As Christmas approaches many people are busy with activities such as mailing out Christmas cards and attending parties.
Meanwhile my won thoughts have been drawn to something central to our Christmas celebration – the shopping mall.
The modern shopping mall has real significance for our efforts at getting our the pro-life message. The mall is a tightly –controlled environment. Everything there exists for only one purpose and that is to generate sales. The lighting, the layout, the decorations, all of it is designed to put people into a buying mood.
The mall is an unique place. It serves as a public gathering spot but in reality the entire complex including the walkway between stores and the vast parking lot surrounding it is private property. Nothing is permitted to take place there which does not meet with the approval of management.
This is in sharp contrast to the shopping districts of older city centres. Along shop-lined streets, the average shopper has lots of opportunity to encounter realities not controlled by the merchants. The range of opinions and sights which one encounters can be startling. It begins with the presence of people begging, a powerful flesh and blood reminder of the suffering which exists throughout our society.
You can spend the rest of your life in a shopping mall and never encounter a beggar. Nothing interferes with the happy urge to spend money on the frivolous like a harsh reminder that some real person is living without necessities. Anyone who would dare beg in a modern mall would be quickly apprehended, tossed out the door and ordered never to return. The mall operators, as private property owners have the legal right to do that.
But beggars aren’t the only ones who are excluded from the mall. So is any one with a cause – or at least anyone with a cause which is not about folks spending money.
Banned from the mall are any workers picketing for fair wages, activists encouraging the boycott of an exploitive company, spokespersons speaking out against any form of social injustice perpetrated by business. Most important for our purposes, you aren’t going to find anyone talking or protesting or making any kind of noise about the most bothersome of topics – abortion.
Talking about abortion is not something likely to put people into a buying mood. Thus anyone who wants to raise the issue of abortion – or any other incomfortable topic – will be treated with the same hostility that awaits the beggar.
The banning of abortion from the shops of Canada is no small matter. Going out to shop is a major part of the life of most Canadians and consumes hours of time of the typical Canadian. In an earlier era, shopping was an occasion for getting connected with the community about you. Shoppers encountered familiar and unfamiliar faces and learned something of what was happening in the community abut them.
The nature of malls as a closed and artificial environment is a real threat to our political life. It exists at the same time that Canadians spend many hours immersed in a similar environment – that of commercial television. Commercial television, like the mall, is designed to put people into a buying mood.
As Canadian spend more and more time in created and controlled environments it becomes more and more difficult for anyone with a message at odds with the dominant, consumer philosophy of our day to be heard. This cheapens the quality of political discussion, and of political life, among Canadians. It makes it much more difficult for pro-life people to get our message across.
There really is no reason why the public access areas of malls could not for such purposes be treated as public property. Legal efforts to have this done have met with little success. It is a shame. Such a change would make for a more vibrant political culture in which pro-life voices would be more apt to be heard.