your-kilt-with-a-blowlamp concrete monument to the notion that the terminal answer to the question "How should a man live?" is: "By going shopping, on credit."

In my Father's mall are many outlets ... the chains, the whimsical, the useless, the diversionary. Like the Kingdom of Heaven, the Mall is the fulfilment of all earthly desires ... or, rather, the desires for those things the ancient Greeks called opson: the luxuries, the gloss, the top-dressing that made the dull-but- worthy staples of life palatable and exciting. They had olives, salt, oil, houmous, and, above all, fish. The vice of the opsophagos (the man who would lose the balance of his gastronomic life and, abjuring staples, live entirely on opson, whether literally or metaphorically) is treated with spine-chilling brilliance by James Davidson in his book Courtesans and Fishcakes; he calls it "Ancient fish-madness" and we are all fish- mad now, the malls the great temples to opsophagy. Multi-function-penknife fish, lacy- underwear fish, speciality gourmet-coffee fish, rugged-outdoor-clothing fish, crocodile- kitten-heel-shoe fish, Disney-merchandise fish, $150 Mont-Blanc-highlighter fish, executive-leather-goods fish ... The theme-song of the Mall Movement should be Fats Waller's "I Want Seafood, Mama", whose chorus says everything that needs to be said. All together now: "Fish, fish, fish, fish-fish/Fish, fish, fish, fish- fish/ Fish, fish, fish, fishfish/ Fish!/ FISH!/ Fish! Fish!"

And, like all temples, the mall is controlled by priests and illuminati, adepts and behind-the-scenes manipulators. The lighting is constant, sound is hushed, music soothing or arousing according to time or place, temperature optimum, aspirations levelled, security assured. It is John Donne's vision of the gate of heaven: And into that house they shall enter ... where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, nor darknesse nor dazzling, but one equal light, no noise nor silence but one equal music, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but one equal communion and Identity, no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity.

Time itself is suspended in the malls. There is no drift of sun or changeable weather to show its passing; if there is a clock, it is a novelty device, powered by water or steam or gravity, the hours illegible, marked not by a bell which might toll for thee, but by a cheerful, uplifting tune. Nothing there to say "Time to go," or "Tempus fugit", nothing which could interfere with the pursuit of self-medication by shopping. Whatever your condition, however abominable your life, whether or not your speak with tongues of men and of angels, if you have money you are welcome ... or, better still, a Major Credit Card, the magical communion-wafer which, elevated by a shop assistant and consecrated in the electronic swipe-slot, miraculously transubstantiates, and, while retaining its outward and visible accidents as a small, gaudy piece of cheap plastic, takes on the real presence of money, of grace abounding even to the chiefest of sinners.

Absolute disconnection is the aim: to first de-racinate, then engulf and suck dry. In a mall, you are nowhere, adrift and curiously lightened in a place with no cultural references at all, or a blizzard of them, too many to read, the objective being to isolate or confuse you into parting you from your money and making you feel you got the best of an exchange which computer technology will only make worse. Soon you will be scanned on entry; a card in your pocket will reveal your credit rating, your preferred purchasing patterns, your criminal and social record. You will be tracked, imperceptibly shepherded, virtual fingers reaching into your virtual purse and gently, with a tiny, not-quite-accidental frisson, extracting your substance. Shop assistants will greet you by the name which has appeared on their computer-screens as you pass by; the electronic window-banners will solicit you according to your tastes and habits; those who linger too long without buying will be escorted outside, banished into the gritty cold world of fishless reality.

You will be made to feel special; but in reality you will be as disposable as your income. The transactions you make are curiously depressing; you never feel better; hope followed by despair, the purest dynamic of addiction. You leave, weakened and shaky, for the mall, like an ancient Mithraeum, is a church to its devotees, but an abattoir to its priests; and we are the victims who walk willingly inside to be held in a warm, strong, soothing grip as we bleed into its runnels. In the name of the Gadget, the Luxury and the Profit Motive: go in credit, and spend for me. !

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