You may be wondering why this week's entire issue takes place in a shopping mall 17 miles away from The Stranger's spiritual and physical home. It's a fair question.

If you've looked at a newspaper, magazine, TV channel, or website in the past few hours, you're guaranteed to have seen a report about America's spending habits in relation to the annual ritual now inescapably known as Black Friday. The contrarian reflex—to pretend the event and its nomenclature don't actually exist—is no longer viable, so we thought, why don't we take a small step outside our happy urban privilege bubble and see what life is like inside a MUCH BIGGER ONE?

The old Stranger MO—to go to the mall to make fun of the bovine dipshits who actually go there—also seemed irrelevant, tempting though it clearly was. It's easy to feel superior in a shopping mall, as anyone who lives in a city should know by now. But easy ironies no longer offer cheap thrills, and capitalism is in exactly no danger of being replaced or overthrown. Shopping malls have been a major cultural reality for more than 30 years, enshrining behaviors and appetites that are anathema to many thinking, feeling urbanites. But they also offer the purest possible indulgence in the visceral pleasure principle that attends consumption. They are a direct connection to the uniquely American idea of participation through purchase—a principle that has poisoned our political discourse and eroded our conception of democracy. They are tacky. They are fucked. And, at least this weekend, they are very, very crowded.

Despite Ferguson, despite Bill Cosby, despite Ebola, or maybe because of all those things, shopping is more or less guaranteed to be the lead story by the time we go to press. So we figured we should go see what it's like at the shopping cathedral. So we did. We hope you like it. ELI SANDERS reports on Alderwood's grimy perimeter, where the back end of Black Friday is pragmatized. ANSEL HERZ adds a study of the checks and balances of mall security. KRISHANU RAY checks in with the twitchy proprietors of the kiosks that clutter the once-open mall walkways. KATHLEEN RICHARDS investigates the mysterious scents that beckon customers into storefronts. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE half-mourns the passage of the era of malls as furtive gay undergrounds. TRENT MOORMAN and KELLY O catch up with an off-duty Santa, an independent sword dealer, and some good old-fashioned mall rats. PAUL CONSTANT identifies the Proustian silhouette formed by the friscalating dusklight of the Sears and J.C. Penney. ANGELA GARBES takes a culinary bullet and eats all three meals in the mall. Meanwhile, over in arts, JEN GRAVES executes a sweeping survey of all the visual art on display at Alderwood, DAVE SEGAL goes truffle snuffling for records, DAVID SCHMADER reviews Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas, PAUL CONSTANT bemoans the absence of book and magazine stores, and BRENDAN KILEY interviews the mall's resident talent booker.


Stranger Arts Editor