Saturday, June 05, 2010

Open Letter to Aurora Town Center Mall

Our local shopping mall has gone through a transformation in the last several years, as it was bought out by Simon Malls.  That mall group sought to clean up the atmosphere, increasing the security guard presence, enforcing a curfew, and generally discouraging gang activity (which was a problem there in the past).  Included in the directory of stores are Sears, JC Penny, Bath and Body Works, Children's Place, major jewelry stores, and a typical mall food court.  There are also stores that appeal to the Goth's and Emo's and Skaters: stores like Hot Topic, Game Stop, Icing, and Journeys.

If the owners of the Mall wish to welcome both families and urban youth, they need to keep the hallways and food court and restrooms - all the common spaces - neutral.  Additionally, to keep the environment safe, discouraging gang activity, they should facilitate honesty, honor, and respect with their decor and general vibe.  Thus my frustration and disappointment when I encountered a new feature at the Food Court on a visit to Chick-fil-a this spring.  

In keeping with my understanding of the free market, I decided to inform the mall (and Chick-fil-a) why I will no longer be frequenting that location.  I wrote them a letter about a month ago:

"To Aurora Town Center Mall,
This month I was shopping at your mall and decided to have lunch at your food court.  I ordered my food and sat down to eat.  Surrounding the dining area are large TV screens and speakers.  Playing on these were music videos run in a jukebox style, taking requests via text run by the company, Akoo.

Every music video that played in the course of my lunch was morally offensive.  Women were dressed and dancing immodestly and the subject matters were not family-friendly.  I am under the impression that your business is trying to discourage the type of behavior and social atmosphere typified by disrespect of authority and objectifying of women.  To allow individual stores at your facility to carry such merchandise or even play such music I leave to your judgment in creating the retail atmosphere you desire, but the common area of the food court, where mothers bring their children and people like me sit down to eat a quiet meal is not a good place to display the subculture of lust, greed, and violence.  The mall is not a strip club!  Included among your leasers are Bath & Body Works, jewelry stores, Old Navy, JC Penny, Sears, and Dillards!

With the selections of music videos available, it takes but a few zealous texters to flood the requests with undesirable content, inflicting it on the majority of customers, those kinds of customers you, by cleaning up your mall and enforcing strict curfew and conduct rules, are trying to attract.  These upstanding patrons of your facility will be driven away by the offensive and unpleasant experience in your food court.

I am one who has been driven away.  Your food court was one of the main things drawing me to your mall.  I will, from now on, be boycotting all of the businesses in your food court, and will certainly not be visiting that area.  This will continue until I am informed that you have removed the music video feature of your mall.

Please contact me at ***-***-**** to inquire further."

I received a response a few weeks afterwards, not from the Aurora Mall, but from Akoo itself:

"I understand that you had an experience with Akoo, our on-demand entertainment network, and I wanted to provide you with an opportunity to discuss your concerns further.  (Name removed), Assistant Administrrator for Town Center at Aurora, provided me with your contact information through a complaint filed with the mall.  Akoo always welcomes feedback and anything you are willing to provide is greatly appreciated.  We understand your concern and take your complaint very seriously.

First, I want to make it clear that Akoo is a tenant of Town Center at Aurora and the mall managers have no role in selecting the videos that play on our screens.  If you have additional feedback or questions - please do not hesitate to reach out to me so changes can be made.

We at Akoo understand our responsibility to provide entertainment that is "Family Friendly."  I wanted to advise you that, as per Akoo policy, every song and video is rigorously screened before it is allowed to play in participating Akoo Network malls.  Not only do videos come to us pre-rated by the record labels that must adhere to strict parental advisory specifications, each song and video is reviewed by a cross-department committee that includes members from our executive board, senior management team members and myself.  Any Songs or videos deemed anything less than "Family Friendly" are not and will never be available.

What makes things difficult in this process is that there are many things open to interpretation; dancing is by nature sensual and some may view it as sexual or explicit despite context - what one considers scantily clad, another considers more modest than what one might see at a public swimming pool.  This is why we find feedback such as yours so valuable; it allows us to edit our content choices to better suit the communities in which we are installed.

That said -- we will be certain to review all of the songs and videos allowed to play within Town Center at Aurora once again and remove any content that might be less than "Family Friendly."  However, if you know the song title or artist name for the videos that you found inappropriate, I would greatly appreciate receiving that information.

I also would like to point out that, because Akoo is an interactive network which plays music queued up by the shoppers (much like a jukebox) without any charge to them, we have a wide variety of Children's, Contemporary Christian and Oldies tha tyour family might find more suitable.  I encourage you to seek out that content and select it to play in the shopping center.

Please take note of my contact information (enclosed), I would be happy to address any additional questions, comments or concerns that you may have!
Enjoy your day!
(name removed)"

I received two copies of her business card with her cell phone number blacked out with a Sharpie.  The understanding of "family friendly" videos pre-screened by Akoo included markedly sexual dancing (sure dancing can be sensual, but Fred Astaire and Jane Austen are a far cry from the style on their videos), suggestive bedroom scenes, a young woman basically pole dancing, and a young boy singing about making a much older woman "one less lonely girl."  There was no song that visit that did not have sexual themes or suggestions.  

Nor do I find it a pleasant atmosphere where I have to go out of my way to "request" content that I don't find offensive, by sitting down and texting the company my request for Children's, Oldies, or Christian titles.  I can't imagine that a mother of a few children wants to stop feeding them french fries long enough to text a list of songs to the music video service, competing with the sagging-pants, metal-chained youth with nothing to do but thumb their cell phones, sitting across the food court.  

Thus, while I will reply to Akoo with a little more information (I can't even remember the two worst songs while I was there; I was trying so hard to block them out!), the Boycott of the Aurora Town Center Food Court stands.  

I want to encourage you to take action.  Stand up for morality.  Stand up for family values.  Give your business to places that at the very least do not bombard you with offensive content.  And let stores know why you patronize them - or why you don't.  (I wrote a letter.  It's formal, old-fashioned, and indicates you took the time and effort to do more than send a digitally-scannable e-comment.  There have been several cases where I have received positive feedback from companies after my letters, including one radio station that responded to my complaint and thus ended my boycott of them.)

To God be all glory.

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