Chapter 1: America Shops
We're driving toward the mall.
I spend a lot of time in malls. Too much, I think. I daydream of life on a ranch out west where I'd go to Wal-Mart every two weeks for groceries, and that would be it for me and shopping.
It will never happen.
You are riding with a tall, bald, stuttering research wonk on the cusp of his fifty-third year. I am called a retail anthropologist, which makes me uncomfortable, especially around my colleagues still in academia who have many more degrees than I do. For whatever combination of reasons, I've spent my adult life studying people shopping. I watch how...
Are we really going to spend an entire book inside a mall?
Yes, we are.
It's not as though studying people as they congregate to buy and sell things is a totally frivolous or small-minded endeavor. Consider the history of our species, a fair swath of which has been propelled by merchants or their emissaries traveling to the far reaches of the planet, sometimes at great risk, in order to bring back stuff to peddle to the rest of us. As any schoolchild can testify, the romance of the ancient world teems with spice routes and trade winds and trafficking in silks and precious metals, frankincense and myrrh,...