Hating the Mall Doesn’t Make You More Interesting

Everyone I know hates the mall, and I’m not here to change their mind. I want to go one level higher to discuss how people bond over things they hate. And then I want to go another level higher above that to talk about “othering.” It’s really easy to build a shared culture when you have a shared enemy. But is it worth it?

“Ugh, the suburbs”

I started working in tech two days after Y2K, January 3, 2000. One of my friends at work was a guy in his early 20s from the Minnesota suburbs. He was thrilled to be living in the go-go culture of urban Seattle. And he made a point to talk about hating suburbs, which I thought was odd. What’s wrong with the suburbs, I wondered. The answer, I realised over time, is that the suburbs aren’t fancy enough. Because that’s where poor people live. Not that he’d use those words outright.

Olive Garden, TGI Fridays, and The Cheesecake Factory

I don’t want to be delicate and use other words like design, aesthetics, taste, or use the word “bespoke.” I want to be more direct and say that rich people don’t want to admit they hate the poor, so they make fun of all the things lower-income people enjoy. Bad food, bad alcohol, bad electronics, bad movies, bad bands. Poor people are bad. They have no “taste.” Whereas you, by extension, must be special because you have excellent taste. But really? You just have money and like to talk about the ways in which you spend it.

Enjoy what you enjoy

I’m not trying to convince anyone to try different things. Enjoy what you enjoy, whether it’s mainstream or indie, mass-produced or bespoke, western or eastern, mall or a blindfolded dining experience at a Michelin restaurant. Knock yourselves out.

But the actual rich people I grew up with in Bethesda, Maryland (The 6th richest zip code in the country, I just learned) never made fun of poor people, even indirectly. When I was growing up, PhDs didn’t care if you called them doctor or not. You’d have a great conversation with your friend’s parent, where work didn’t come up at all, and you’d find out later that they were a director at NIH, or the president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I was taught SCUBA by a guy from the CIA but I only noticed because I saw a little logo on his clothes when we were preparing to get in the pool. I didn’t bring it up, and he didn’t either. That’s what I’m used to experiencing. That’s what feels right to me.

What you hate is who you are, so pick carefully

There are three kinds of people in this essay. First, the truly powerful who don’t feel the need to dunk on everyone else all the time. Second, the newly or aspirationally rich who think talking about their fine taste (and how others have bad taste) is an important part of living the good life and surrounding yourself with the right people. And then there are the rest of humanity. They may be more likely to enjoy malls, or listen to top 40 music, or eat at Olive Garden. Let them. They’re not your enemy, and shouldn’t be exhibit A for talking about how cultured you are in comparison.