Consumerism, the idea that society needs to buy the latest and greatest products in incessant amounts regardless of what they already have. It is said that consumerism was birthed from the industrial revolution in the 18th century. Modern consumerism was born out of the 20th century, supposedly due to the first and second world wars since mass production was encouraged and sometimes enforced. This mass production led to over production, which left people with too many products to sell and not enough buyers. This led to the notion, which often accompany war and hunger, that people should over buy and over consume.
More recently, the idea of having to buy more and more each time, regardless of waste, began to be seen as a leisure activity and became, to a degree, a display of societal status. Henry Ford is often seen as a magnate that jumpstarted these ideals with his manufacturing process and success in the United States. Before this period, the United States was more focused on community values and religion and after the material gain is said to have undone these virtues. As Madeline Levine, an American Psychologist with experience in the educational system in the U.S., said she saw “a shift away from values of community, spirituality, and integrity, and toward competition, materialism and disconnection” during this period.
The United States of America is known by many as the modern heart of capitalism. Here, the creation of department stores and malls is said to have taken place. These malls may include well known chain brands such as Macy’s, Sears, Bloomingdales, McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, Gap, Banana Republic, Claire’s, etc. From this list, department stores like Macy’s, Sears, and Bloomingdales act as anchor stores in malls, which tend to draw in many kinds of customers from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Interestingly, Bloomingdales and Macy’s can be dated back to the mid-1800s, which shows how deep the idea runs and how it even predates the push that it received from the world wards and their effects. Aside from department stores, there also tends to be some sort of food court in the mall with a selection of fast food chain restaurants, such as the previously mentioned McDonalds and Burger King as examples. Some technology stores such as Apple, Microsoft, and GameStop can also often be found in malls across the United States and even the world.
After their great success in the United States, department stores and malls became very popular worldwide. In fact, El Corte Inglés is the name of a very large department store chain I found while roaming the streets in Spain. During our study abroad trip, we stayed in Barcelona, Madrid, and Sevilla, and in each of these cities, I came across a Corte Inglés store with ease. These department stores have everything from restaurants, to clothing stores, to mattress stores, to grocery stores. They truly do sell everything there. El Corte Inglés was founded in 1940 and can now be found in most cities in Spain and some in Portugal. In the entrance of a Corte Inglés I went to in Madrid, I also found a store of the popular American coffee brand, Starbucks. Walking around the store gave me a weird feeling, so shortly after leaving the United States, I felt like I was back in one of its malls.
All of the American brands previously mentioned are just a few drops of water in the sea of brands that have spread across the world. In a sense, Europe has over time received fruits from the seeds they planted in the Americas. Fruits that now stand out from the authentic stores and restaurants they originally had. Even more, Historical buildings, like the Arenas de Barcelona Bullring was repurposed and now is a popular mall in Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya. This mall also hosts American brands such as Claire’s, Subway, and Sunglass Hut, showing how both consumerism and its fruit has reached back into Europe and settled there.
After arriving in Barcelona, I walked down the famous street La Rambla, this street is over 600 years old and has been used as a place to sell goods, host festivals, and dine within the last few centuries. As I walked down this road towards the beachfront, I started to see various stores and restaurants that reminded me of the United States. The most notable ones I remember are Levi’s and food places such as Dunkin’ Coffee, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Starbucks, and KFC. Though surrounded by local and traditional restaurants and stores, it makes me wonder who or what was previously there.
After walking down La Rambla and reaching the beachfront, I turned left and went to Barceloneta, a slice of Miami in Barcelona. From the beaches, to the overpriced drinks, to the stores, I imagine this is what Miami would look like if Florida was still owned by Spain. I walked on towards the Vila Olimpica seeking a deeper connection into old Spain, or Catalunya should I say? But by walking further north, escaping from South Beach, all I found was Hollywood Beach.
When we visited Sevilla and had a free day, while looking for groceries I happened upon a large looking building with a neo-mudéjar architectural style. Walking inside, I found that it was a shopping mall (or centro comercial) named Plaza de Armas. Something odd about it is that it didn’t feel much like a mall, it felt more like a train station to me. The position of bridges, walkways, and even the straight empty space in front and behind it felt very similar to a train station, such as the one in Atocha, Madrid. Upon researching this mall, I found that it had indeed been used as a train station since its creation in 1901. This train station saw its last ride in 1990 when it was closed and had all of the train lines moved to another station. The now empty space was used as a pavilion in 1992 and abandoned until 1999 when it was reopened as a shopping mall. Oddly enough though, the space still retains its old spirit in my eyes.
This shopping mall hosts a McDonalds, of course, and a restaurant called Foster’s Hollywood. Interestingly, this obviously American restaurant was created by four Californians who were living in Spain but missed real American food from back home, so they decided to make their own restaurant. It seems that their creation was a hit, as they now have almost 200 locations across Spain and Portugal. Showing their prowess in capitalistic ventures through something that returned to Spain from what used to be a Spanish territory in the Americas centuries ago.
As I walked around in Madrid, more specifically, in La Latina Neighborhood, I found a mall that looked both artistic and interesting and a bit run down at the same time. The building is covered in the same graffiti that so many buildings across Europe are covered in. At first, this was somewhat of a culture shock because in the United States, when someone sprays graffiti on some wall, if they are found they get in trouble and generally by the next day the wall is its original color once again. It is still a bit hard for me to get used to all of the graffiti tags and such everywhere, but I feel I am more desensitized than I was when I first arrived in Spain a month ago. One place I have seen graffiti and do expect it is in the Wynwood district in Miami. The graffiti there is often used as a prop or background for pictures and seen as a cool and hipster thing to do in the area. The idea of the Wynwood walls after all is a new one, which started close to a decade ago. The general feel of this area and of the graffiti is much different from the one seen sprayed all over Spain. Where the it is ignored and rarely ever glanced at, though this is probably due to the vast amount of it all over the buildings in so many cities. A drastic difference from the ones in Miami, where they have walls dedicated to them and the rest is often prohibited and highly enforced by law.
Something that I am very used to in the United States is construction, there is always a building around that is being constructed or renovated. I saw the same situation in throughout Spain, and through my subsequent travels through France and Italy. It is a bit saddening to not be able to see some facades due to them being covered for restoration, but I understand it must happen if the place is to remain there for the following years looking as the city desires it looks.
Entering El Mercado de la Cebada in La Latina, I felt I had gone back in time at least 50 years. The way the shops and stalls were set up and sold their things felt very authentic and close to what a farmer might have done a hundred years ago. There were many stalls run by different people that sold fruits, meats, cheeses, seafood, etc. all in front of each other. The only difference I can see between these sellers and some farmer’s markets I have been to in the United States is that they have a mall area dedicated to them, the spirit and authenticity of products felt the same way.
Something did seem out of place in this market/mall, and it was some shops that did not share the same feeling as the rest of the farmer stalls. Mixed in I found a few modern looking juice stalls, vegan food stalls, and wine bars. Regardless, seeing all of the construction outside and the pretty much empty market/mall made me wonder if the market was to be torn down and have something else built there. Upon research I found that not too long ago, Madrid’s former mayor, Ana Botella, did set in motion some plans to destroy the old market/mall to rebuild a huge shopping center. These plans, however, where massively opposed by the locals and after a change of local government the plans were scrapped. The intense local feeling against this new mall can be felt through the phrase a Madrilenian writer used when referring to Botella’s plans of a new mall, which would have been “giving the neighbourhood its very own capitalist soul vacuum.”
Beside the Mercado de la
Cebada I found in La Latina, while walking through the heart of Madrid, La
Puerta del Sol, I came across a huge Apple store. It was unreal to see such a
modernly designed American brand between centuries old buildings. It made me
wonder what kind of store or place was torn down in order to fit in such a new
looking store, and how this must be happening not only across all of Madrid, or
Spain for that matter, but all over the world. That is when I realized, the
Europe we visited is currently going through exactly what the Native Americans
went through centuries ago when the Spanish and other Europeans came and took
over. Their old structures and traditions are being removed and are being
replaced by new ideals that come from across the sea.
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