By: George Ritzer
Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland
A decade ago I wrote a book dealing with what I called the “cathedrals of consumption”. These are consumption settings that had, in the main, come into existence in the United States in the post-WWII era. Of particular interest were the most grandiose of these consumption settings including major indoor shopping malls, mega-malls (e.g. Mall of America), theme parks (especially Disneyland and Disney World), cruise ships, and above all the themed casino-hotels that came to dominate the Las Vegas Strip. In the last several decades these cathedrals of consumption became increasingly ubiquitous and predominant not only throughout the United States, but also globally. This is particularly clear in and around the booming economies of China and the Arabian Peninsula, but similar developments are taking place in many other places in the world (e.g. Singapore, Philippines, etc.). Dubai began creating its three Palm Islands to be dominated by mega-hotels like the Atlantis (a clone of a hotel of the same name in the Bahamas), the first of nearly a dozen hotel-condominiums to be built on Palm Jumeirah, the first of the islands to be completed. Dubai will also have many shopping malls associated with this development; there is, as yet, no plan, to build a Disneyland there.
This essay is devoted to the fate of the cathedrals of consumption globally in the “Great Recession” that began in late 2007. It is difficult to feel as much sympathy for the plight of hyperconsumers and the grand cathedrals of consumption as, for example, those who have lost their jobs and seen their pension funds decline precipitously. Nonetheless, there is an important story to be told here and it is one that will have negative implications for large numbers of people, including more sympathetic figures such as those throughout the world who are losing, and will lose, their jobs (in construction, as dealers, as hotel workers, etc.) associated in various ways with hyperconsumption and the cathedrals of consumption.
The grand narrative here involves a series of changes in consumption that began mainly in the United States after the Second World War and gained increasing momentum over the next 60-plus years. Over this period of time these changes became increasingly global. When the window of opportunity for these developments slammed shut beginning in late 2007, many projects were stopped in their tracks and the trend toward increasing hyperconsumption and ever more, and more spectacular, cathedrals of consumption was aborted. In terms of the cathedrals of consumption, while this was true of some ongoing projects in the U.S., it is especially true in other places in the world which are being especially hard hit by the current recession. The cathedrals of consumption that seemed to so many to be a bright symbol of the future of the global economy in general, and consumption more particularly, now increasingly seem like dinosaurs, relics from a previous epoch that is not likely to return, at least in anything approaching the form it reached in the first decade of the 21st century.