Friday, March 10, 2017

an application

A few weeks ago, I  learned The Mall of America was hosting a contest for a Writer in Residence position for the summer of 2017. This will obviously be unbelievably awesome, so I applied. Here's my answer to the application's "What would you like to write about during your residency?" question:

The world is ending. At the very least, the world as we know it is definitely ending. While what will exactly happen to the world is unclear, the two ends of the spectrum of possible outcomes are either the singularity (where we all merge with our technology, becoming one with computers and thus transcending our humanity) or utter societal collapse (where we will be fighting off radioactive mutants with mop handles). Deep down, however, I suspect that our ultimate fate will be less dramatic.

This (believe it or not) brings me to the Mall of America. The mall itself rose out of the ashes of an old sporting stadium. It has somehow combined the best attributes of a capitalist shopping edifice, a tourist attraction, a people-watching arena, and an amusement park. And its success in doing so is immense, to the point where even in the coldest part of the dark Minnesota winter (assuming, that is, there ever IS another cold winter), it is heated by the ambient warmth coming off the mall patrons and light fixtures.

The Mall of America is thus notable for its resiliency. Most former sports arenas do not have all that exciting as a second life. The Pontiac Silverdome, for instance, is the former home to the Detroit Lions. Instead of transforming into a valuable attraction and financial success, the Silverdome is more a picture of devastation, denuded of its dome, collapsing, and the victim of a fire. When you compare the former Silverdome's fate with that of the former Metropolitan Stadium, it is clear just how miraculous is the Mall of America's success.

Moreover, the Mall of America is a place of wonder. While "wows" are not something one normally associates with malls, this Mall certainly delivers. It isn't just the sheer size or number of tenants, although both are overwhelming to visitors only familiar with their own local shopping center. No, it is clearly "something else." It would be an extraordinary place just for the Lego shop, but no, it also has an aquarium and a friggin' amusement park. Just being cool clearly isn't enough.

So, what actually IS the Mall of America? How does it negotiate its various identities as an amusement park/tourist attraction/shopping complex? What effect does this collage of identities have on its visitors? Moreover, what is its symbolic identity, and how will that adapt to this most interesting of times in which we live?

These are the questions I wish to explore. I have visited the Mall of America twice, and each time, I had to take a few minutes to adapt my mind to its scale. It is an edifice which makes a definite impact, and indeed, after both visits, I found myself spending the following weeks trying to understand and come to terms with its expanse, both in mental and symbolical terms.

Moreover, we clearly live in an interesting time, and there's every chance that we're in the middle of a massive cultural change. We are clearly in the midst of continual rapid technological advancement, as evident from the rise of smart phone technology alone (which did not exist the first time I visited the Mall of America). New technology is only one factor in societal change, but it is a big one, with a particularly strong effect on commerce and the economy. From there, its a quick snowball roll into social change, political change, and every other change imaginable.

The Mall of America has already survived massive change. It is a center of commerce while still a massively popular attraction even in the time of e-commerce. So how the Mall has survived and adapted is important and deserves to be studied. In addition to this, I am also interested in how the Mall of America will continue to adapt as the world goes through whatever tectonic shifts in our future. Both of these will be centers of focus for my term as writer in residence.

As far as writing form, I can see two major approaches. First, a week in the Mall of America is an opportunity for wonderful journalism. While I know I can get several articles out of my residency, I am certain there's enough material for a popular approach non-fiction book combining reportage, social science, and cultural analysis.

Secondly, the Mall of America seems the perfect setting for speculative fiction. How will it adapt to the cataclysmic societal change which might be in our future? Would such an evolution be recognizable to its inhabitants? In the event of planetary catastrophe, I do believe the Mall of America would likely survive. Moreover, it would be one fascinating place to be, and I'd love to write a speculative novel exploring its potential future.

The simplest answer, then, to what would I like to write about during my writer residency is twofold: adaptation and speculation. There's more material in the walls of the Mall of America than any one person could harvest, but being able to write both a cultural/social analysis non-fiction book and a speculative fiction novel would be the experience of my writing life.

No comments: