‘Stranger Things’ Season 3 – An Ode to the American Shopping Mall

Spoiler Alert…

If you are like me, and a fan of the Netflix cult classic, you will have noticed that much of season 3 is featured in a 1980s Midwest shopping mall. Scenes of the fearless foursome, now pre-teens and with love interests are amidst a backdrop of iconic brick and mortar shops housed in a colossal mall complex. In fact some of the episodes seem to play a montage to classic American stores such as ‘The Gap.’ Even a shot of a monstrous creature from another world can’t escape the backdrop of ‘Orange Julius’ or ‘Sam Goody.’

An American Icon

The large indoor shopping complexes boomed in the 80s and 90s, iconic of the consumer culture during that time. They were often dominated by 1-2 department stores – one stop shops – where one could purchase towels, a lawnmower, fine jewelry and a new back to school wardrobe. Being a child of the 80s and 90s, I spent many weekends and evenings at the shopping mall – as a little girl accompanying my mom during our weekend excursions and eventually driving there myself as a teenager meeting a group of friends, a weekly hangout. I still remember the distinctive smell as soon as you walked in – a unique combination of pizza, Chinese food, ice cream, and of course a soft pretzel. How all those items could be meshed into an idiosyncratic smell is truly part of the magic of the mall. And one cannot forget the mall during the holidays – packed stores, inability to find parking, a larger than life Christmas tree surrounded by a painfully long line to visit Santa Claus. These were the things that were holiday staples, at least in my childhood!

A Dying Institution

Today, the super mall is fading away. Many have closed down across America over the years, overtaken by online consumerism. Perhaps ‘Amazon’ is to blame for some of this, but I would be a hypocrite to say I do not use the online shopping Goliath myself. But there is certain wholesomeness and nostalgia about going to a brick and mortar store. How a place like a mall that once served so many purposes could now be obsolete is well, rather sad. There are several ‘dead mall’ spaces now, empty vast complexes that serve as a reminder to a bygone era of shared community experience.

I Miss It

I still go to the mall and love it. I enjoy taking my kids there – many times out of necessity, often for entertainment, and partly because I want them to know the traditional way of purchasing things, not just clicking a button on a screen. The decline of the shopping mall is probably inevitable, a sign of our times and how our consumer needs have evolved. But let us not forget the iconic spaces that helped define American culture. Thank you ‘Stranger Things’ for the tribute.


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