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The Mall as Threat to Narcissistic Values
Cohen states in “Malls as Threats to Democratic Values” that the rights of free assembly and speech have been restricted as America shifted from open markets to private malls. She expresses that these malls are divided into distinct sections that focused their attention on certain specialized groups and that the increased use of privately owned malls hinder our government from performing its duties to protect our rights. However she is picking at ideas far from the truth. They are in fact not threats to democratic values, but threats to the self-centered values frequently confused with our rights. The narcissistic value in question being the idea or concept that their rights come before the rights of another.
When malls had first started opening up in the 1950's many considered them as part of the public domain and used them to send messages out to the people. The owners reactions varied, leading to a large number of court cases on the issue. The main Supreme Court rulings tried to resolve the conflict between the two rights but all were based on “arguments about the extent to which the shopping center had displaced the traditional “town square”.” (Cohen 317)
In the 1960's a series of court cases erupted over the conflict of free speech of the communities and the right to control passage onto the mall owner's private property that made it to the Supreme Court. All of this was because of the results of the masses moving to privately owned malls to spend their time instead of the public squares visited by their forefathers.
First is the notion that our rights as American citizens have been diminished in the face of the malls that are used as both a place to shop and to some as a place to socialize. Yes, they restrict our rights of free speech and assembly, but this is simply due to how these privately owned places interact with the rights of the people in them and their owners. Everywhere our rights are constantly under a very certain limit, whenever the rights of a person infringes on the rights of another that is the point in which our rights end. Within public domains our rights are generally a lot less restricted then they are within private locations such as malls, restaurants, or even our homes.
This is what Cohen is picking at, what she is arguing against. She is arguing on the side of our rights before those of the owners of the shopping centers. That their right to own and control what happens inside their stores, their private property, should be subjugated to that of our rights of freedom of speech and to assemble freely within them. Were the location changed to that of a location widely accepted as private, a person's front lawn or their living room, it would have never been brought into question as to whether they were stepping on the toes of the rights of another, on the sanctity of their home, their property, their livelihood.
Next is the assertion that the malls as they are divide people into groups, formed of similarities in race and socioeconomic status, which in a way they do. Although this is not a direct intention of the owners of the malls, but merely due to the items they stock to the people they target their supplies and advertisements towards. Which is in no way segregation, which is what Cohen had stated within paragraph ten.
… people were no longer brought together in central market places and the parks, streets, and public buildings that surrounded them but, rather, were separated by class and race in differentiated commercial sub-centers. Moreover, all commercial sub-centers were not created equal... (Cohen 319)
It is targeted marketing, yes, which can create trends in the people who frequent the places, though nothing of concern. If several of the centers direct their attention towards that of different groups around the same wealth, the stores near it will tend to also be directing towards a similar wealth level because they are focused on the money that comes from appealing to the people who already visit the mall instead of having to draw in people who have decided to not come into the mall to begin with because they do not like the stores within it. The discretion of whom they decide to target is up to the owners themselves, so they will tend to attract that particular group that they have decided to stock merchandise for.
The only possible solution for the malls to try to appeal to the largest selection of people would be to stock the largest variety of stores and merchandise, though that leads to a number of issues. The broader the selection of items is, the less the specialization of the stores is allowed to be expressed which hinders people looking for an exotic item or at least an unusual one, creating a more general selection base.
Finally, she asserts that our rights as American citizens and the ability of our government to defend those rights are being hindered by all the time that we spend in these privately owned shopping centers. Admittedly the government is to a degree restricted only due to in such a location the mall owners and their rights are the ones that the government must spend the most time on to make sure the rights of the minority, the store owners, are protected under the law. This is what imposes the largest restriction on the government's capacity—their own requirement to make sure the minorities are protected against the whims are the majority. Although one fact never mentioned in her article, what happens when someone is on any private property. Though it did have a passing comment in one of the court cases Cohen mentioned, in Lloyd Corp. vs. Tanner (1972) where the Supreme Court ruled that the unrelated passing of anti-war leaflets “would be an unwarranted infringement of property rights “without significantly enhancing the asserted right of free speech.”” (Qtd. in Cohen 317)
All of this has to do with the personal property rights our country gives to us, mainly the freedom to control the people who enter onto our property. In most shopping centers and malls, this right often sits in the back corner until something offensive happens that compels the owners to use their right for either their benefit or for the benefit of the company. Meanwhile in our homes, the right is used more frequently and conveyed by a simple closed door to those outside, to those inside the same thing is done as on other private properties. They are asked or told to leave. Homes, offices, malls, restaurants, Wal-Marts, and others, all of them restrict our rights in the very same manner, the right of the owner to request that we leave is always there.
That is what the conflict truly is about, personal property versus free speech. The key matter is when one takes precedent over the other? Many are along one side or the other or have a middle ground. Personally, personal property holds supreme in the contest. The rights of the few mall owners holds out over the majority's ability to talk on subjects they are not comfortable having within the places they own.