The Mall: an iconic space for 1980s-1990s American youth culture



Following the success of the Foley brothers’ precursor store in Houston in 1947 (Vicki Howard, 2015), and after the realization of numerous shopping center prototypes, the Viennese American architect Victor Gruen imagined one of the very first mall in the United States in 1956 in Southdale in the Minneapolis suburb (Marc Berdet, 2013). It can be considered as such because it was located in the suburbs, away from the city, and the entire space it covered was completely enclosed, air-conditioned, automated, artificially lit, secure and private. A paradoxical space, both controlled by commercial firms and popular with middle-class suburban families, the shopping mall gradually became a place of rituals but also of fantasy (Matthew Newton, 2017). The shopping mall at the end of the twentieth century became the preferred space for young people who gathered there in groups to reconstitute a tribe (Michel Maffesoli, 1997). Moreover, in the episode « Teens from a mall » (S1, Ep.24), from the very popular American series Parker Lewis Can’t Lose (1990-1993), the hero praises the mall. In the glass elevator, he says a few words about adolescence: « It’s the time when we’re open to all the fantasies and for me and my friends the best place to let them express themselves is the mall. » This scene, and many others, illustrate the importance of the shopping mall to American youth in the eighties and nineties. In this case, what can American TV series teach us about the shopping mall, so that we can consider it as one of the spaces of youth culture? After having made the link between the occupation of this type of shopping space by young people and mass consumption, we will present an analysis of the mall’s decor and services that leads us to think that it played a role in the suburban culture of American youth. 



« The Mall: an iconic space for 1980s-1990s American youth culture », Panel : GET OFF MY LAWN! YOUTH, SPACE, AND POLITICS IN THE POSTWAR UNITED STATES. Elsa Devienne (Northumbria), Caroline Rolland-Diamond (Université Paris Nanterre), Léa-Catherine Szacka (University of Manchester), Sophie Suma (Université de Strasbourg). Historians of the Twentieth Century United States (HOTCUS). University of Edinburgh (2020).