You can't take pictures in the mall. Not in the stores or out of them. If you wanted to capture an image of the place so many of us spend so much time and money, you'd have to do it secretively, with James Bond equipment or your telephone. The employees or the security guards will shoo you out if they see you framing a shot, maybe even demand you erase your photos. The idea is that you could be doing some sort of very public reconnaissance for future larceny.

Once, as a retail worker, I had to throw a troop of Girl Scouts out of my store for taking pictures. Their leader had invented an elaborate treasure hunt where they would find the locations where a series of photos had been taken. As they left the store dejected, my manager chased after them and demanded the film from their camera. No kidding.

I stopped thinking it had anything to do with theft. Because there are office buildings and restaurants where I've been chastised for pulling out a camera. Self defense makes a handy excuse, but I think corporate America worries that the camera will steal its soul.

Corporate America, after all, under the cover of darkness will transform itself completely and deny that a change has occurred. When I worked in the mall, some days we would come in before even the MallWalkers to make over the entire store with new posters and merchandise and sale specials. Yesterday we loved heavy metal, but today the copy of Guitar World bemoaning alterna-rock and Metallica's new haircuts gets shoved to the bottom of the rack. Motorhead? Never heard of 'em. Have you heard the new Nirvana CD? It's totally ironic.

No one else got to capture the store and pin it down at one point in time. Like Dorian Gray, it was reborn each morning at 10am in the bloom of its youth, never dated, always looking its best and decked out in the brightest, newest stuff. We took photos every great once in a while. We were in control. We could be sure they were destroyed when next the time came to disavow everything before this.

We need to believe, and they need us to believe, that our malls are the ones on TV, where all the boys are lettermen and all the girls wear a size 4. If we take pictures of how the myth plays out, no myth will be left. We'll have the evidence before us, and corporate America's carefully posed self-portrait will have to compete with reality. Our little cameras could steal the dream they're selling and destroy it. That's what they're afraid of.

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