Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Newport Mall Christmas

Some went up before Halloween, some you don’t see until Black Friday, but by the second Sunday of December… the Newport Mall is decked out and the hold outs have joined the early adapters in accepting the inevitable fact Christmas is here once again. Just as inevitable is a visit to your local mall, ours being the always refreshed but still ghetto fabulous Newport Mall. Before we know it, the decorations will be gone….

Unlike the Christmas decorations of our family, friends and neighbors, Malls are mostly new every year. Part of the routine of celebrating the holiday. At home we take out the box of decorations from the attic, each ornament invokes a different memory, but the malls and the anchor stores plan and design the decorations every year. A group of professionals sat down last spring and decided on the decorations for the mall – huge stockings with drippy strands of lights. Each Department store has its own Christmas decoration design team.

They discuss consumer trends, current events, the latest marketing theories and translate these into design concepts that emphasize the holiday theme while maximizing the desire to make a purchase.

What we see at the Newport Mall is being seen by shoppers in malls and mall stores across the land. The only thing that makes Christmas at our mall unique is us.

The drippy strands of Christmas lights have a melting icicle feel to them, the day after a rainy ice storm. These are climate change lights.

Our amoral consumerism and commercialization of Christmas offends me, as it does most of us, but that gripe like the falling of leaves and first flakes of snow, is just another sign of the changing of the year, a familiar thus comfortable complaint.

There’s no escaping consumerism and commercialization at the mall. The entire complex is devoted to turning consumerism and commercialization into near-sacred aspirations. Shopping Malls as cathedrals of capitalism may not be a new analogy but it remains an apt one. Both malls and churches are committed to Christmas and they each recognize the season as distinct. Both erect special ornamentation. Both change their messaging to fit the season –the stores hang Christmas sale signs, the church implements advent then nativity liturgy.

But the mall message and church message are not the exact opposite sides of the same holiday, not completely at least. Consumerism at Christmas is about, at least overtly, gift giving, a very different notion than greed or unquenchable consumption. Mall Christmas messaging, exemplified by the decorations, contain – an amount varying by degrees – of generosity. At Christmas we shop for others in our lives. Presents are a sign of affection, a proof of a relationship’s sincerity or a sign of how significant the relationship is, which determines the degree of obligation. There’s a thoughtfulness that can’t be denied. Oh, I’m not suggesting the act is pure and altruistic or denying that part (the best part? Leave human nature of it for now) of giving is the getting of the gift in return. What is pure anyway? Gift or personal acquisition, the shareholders still get rich, the house wins and workers remain oppressed. But the retail Christmas decorations, encourage consumption, it’s consumption for the sake of others. That has to account for something. The Mall decorations are not entirely vapid or banal.




A Triumph of the Will Christmas Mannequin. Dressed in the Winter Ideal, with the red matching the Macy’s Christmas red. Dress like me, follow me, and join the ultimate in winter beauty.
Tommy Hilfiger has stunning balls. I guess to be a designer, you need some ego. Jokes aside, what is the point of having gigantic Christmas ornaments– too huge for any tree? This how Christmas tree balls seemed during our earliest holidays, when we were infants and toddlers and the balls were way too big for tiny hands, dangling high above our crib. Nostalgia drives the Christmas feeling. Maybe the marketing encourages us to see our selves as our parents wanted us to be: well-behaved kids, dressed in the preppy attire to which Tommy’s designs aspire. Well, we let them down but we can still buy the clothes and some recompense might occur.


Kohl’s marketing goes with the Dream Gift idea, reflecting that other Christmas motif, sugar plum fairies dancing in your head. Again, nostalgia, a child dreaming of what Santa will leave under the tree. You can make that dream come true for the one you are buying for. The ornamentation in the store was almost completely mobile – dangling from the ceiling, hovering like a dream like those preternatural plums must have danced
Victoria Secrets. The adult Christmas. Here the decorations –Christmas-themed lingerie – are also the merchandise. Well, you can buy your sweetie the red velvet nightie, but you probably won’t. The flimsy outfit for the night before you visits with the folks. Keep this up, you’ll have kids have your own and your romantic Christmas eves will be thing of the past. Married goombas can still buy them for their goomas but still….
At the center of the Mall is the center of Christmas, the ultimate wish granter, Santa Claus. The first job I ever had was at Paramus Park Mall, where we would Christmas lights on the trees in the mall. I also escorted Santa back and forth from Santa land – where he sat on his thrones and met with the children – to the backroom spaces hidden behind the corridor walls of the mall. Kids squealed when he passed by. I remember once, after Santa took off his beard, the guy said, anybody got anything for the head? That was hipster code back then for got any drugs? I was one of the elves not holding that night.

It’s a rite of passage, sitting on Santa’s lap and telling him what you want, swearing you have not been naughty. Easy to be creepy and cynical about, but admit, there was at least one Christmas where you visited Santa, got what you wanted a few weeks later, and believed that magic is reality. At first you probably are not sure what’s going on and then later, you are too big to sit on the lap and notice that the beard was not made with real hair and then next year, instead of bugging your mother to take you to Santa you bug her about the new X-Box or Nintendo or whatever. But there are those middle years, the one or two trips to Santa, when everything works right and you feel happiness on Christmas morning that Santa had kept his promise and you remember that happiness all your life, and you try to recreate every year, every Christmas.

Ever notice too, the older kids, the ones only a year two away from believing in Santa. Just a year or two away from being small enough to sit on Santa’s lap? When you are that age, you are the most enthusiastic proselytizers for Santa with the younger kids. You energetically try to convince the younger ones to have the belief you only recently grew out of. There’s no bigger promoter for belief in Santa Claus than the kid who just grew out of that debate.

The only time in life you are truly happy, purely and only happy, is when you are a kid. Growing up and adulthood have many pleasure, but pure happiness is a feeling that only becomes more rare with age. We instinctually realize this, and when are around ones who are at the age to have it, we are compelled to encourage and nurture it in them. The parents have let you in on the secret of Santa, now you are obligated to wait in line with your little brother and sister at the mall. Waiting on line, seeing Santa, making your request, is the first seed of hope – do you believe –and then there’s that morning hope is fulfilled, under the tree wrapped presents are piled, how many Christmas mornings are there, two, maybe three? Yet, those two or three determine Decembers for the rest of our lives.


Sears is so blatant about the presents motivation of Christmas shopping it put the idea in its marketing, emblazoning in its tagline and Point of Purchase materials. Gift as a verb probably started with “re-gift,” now it is trying to make Gift synonymous with Sears. Notice, How to Gift (gift is a verb), with this is Sears (sears is a noun), all highlighting the real message –price and affordability – 75% off! A very utilitarian concept, save money. Gift giving may have a higher aspiration, but let’s be realistic, times are tough and every penny counts. The cleverness of this copywriting is borderline awe inspiring.


Toyzam! For decades, this store was a pet shop with puppy mill puppies, I guess it went out of business a coupla three years ago. I recently noted that for the nightmare before Christmas it was turned into a Halloweencostume pop-up shop. I guess toy stores are now pop up shops. There are no toy stores at the Mall anymore, KBCO is long gone, and there used to be another one. In fact, except for huge Toys R Us outlets, I can’t think of any other toy stores, only toy departments in Targets. Does Sears even have a toy department?
The toys seem here seem like the same cheaply made, hope the child doesn’t choke to death on one of the pieces when it breaks in less than a week type of toys you see on CH Martin. Ghetto fabulous toys. I wonder what will pop up here come February


Bakers is going out of business. What, you never went to this store, it has the best…. I don’t know, I never shopped there either. I don’t feel compelled to make a memorial purchase this holiday season. This was thelocation of B. Daltons, a book store that had been in the Mall since the Mall first opened, closed two years ago as the brick and mortar bookstores consolidated. I think it was another store before it was this one. In other words, a long standing, successful retailer was eradicated while new ones can’t gain footing. Those who make decisions that affect our lives are far removed from our lives, yet we suffer the consequences
Pay Half – the cheap stuff store where most of the clothes are irregulars. A single strand of garland, no merchandising message, no POP. Let’s not kid ourselves, regardless of the yuppies amongst us, they still shop in NYC or Livingston. Newport is forever and irrevocably, ghetto. Garland sometimes suffices.


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