Friday, April 9, 2010

The New Southgate

Cameron Gregg, Daniel Chong, Kevin Day

Southgate Mall: A haven of commercial enterprise in Edmonton’s southwest. Southgate recently underwent a major reconstruction, adding and relocating stores within the mall, as well as changing the decor throughout. August of 2009 marked the mall’s grand reopening; with it came art displays, modern storefronts and a new aim for the mall, one dedicated to showing class and sophistication, both on the part of the structure and those who shop there. Stuart Ewen, a contemporary media theorist, discusses in his 1988 book All Consuming Images the idea of the “commodity self.” Ewen’s ideas well encapsulate the new aim of Southgate, as the commodity self is created through consumption. The products that we choose to consume directly reflect the image we want to portray to the world. Considering the new direction of Southgate, the designers seem to be telling us that by shopping there we will construct an identity of contemporary class, that by visiting their new high end retail outlets and walking the redesigned halls as a modern flâneur we will show the world that our tastes are highbrow and that we care about our own image that we present to the world. The following collection of images, taken between March and April 2010, show some of the aforementioned stores and displays found throughout the mall. Through visual analysis of these images, it can be shown that the new aim of Southgate involves increasing the value of the mall through modern art and architecture, in a hope that more consumers will adopt the mall as their haven for reconstructing themselves.

These pictures show the “new face” of Southgate mall. Ads such as these can be found on billboards and posters throughout the establishment, all featuring SOUTHGATE emblazoned across images of fashion models wearing professionally done elaborate makeup. Ewen’s idea of the “commodity self” helps to explain the prevalence of these images, as well as Marx’s commodity-fetishism. By shopping at Southgate you can become the fashion model, these aloof women wearing dazzling makeup, objects of desire in the world around them. The products within the mall and the mall itself are commodities, but advertisements and design have stripped away the history of the goods. The mall, a building of glass and concrete, is full of clothing and products mass produced in third-world countries, but these objects have been removed from their history of production. Advertisements, such as those above, recreate the mall in a new image, one of elegance and class; this recreation leads to fetish objects with new meaning attached, devoid of their original history.

Cultural and economic factors determine the value of art. What we believe to be unique is what contributes greatly to the art’s value. The art displayed outside and in front of Southgate captures peoples gaze due to its uniqueness. Because the art is designed to capture our gaze and set it apart as this particular display of art is not present anywhere else in the world, it increases the value of the mall and encourages us to enter Southgate.

The flâneur is a figure that comes from the 19th century study of shopping arcades, found in major cultural centres like Paris and Berlin. Walter Benjamin discussed the flâneur in depth in his life-long, unfinished work The Arcades Project, translated to English and published in 2002. The shopping arcades of the past closely resemble the malls of today, an enclosed space of spectacle and commodity. The flâneur has been described as “that aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps” (White 2001, 16). One must look no further than Southgate mall to get a picture of the modern flâneur. As this image displays, people navigate the spectacle of the mall, with fountains and elaborate storefronts meant to draw the eye, engaging in looking and consumption in this hybrid of public and private space. They are at once involved and detached from the world around them, actively participating in the spectacle and experience of the mall at their own leisure, choosing to mill around the fountain or quickly move on to find their next purchase.

The Aritizia storefront has been designed in such a way to interpellate the gaze of the viewer to tell them that shopping there will show their refined taste to the world around them. The store itself sells mass-produced clothing of moderate cost, but the layout reflects modern design. Dark colours and the hybrid of glass and metal come together to create an image of modern taste and aesthetic, with the hope that the clothing found inside will appeal to the consumer in the same way.

This photograph of the Zara store illustrates the concept of Commodity Fetishism in that it encourages us to come in and engage in consumption. The mannequins in the windows and display cases are arranged in such a way that we are fooled into believing that the exchange value and the use value have switched places. This photograph of the R&W store in the mall again demonstrates this commodity fetishism. We see the photograph of the couple with the caption You and Me and we are led to believe that if only we buy are clothes from this company we will have that same happiness that this young couple seems to have.

We can see that there is a disconnect between the use value and the exchange value. The Use value of a good is the value that it actually has when we use it while the Exchange Value is the value placed on an object when we sell or resell it into the marketplace. In the first photograph the clothing being displayed in Zara have very little use value because they are only clothes for covering the body and keeping oneself warm. The Exchange value is quite high because of the social capital contained within. Value is ascribed to the product because there is a notion that if you buy your clothes at this one store you will have something different from what others have and will be unique. This is the basis of both social capital and by extension commodity fetishism.

This image of the mall’s Dollar Store encapsulates how the design decisions for the new Southgate were conceived to create value for the structure and the objects inside. The Dollar Store, associated with the lowbrow consumption of cheaply manufactured goods, has been restricted to the basement, with a single set of stairs leading down it. It has essentially been “tucked away” from the public eye, so that the gaze of the viewer can take in the other fancifully designed stores and create their commodity self through these icons of class and taste without being subject to the reminder of common and cheap consumption.

Food and Clothing are something we feel we can’t live without. Foods that are mass produced in the food court hold a higher value than the ones cooked by us or others at home. Although it may cost significantly less and taste the same, the value of food is increased with the name of “Subway”, “OPA!”, and other brand names that are used to represent the food. Marx’s theory of Commodity Fetishism separates commodities by their use value and exchange value (Sturken and Cartright 2009, 280). The foods prepared in the food court could be purchased at a significantly lower price at a grocery store and prepared at home, and these foods would have the same use value. The exchange value, due to being retailed from these mall stores, is inflated. These mass produced foods are emptied of its meaning as merely food and filled with new meanings and turned into a fetish object.

Southgate promises further expansion which captivates the consumer’s interest. Through this act alone, consumers are encouraged to keep returning to see the new stores that will offer value into their lives. This is essentially a product of advertising and marketing, which allows the products to be filled with meanings that appeal to the current consumers like: empowerment, beauty, class, etc.

In conclusion, Southgate mall, since its renovation was completed, has rededicated itself to fetishizing commodity, and by attempting to create value for the shoppers created a new world for the modern day flâneur. Southgate is attempting to reconstruct itself as an upper class shopping center complete with high-end outlets and fancy artwork rather than being what it is, a solidly middle class mall most frequented by students. The value is added by the addition of artwork such as the giant shoes at the bus stop or features such as the fountain in the center of the mall. Commodity Fetishism is present in the arrangement of the mannequins in the store fronts and the signage present in the stores. The new modern flâneur atmosphere is strongly related to the addition of value such that the idea of the flâneur is one who takes pleasure in merely walking around and looking in the windows and display cases rather than actually buying anything.


Ewen, Stuart. 1988. All Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture. New York: Basic Books.

Milios, John, and Dimitri Dimoulis. n.d. Commodity Fetishism vs. Capital Fetishism: Marxist Interpretations vis-à-vis Marx's Analyses in Capital. Brill Academic Publishers, n.d. SocINDEX with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed March 24, 2010).

Sherlock, Steve. 1997. "THE FUTURE OF COMMODITY FETISHISM." Sociological Focus 30, no. 1: 61-78. SocINDEX with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed March 24, 2010).

Sturken, Marita, and Cartwright, Lisa. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. 2009. New York: Oxford University Press.

Walter, Benjamin. 2002. The Arcades Project. Ed. Rolf Tiedemann. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. New York: Belknap Press

White, Edmund. 2001. The Flâneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris. London: Bloomsbury.

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