Giving Dixie Another Look

There are many images of the Dixie Square Mall that are available to be reused on other websites and blogs and are available through media sharing sites like Wikimedia Commons.  In addition, many of the videos of the Mall posted on YouTube can be embedded in other sites.  Although we have used these images and videos throughout this project, this section will also include images that are housed in galleries that are copyrighted.  Therefore, we have chosen to link to those galleries in order to highlight how the meme circulates among a group of contributors that is interconnected, but somewhat exclusive, particularly in terms of gender.  First, however, we want to briefly discuss the practices of obtaining these images and videos, because these practices are also implicated by gender.

The Dixie Square Mall has become a favorite destination of urban explorers, and often web pages devoted to urban exploration have linked up to the meme. These explorers break into abandoned buildings of all kinds, and in addition to the legal dangers they encounter by trespassing, they must contend with the hazards of unsafe and unmaintained structures.  Urban exploration centers on the scopophilic pleasure of looking and possessing a passive space through the camera’s gaze, its motto directing explorers to “take only pictures.” Although there are some women who participate in urban exploration, it is a decidedly masculine endeavor. Historically, exploration was a quest for White men to possess land, conceptualized as female, as well as its native female inhabitants (McClintock, 1995). In contemporary urban exploration, an overwhelming majority of forum participants on the popular Urban Exploration Resource website self-identify as male, and each participant on the Dixie Square Mall page also does so (Urban Exploration Resource). Finally, urban exploration also requires daring and strength, particularly where the Dixie Square Mall is concerned.  These explorers brave the elements, debris, and threatening presences, and offer advice on the exploration, including what to bring (a flashlight, respirator, and boots) and what to watch out for (asbestos, flooding, and “wild dogs!”) during an expedition to the Mall (Urban Exploration Resource).   Therefore merely visiting the Mall is portrayed as an act of masculine adventure.  Given that many of the images and videos contained in the meme were taken by these urban explorers, the meme is truly a product of masculine endeavor.  Indeed, Dixie Hi-9, a YouTube video posted by jonrev, clearly illustrates the fraternal interactions of these self-identified explorers, who seem to have conquered the space for their own pleasure.

We can see masculine agency in operation when we consider the videos of the Mall that have been recorded and posted on YouTube.  For example, jonrev has posted another video entitled “Abandoned Paradise” that shows the Mall on a snowy day.  The images of the Mall’s deterioration are punctuated with shots that show piles of snow in the Mall’s interior, evidence of the compromised integrity of the structure.  Similarly, “Blackson187” has posted a video entitled “Inside the Dixie Square Mall 3/6/10,” which also shows the Mall’s interior filled with piles of snow, but this video was recorded on a sunny day when the snow was melting.  Consequently, the video, and the audio, captures the water from the melting snow raining into the Mall from the holes in the roof and saturating the debris-strewn floor.

Apart from the scene that these videos capture, it is interesting to note how the camera is used.  While these are not professionally produced, the qualities they convey (the slight shaking of the handheld camera, the absence of shot/reverse shot suture) actually heighten the immediacy of the gaze they provide.  The camera looks about the interior spaces of the Mall in the same way that we might look, without the traditional cinematic artifices.  The gendered aspect of this type of gaze is revealed in the Abandoned Paradise video, which was recently blocked by EMI for copyright reasons (mostly likely because it used a Pink Floyd song without permission).  The video began with a pan of the Mall’s exterior, with the camera resting on a gaping hole that exposed the Mall’s interior.  Then the camera slowly entered this hole and proceeded further into the recesses of the Mall.  The phallic power of the camera is certainly inferred in this move, and through the insertion of the camera into this opening, the viewer sees the insides of the Mall.

As if to further highlight Dixie Square Mall’s decay, the meme also foregrounds the juxtaposition of early pictures of the Mall with pictures of its deteriorating condition.  One example of this is the barraclou.com blog maintained by Jean-Francois Brulotte.  Brulotte has several photos of the Dixie Square Mall housed in a gallery entitled “The Blues Brothers.”  In this section, Brulotte has galleries for both exterior and interior shots of the Mall taken during his visits to the abandoned Mall in 1989, 2003, 2004, and 2006, to document the Mall’s steady decline.  The gallery also contains earlier images of the Mall, actual screen captures from the film that show static pictures of the “Bluesmobile” pulling into the Mall parking lot and driving through the Mall’s main corridors.

The visual chronology of the Mall’s deterioration that Jean-Francois provides in not unique.  For example, Jon Revelle (identified earlier as jonrev) has a Flickr gallery entitled “Ghost Mall” that contains photos he has taken during his various trips to the Mall.  Some of Revelle’s images are arresting in their beauty, particularly when he is able to show how wild plants and flowers have taken root in the crumbling structure.  He also provides text in each gallery to provide context for the photos and to explain what he has observed during the visit.  For example, in the “Dixie-6” gallery, he states that the photos were taken on 7/18/10 and notes “-Store B11’s roof has collapsed, partially damaging B12/B12,13,14

-Part of the JCPenney mall entrance has collapsed.”

This juxtaposition of earlier and current pictures of the Mall brings in to sharp relief the extent of the destruction; they show the viewer just how far Dixie has fallen.  Indeed, the temporal order of photo galleries seems designed to do just that.  As we have noted earlier, the gaze is an assertion, and in this case reassertion, of power.  The earlier images show the Mall when it was a space that accommodated women and their participation in the economy.  For example, the entry on the Pleasant Family Shopping blog, authored by “Dave,” includes pictures “taken in the fall of 1968, two years after the grand opening of the Dixie Square Mall.”  These pictures show the storefront of the JC Penny and several interior shots of the mall while it is full of shoppers, many of whom are women.  When these images are linked to images of the Mall’s destruction, they visually suggest that women’s economic opportunities can be destroyed by masculine violence.  Indeed, this is the point that is brought home when Jean-Francois Brulotte reproduces the original scene of the Mall’s destruction as a point of comparison with its continued deterioration.

Yet the exercise of masculine power is also evident in the actual circulation of these images within the meme.  The Pleasant Family Shopping entry links to a photo gallery for “The Dixie Square Project” by Christopher W. Luhar-Trice; the photos in this gallery document the destruction of the Mall’s interior due to vandalism and the exposure to the elements.  Dave also acknowledges and thanks Dan Steenwyk, Paul McVay and Michael Brown for the photos included in the entry, and Brown’s name serves as a hypertext link to a Flickr account that includes several more photos of the Mall’s decaying interior and exterior.  This Flickr account is in turn linked to a web page that displays the photography of Charles Janda.  On this site, Janda published several photos that he took of abandoned urban spaces, and he devotes three galleries to the Dixie Square Mall.

This online exchange speaks to the participatory aspects of the meme and shows how the images are circulated in very specific terms.  The predominance of masculine proper names in this exchange, however, is worthy of note.  We are well aware of the opportunities to perform different genders online, and we make no claim to the knowledge of the gender of the people who posted these images, although we are certain in a few cases.  Yet that certainty is beside the point, because what is important is the fact that the people who posted these images chose to post with a masculine name, and therefore participate in the meme with a male persona.  When “Jean-Francois,” “Jon,” “Dave,” “Dan,” “Christopher,” “Paul,” “Michael” and “Charles” participate in the meme, they do so as males, circulating their images for the pleasure of other males.  There may be a woman among them, but she does not announce her presence, and consequently, this part of the meme operates as a boys’ club.

These videos and images that capture the destruction and decline of the Dixie Square Mall illustrate the reassertion of phallic power.  The space is now rendered for the scopophilic pleasure that can be derived from its destruction, and most of the agents behind this gaze are identified as male.  Judging by the real identities of some of the contributors of this meme, and the online identities of other contributors, the Dixie Square Mall meme is primarily the product of male agency; women seem to have made little, if any, contribution to the meme, or if they have, their gender has been rhetorically erased.  In fact, if the destruction of the mall was a way of displacing women, then the continued documentation of its decline seems to have effectively excluded them.

In the Dixie Square Mall meme, we see a systemic displacement of women’s economic power with a reassertion of male dominance over the space.  First, the history relates violent acts, many perpetrated against women, which render the space unsafe.  Second, the Mall itself is violently destroyed, and the destruction is captured on film for the purposes of visual pleasure.  Third, this pleasure in circulated and shared by the contributors to the meme who create their own visual texts that celebrate and reproduce the destruction of the Mall.  Finally, the continued decline of the Mall is visually documented, and this documentation is the product of men who are brave enough to enter this dangerous space, where apparently, it’s still unsafe for most women to tread.

  1. #1 by Judith McGee on August 23, 2011 - 11:06 am

    Looking forward to reading this.

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