Playing with Space
Ideal Communities in the Postmodern Context
This section does not speak to utopian theory directly. It reviews literature designed to unpack the commodification of idealized conceptions of space, suggesting that the suburban mall might just constitute a postmodern utopia.
Idealized spaces of commodification have emerged to address the needs of individuals who are increasingly marginalized from means of production and each other. These spaces attempt to create moments of community across vast distances. Recalling that entertainment technology must attend to the multitude of spaces in which consumption might take place, Berland (1992) argues that "[t]he production of texts cannot be conceived outside the production of spaces" (p. 42). She epitomizes such production with her example of how music is often designed to meet the technical standards of the individual (and individualizing) car stereo.
This phenomenon is also found within the confines of home. In their comparison of television home shopping to the Greek Agora, Gumpert and Drucker (1992) note that "[e]lectronic home shopping creates the illusion of national intimacy ('You and I are along despite the 38 million other people who may be out there') to sell products" (p. 195). The authors emphasize that this environment replaces the influence of 'actual' space with an shared electronic consciousness. Gozzi and Haynes (1992) suggest that such a phenomenon might be called distant presence -- "a blurred objectification that facilitates effective response while largely occluding intellection" (p. 222). The mall, however, provides a most useful example of this phenomenon. Shields (1992) describes the Edmonton Mall as a physical setting which features a denial of locality: "The Mall has nothing to do with the real setting of Edmonton. There are no fake Rockies, no Indians, and no sculpted ranch hands. One hankers after a herd of fibreglass cows being driven down the 'Main Street' of the concourse" (p. 56). The mall, like the car and home-shopping network, offers a commodified and idealized place in which marginalized people attempt to find community.
The power of these places is enhanced with the added element of time. Buttimer (1980) describes the sense of nostalgia -- in this case, for home -- felt by victims of "mobile and fragmented urban milieux" (p. 166). Ley (1989) adds to this discussion by describing postmodern attempts to reestablish a sense of history in architecture. He notes that "post-modern space aims to be historically specific, rooted in cultural, often vernacular, style conventions, and often unpredictable in the relation of parts to the whole" (1989, p. 53). The author notes several problems with this project, including a concern that nostalgia invites us to ignore our current experience; that post-modern architecture is an aesthetic game played by self-indulgent and wealthy people; and that 'people projects,' such as the Hudson Street renovation become commodities more than symbols of community. Similarly, Mills (1993) describes a 'history' of postmodern architecture in which revolutionary blueprints for human and spatial interaction were "co-opted by neo-conservative forces in a new landscape orthodoxy" (Mills, 1993, p. 167). Playing with time and place offers a sense of ironic detachment from the inequalities and dis-placement suffered by individuals in the contemporary socio-economic environment. But this play is rarely offers the means to challenge the status quo.
Berland, J. (1992). Angels dancing: Cultural technologies and the production of space. In Grossberg, L., Nelson, C., & Treichlere, P.A. (Eds.). Cultural Studies (pp. 38-55). New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall.
Buttimer, A. (1980). Home, reach, and the sense of place. In Buttimer, A. & Seamon, D. (Eds). The human experience of space and place (pp. 166-187). New York: St. Martin's Press.
Gozzi, R. & Haynes, W.L. (1992). Electric media and electric epistemology: Empathy at a distance. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 9, 217-228.
Gumpert, G. & Drucker, S. (1992). From the agora to the electronic shopping mall. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 9, 186-200.
Ley, D. (1989). Modernism, post-modernism and the struggle for place. In Agnew, J.A. & Duncan, J.S. (Eds.). The power of place: Bringing together geographical and sociological imaginations (pp. 44-65). Boston: Unwin Hyman.
Mills, C. (1993). Myths and meanings of gentrification. In Duncan, J. & Ley, D. (Eds.). Place/culture/representation (pp. 149-170). London: Routledge.
Shields, R. (1992). Places on the margin: Alternative geographies of modernity. London: Routledge.
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