In addition to Travis's stories, the films I watched, and the magazines I read reinforced the notion that shopping malls were *the* place to be; Marty McFly went into the past outside a JC Penneys, while in Smash Hits I read interviews with Tiffany where she said that her favourite hobby was "hanging out in the mall, playing Lazer Tag" (this is the part where I am forced to admit that I own a Tiffany album, isn't it? Curses). I saw images of people skateboarding, rollerskating, and having a great time. I wanted to be those people, enclosed in this vast, safe space, shopping, not having to worry about being run over when I wanted to go from one shop to the other.
Eventually, Travis's dad was transferred back to America, and he told me stories about Phoenix, and Las Vegas, where he still lives today. On our first visit to America in 1994, we went to the Meadows Mall. I had grown up a little in the meantime, and Britain had got a few shopping malls, so I knew what to expect, but it was still an impressive experience. The shape, with the big department stores at each end, the food court, the people milling around; it was fantastic. No Lazer Tag, though (I strongly suspect that Tiffany was making that up. See if I buy any of your comeback records!).
Yeah, I have a well-read copy of No Logo, and I followed the protest at The Streets of Southpoint. I know that unlike the commons of the town square, malls are/were private property, clamping down on public speakers, forcing local proprietors out-of-business, and a host of other undesirable things. Still, they're preferable to the out-of-town boxes and strip malls; the shopping mall at least had some personality, as opposed to just being a giant car park with a Wal-Mart, an Old Navy, a Best Buy, and a few other little stores arranged in a circle.
The mall isn't dead yet, of course. Large-scale operations, like Southpoint, seem to do well. But I think the 1980s concept of the local mall is on the way to joining the diner as a piece of American cultural history. Incidentally, considering that most malls won't let you take pictures, it'll be interesting to see how much documentary evidence of them remains fifty years from now...