Sun. May 19th, 2019

Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff: A Darwinist question – What is the origin of malls?

In 2010 I covered South African ex-President Zuma’s state visit to the United Kingdom.

The post Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff: A Darwinist question – What is the origin of malls? appeared first on The South African.

jet letter by rhynie greeff a darwinist question what is the origin of malls - Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff: A Darwinist question – What is the origin of malls?

The visit had its weird moments.

In preparation for Zuma’s arrival, Buckingham Palace issued a formal note which declared that Zuma would be welcomed at the London Guild Hall with a Royal Salute after which – la cucaracha! – the Mexican anthem would be played. Yes, a staff member of Elizabeth Regina II had no grasp of geography. Maybe a farewell song to that swivel chair soldier in The Palace could also have worked well. A song like Jim Reeves singing Adios Idiota (on the tune of Adios Amigo) with images of that wonderful South Afrimexican movie starring Clint Eastwood in The Guptas, the Bad and the Smugly.

On the other hand, a good old South Afrimexican song like Adios Idiota could also have applied to one of Zuma’s staff members. Some twit on Zuma’s staff arranged that the South African President handed Her Majesty a chess set gift that was exactly identical to one President Mandela had given to the Queen on a previous state visit in 1996.

However, the funniest incident for me had to do with The Mall, that red-coloured road leading from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace. I filed my report to a Sunday newspaper and wrote of how alternate Union Jacks and South African flags “lined The Mall leading up to Buckingham Palace” along which Zuma was driven to the Queen. A very vigilant night sub-editor then made a change and my story appeared the next day on how Union Jacks and South African flags fluttered from “the shopping centre next to Buckingham Palace”. (After all, maybe the word mall sounds a little too American for the House of Windsor.)

I suppose one can mull over the meaning of malls. A mall is a universe on its own.

Which brings us to the linguistic quantum physics of commerce.

We all know that looting is just the practical theory of undocumented shopping but why did a shopping centre morph into the parallel universe of a mall?

Well, it is actually a circle of actions where old-style malls became shopping areas, which became new style shopping centres, which became malls. Confused?

It all started with a game in the 1600’s which was a precursor to croquet. The English called this pall-mall, the French called it jeu de mail and the Italians called it pallamaglio, literally ball mallet. Players used a long wooden mallet to hit a wooden ball through target hoops of bound straw laid out along a long straight road. In the time of King Charles II the game of pall-mall (yes Aunt Agnes, with a hyphen) was played in a London street called Pall Mall with additional fields next to that which came to be known as The Mall. Today Hamburg still has the Palmaille, Paris the Rue du Mail, Geneva the Avenue du Mail, and Utrecht the Maliebaan which became Malie Rail Station. Pallamaglio ball bashing was big. The ball-and-mallet game attracted spectators who arrived for stylish promenades and shops mushroomed to cater for the public. When the game fell out of fashion, some of these “pall malls” evolved into shopping areas, while others evolved into grassed, shady promenades, still called malls today.

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The Mall (Photo: Visitlondon.com)

Then, in 1956, the first shopping centre styled as a shopping mall, Southdale Center in Minnesota, opened as a magnet for car-bound consumerism. But, strangely, this first fully enclosed, climate-controlled collection of shops came from the mind of an anti-car, pro-pedestrian European Jewish socialist and architect, Victor Gruen. Today in shopping mall design there is something known as the Gruen transfer (or the Gruen effect), named after Victor Gruen. This is the moment when consumers enter a shopping mall or store and, surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout, lose track of their original intentions, making them more susceptible to make impulse buys. Victor Gruen, however, disavowed such manipulative techniques. A little like Alfred Nobel who set up a peace prize to distance himself from his destructive dynamite. The Gruen mall effect was as unexpected as the world’s first webcam which was invented by lazy students to keep an eye on a coffee percolator’s levels at Cambridge University. (Is it not amazing that monitoring one coffee percolator could lead to a mass market of online pornographic monitors?)

But back to malls.

In time malls also morphed away from pure shopping and back to providing games and entertainment. Malls now have gymnasiums, cinemas, arcade games and rock climbing walls. Many have aquariums. Mall of America in Minnesota is as big as nine Yankee football stadiums with the largest indoor theme park in the US and several roller coasters. And a flight simulator. It also has a Chapel of Love for weddings which is well-priced and they sell beautiful boutique accessories like rings and tiaras. Remember, it is a mall.

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Mall of America, Shop E318, interior of the Chapel of Love (Photo: Chapeloflove.com)

Mall of the Emirates in Dubai has an indoor snow ski resort with a ski lift, pine trees and lodges that look like they have been transported from the Alps.

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Image courtesy of Rhynie Greef

When I visited the ski resort I found it fascinating that they had penguins on the snow around the slope. Very much Harry Potter. There are no penguins at Zermatt, Aspen or Whistler in Canada. For a good reason. You only find penguins in the southern hemisphere and closer to Antarctica.

If you get tired of skiing with the penguins in Mall of Emirates you can go to another mall, called simply The Dubai Mall, where you can swim with sharks.

However, if you really want to swim, go to the West Edmonton Mall in Canada which has the world’s largest indoor water park with the biggest indoor wave pool in the world. For romantic shoppers, there are the Grand Canal Shoppes of Las Vegas and Villagio Mall, Doha, Qatar where you can take slow canal rides in gondolas.

To my mind, the world’s weirdest mall attraction is in the Printemps Mall in Shanghai where there is a five-storey high death-defying super slide for shoppers.

It takes 16 seconds down this transparent dragon-like tube for a shopper in a hurry to get from top to bottom.

And that puts a new twist on the Gruen effect – you get lost, you lose your bearings and original intentions, do all your impulse shopping and then shoot on down home like a Clint Eastwood who swapped his old, spotted Appaloosa with a racehorse.

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Rhynie Greeff has a doctorate in commerce and a background in international business related to diplomacy, chemicals, minerals and telecommunications.

Remember to come back every second week for Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff, exclusive to TheSouthAfrican.com.

Read the previous Jet-Letter here. 

The post Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff: A Darwinist question – What is the origin of malls? appeared first on The South African.

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