Dan Bell: Inside America's dead shopping malls

Recorded atOctober 21, 2016
Duration (min:sec)11:37
Video TypeTEDx Talk
Words per minute148.07 very slow
Readability (FK)69.03 very easy
SpeakerDan Bell
Occupationpresenter, YouTuber
Descriptiondocumentary filmmaker

Official TED page for this talk


What happens when a mall falls into ruin? Filmmaker Dan Bell guides us through abandoned monoliths of merchandise, providing a surprisingly funny and lyrical commentary on consumerism, youth culture and the inspiration we can find in decay.

Text Highlight (experimental)
100:12 In the last couple of years,
200:13 I have produced what I call "The Dead Mall Series,"
300:16 32 short films and counting about dead malls.
400:19 Now, for those of you who are not familiar with what a dead mall is,
500:23 it's basically a shopping mall
600:25 that has fallen into hard times.
700:29 So it either has few shops and fewer shoppers,
800:31 or it's abandoned and crumbling into ruin.
900:37 No sale at Penny's.
1000:38 (Laughter)
1100:40 I started producing this series
1200:42 in early 2015
1300:45 after going through kind of a dark period in my life
1400:47 where I just didn't want to create films anymore.
1500:51 I put my camera away
1600:53 and I just stopped.
1700:56 So in 2015, I decided to make a short film about the Owings Mills Mall.
1801:03 Owings Mills Mall opened in 1986.
1901:06 I should know because I was there on opening day.
2001:10 I was there with my family,
2101:11 along with every other family in Baltimore,
2201:15 and you had to drive around
2301:17 for 45 minutes
2401:19 just to find a parking spot.
2501:21 So if you can imagine,
2601:22 that's not happening at the malls today.
2701:25 My first mall job that I had as a teenager
2801:28 was at a sporting goods store called Herman's World of Sports.
2901:33 Maybe you remember.
3001:34 (Singing) Herman's World of Sports.
3101:36 You guys remember that?
3201:37 (Laughter)
3301:38 Yeah, so I worked in a lady's shoe store.
3401:44 I worked in a leather goods store,
3501:46 and I also worked in a video store,
3601:51 and not being one who was very fond of the retail arts --
3701:58 (Laughter)
3802:01 I got fired from every single job.
3902:04 (Laughter)
4002:06 In between these low-paying retail jobs,
4102:11 I did what any normal teenager did
4202:14 in the 1990s.
4302:16 I shoplifted.
4402:19 I'm just kidding.
4502:21 I hung out with my friends at the mall.
4602:23 (Laughter)
4702:24 Everyone's like, "Oh my God, what kind of talk is this?"
4802:28 (Laughter)
4902:32 Hanging out at the mall could be fun, but it could be really lame, too,
5002:36 like sharing a cigarette with a 40-year-old unemployed mall rat
5102:41 who has put on black lipstick for the night
5202:44 while you're on your break from your crappy minimum wage job.
5302:52 As I stand here today,
5402:54 Owings Mills has been gutted
5502:57 and it's ready for the wrecking ball.
5603:02 The last time I was there, it was in the evening,
5703:04 and it was about three days before they closed the mall for good.
5803:10 And you kind of felt --
5903:11 they never announced the mall was closing,
6003:13 but you had this sort of feeling, this ominous feeling,
6103:16 that something big was going to happen,
6203:19 like it was the end of the road.
6303:21 It was a very creepy walk through the mall.
6403:25 Let me show you.
6503:34 (Music)
6603:58 So when I started producing "The Dead Mall Series,"
6704:01 I put the videos up onto YouTube,
6804:03 and while I thought they were interesting,
6904:05 frankly I didn't think others would share the enthusiasm
7004:09 for such a drab and depressing topic.
7104:14 But apparently I was wrong,
7204:15 because a lot of people started to comment.
7304:17 And at first the comments were like --
7404:20 basically like, "Oh my God, that's the mall from my childhood.
7504:24 What happened?"
7604:26 And then I would get comments from people who were like,
7704:29 "There's a dead mall in my town. You should come and film it."
7804:33 So I started to travel around the mid-Atlantic region
7904:37 filming these dead malls.
8004:40 Some were open.
8104:42 Some were abandoned.
8204:44 It was kind of always hard to get into the ones that were abandoned,
8304:48 but I somehow always found a way in.
8404:50 (Laughter)
8504:53 The malls that are still open,
8604:57 they always do this weird thing -- like the dead malls.
8705:00 They'll have three stores left,
8805:01 but they try to spruce it up
8905:03 to make it appear like things are on the up-and-up.
9005:06 For example,
9105:08 you'll have an empty store
9205:10 and they bring the gate down.
9305:12 So at Owings Mills, for example, they put this tarp over the gate.
9405:16 Right?
9505:18 And it's got a stock photo
9605:21 of a woman who is so happy
9705:24 and she's holding a blouse,
9805:26 and she's like --
9905:27 (Laughter)
10005:30 And then there's a guy standing next to her, with, like,
10105:33 an espresso cup, and he's like --
10205:35 (Laughter)
10305:38 And it says, "What brings you today?"
10405:43 (Laughter)
10505:44 I wanted to be scared and depressed.
10605:47 Thank you.
10705:51 So the comments just kept pouring in
10805:56 on the videos,
10905:58 from all over the country, and then all over the world.
11006:02 And I started to think, this could really be something,
11106:05 but I had to get creative, because I'm like,
11206:07 how long are people going to sit and watch me waddling through an empty mall?
11306:13 (Laughter)
11406:17 So the original episodes I filmed with an iPhone.
11506:21 So I'd walk through the mall with an iPhone, and, you know.
11606:25 Like that.
11706:27 (Laughter)
11806:28 And security -- because malls, they don't like photography --
11906:32 so the security would come up and be like, "Put that away," and I'm like, "OK."
12006:36 So I had to get creative and sneaky,
12106:38 so I started using a hidden camera and different techniques
12206:42 to get the footage that I needed,
12306:43 and basically what I wanted to do
12406:45 was make the video
12506:48 like it was a first-person experience,
12606:50 like you are sitting --
12706:54 put your headphones on watching the screen --
12806:56 it's like, you're there in the video,
12906:58 like a video game, basically.
13007:02 I also started to use music,
13107:04 collaborating with artists who create music called vaporwave.
13207:08 And vaporwave is a music genre
13307:11 that emerged in the early 2010s among internet communities.
13407:15 Here's an example.
13507:16 (Music)
13607:48 That's by an artist named Disconscious
13707:51 from an album he did called "Hologram Plaza."
13807:54 So if you look that up, you can hear more of those tunes.
13907:57 Vaporwave is more than an art form. It's like a movement.
14008:01 It's nihilistic, it's angsty,
14108:04 but it's somehow comforting.
14208:06 The whole aesthetic is a way of dealing with things you can't do anything about,
14308:11 like no jobs, or sitting in your parents' basement eating ramen noodles.
14408:17 Vaporwave came out of this generation's desire to express their hopelessness,
14508:21 the same way that the pre-internet generation did
14608:25 sitting around in the food court.
14708:29 One of my favorite malls
14808:32 I've been to
14908:34 is in Corpus Christi, and it's called the Sunrise Mall.
15008:38 When I was a kid,
15108:40 my favorite thing to do was watch movies,
15208:42 and I used to watch movies over and over and over again.
15308:45 And one of my favorite films was "The Legend of Billie Jean."
15408:51 Now, for those of you who have seen "The Legend of Billie Jean,"
15508:54 you'll know that it's a great film.
15608:57 I love it.
15708:58 And Helen Slater and Christian Slater --
15809:00 and if you didn't know, they are not related.
15909:02 Many people thought that they were brother and sister. They're not.
16009:06 But anyway, Sunrise Mall was used in the film as a filming location.
16109:09 The mall is exactly the same as it was in 1984.
16209:15 We're talking 32 years later. Let me show you.
16309:17 (Video) Dan Bell: And here's Billie Jean running across the fountain,
16409:22 being chased by Hubie Pyatt's friends.
16509:26 And she jumps over here.
16609:31 And you can see the shot right here is what it looks like today.
16709:37 It's pretty incredible.
16809:38 I mean, honestly, it's exactly the same.
16909:43 And there they are falling in the fountain,
17009:45 and she runs up the stairs.
17109:46 This is a nice shot of the whole thing here.
17209:53 Dan Bell: I love that so much.
17309:55 (Laughter)
17409:57 I always think in my head, if I owned a dead mall --
17510:01 why don't they embrace their vintage look?
17610:04 Put in a bar,
17710:06 like, put vegan food in the food court
17810:11 and invite millennials and hipsters
17910:14 to come and drink and eat,
18010:17 and I guarantee you within three weeks
18110:19 H&M and Levi's will be banging on the door trying to get space.
18210:23 I don't know why they don't do this,
18310:25 but apparently,
18410:26 it's only in my mind, it goes all day.
18510:30 (Laughter)
18610:33 Anyway, in closing --
18710:35 (Laughter)
18810:39 When they first asked me to do this talk,
18910:42 I said,
19010:44 "Do you have the right person?"
19110:45 (Laughter)
19210:50 These talks are supposed to be kind of inspiring and --
19310:54 (Laughter)
19411:00 I remembered something, though.
19511:02 I put my camera down three or four years ago,
19611:08 and it took going to these malls
19711:12 for me to be inspired again.
19811:15 And to see my audience
19911:19 and people from all over the world writing me and saying,
20011:22 "God, I love your videos,"
20111:24 is incredible.
20211:27 I don't know how to even explain it,
20311:28 as an artist,
20411:30 how fulfilling that is.
20511:32 If you would have told me a year ago
20611:35 that I would be standing on this stage
20711:38 talking to all of you wonderful people,
20811:41 I would have never believed it.
20911:42 I am humbled
21011:44 and so appreciative.
21111:45 Thank you very much.
21211:47 (Applause)