From the aftermath of wars, whether endured as victories or defeats, spring the opportunities for change. The twentieth century is flush with examples, stretching from the Russian Revolution to the creative surge here in America after the rout in Vietnam.
By its nature capitalism is war, and the savage reverses for capitalism, the gaping wounds in its pretensions, are the most salient feature in the world today. Whether in the collapse of the Western banking system, the agonies of post-Soviet economies like the Baltic and some Eastern European republics, or the rubble of Indian neoliberal policies, the economic mantras of an entire generation are going up in smoke. For the left it should be a time of unrivaled opportunity.
Take as an example the shopping mall, which changed the American landscape within the course of a generation. The left, by and large, never much cared for malls. They represented privatized space, the collapse of the public realm and the freedoms–of association and public protest–theoretically protected in public space. Malls, whether in strip or covered form, symbolized the conversion of people from citizens to consumers, the death of Main Street, architecture reduced to utter banality, without even the pizazz that allowed Venturi, Brown and Izenour to write Learning From Las Vegas in 1972.
Today, mirroring the distress in the mother ship of capitalism, the retail economy’s colonies and settlements are in decay. Consider the Bayshore Mall in my town, Eureka, California–a covered pedestrian arcade opened in the 1980s, owned by the Chicago-based General Growth Properties. Located on the edge of Humboldt Bay, though facing the opposite direction, toward Highway 101, our mall was an optimistic place in the early days. People dressed up to go there. Every pretty girl in Humboldt County wanted to work there, to see and be seen. People drove for three hours through the Yolla Bolly wilderness, all the way from Redding in the Central Valley, to savor its glories. There were stylish concerts in its ample food court.
The Bayshore Mall is in decline, embodying the misfortunes of General Growth–the second-largest mall owner in the United States–whose stock trades for 55 cents, down from $44 last May. Some major retailers, like Polo Ralph Lauren, have long since fled. Walk south along one of the arcades and you come to a wall of plywood, behind which lies the desolation that was Mervyns, a department store chain that has filed for bankruptcy. The little stores nearby have a somber mien, like people compelled to live in the chill shadow of a funeral home. The food court, serviced by six or seven fast food businesses, is becoming a sanctuary for the poor, who buy very small snacks and sit there.