Thursday, February 23, 2006

2-17-06 -- West (west!) Edmonton (Edmonton!) Mall (Mall!)

Malls are and have always been cartoon simulations of the traditional human spaces – markets, bazaars, public shopping streets, parks and plazas – they displace, but West Edmonton Mall takes it all the way; every zone’s a little Disneyland. “Bourbon Street” reaches feebly to attach the partytime cachet of the legendary New Orleans drinking district to its collection of characterless chain bars-and-grill; the lagoon and waterpark strive to evoke a wallet-loosening spirit of Caribbean fun-n-sun in the throngs of snowed-in credit-cardholders; “Europa Boulevard”, though it has tumbled further downmarket with every passing season, still works hard at aping a classy Continental vibe. So what pop-culture theme is the usually-vacant glass-walled space in front of HMV, thronged with aspiring Canadian Idols, going for this morning? “Dystopian sci-fi allegory”, I guess.

What a zoo! I mean, literally a zoo, a zoo for humans. See the Earth creatures in their natural habitat! Hundreds of specimens in one glass enclosure, camped out on the blond hardwoodish flooring: giggly teens tramped up for their big shot, jitter-leg wired on sugar-coffee; callow gel-haired boyband dreamers (guy/girl ratio, 1:9 at least) either trying to look dangerous and sexy through their unlined faces, or sleeping; scared tubby karaoke princesses quietly warming up their tremulous whitebread R&B voices in corners; moms, dads, friends, entourages… all penned in there, guarded by dozens of stern security drones and shepherded by clipboard ladies, surrounded by hundreds of rubberneckers on two levels, watching the animals. This holding area is where they wait for the Call Upstairs, where they will be tried, judged and processed by the faceless (at this point) machinery of Canadian Idol.

They are all numbered, huge ID codes pinned to their chest for easy security verification; with all the discarded water bottles lying around, it almost looks like there’s a marathon going on. And this is the start of their race, a race whose finish line is the fabulous Juno Awards… this is their chance at a shot at maybe getting a callback to try out for the finals that will decide who makes the cut for an opportunity to be made fun of on television. Everybody is very nervous, and it’s catching; WEM with its clangorous jet-takeoff noise levels is hell on the soul at the best of times, but with all this fretting and screaming and giggling and nail-biting going on, with all this hair product, cologne, fear-sweat, body spray and sex-hormone in the air, it’s almost unbearable.

Around a thousand hopefuls will be run through this system today, and along with their families and friends they are filling the mall; outside of the Holiday Season I’ve never seen WEM so busy. Money’s being made, hand over fist – you can always tell when the Mall’s having a banner day because the Chinese in the food court is actually kind of fresh; for lunch I had a spring roll that couldn’t have been more than two hours old.

It’s not sitting too well, though… this day’s wearing on me, and it’s even taking its toll on those for whom the mall is a natural habitat. Down in the holding pen, you can see the fatigue; tempers are getting short, perfectly made-up faces dropping into evil grimaces, black-rimmed eyes shooting daggers at those holding the colored tickets that symbolize progress: yellow for the first vetting, blue for making it through the day.

It’s an ugly scene, yeah – how could it be otherwise? – but there’s something oddly inspirational about it. I mean, what a great time for a young lady: eight to ten hours of adrenaline rush/crash and peak emotional experiences, surrounded by hundreds of demographically similar hotties, punctuated by bouts of shopping, seasoned with dreams of superstardom, with a glimpse of Ben Mulroney thrown in for good measure… with no admission charge! Whatever horrors Canadian Idol unleashes upon us, at least it’s done our nation the service of providing thousands of teenage girls with a fun day out. At least.

photo by Fish

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