Last week, The New Yorker ran an essay by Carmen Maria Machado, a store clerk working at a luxury makeup counter in an upscale mall outside Philadelphia. Making $10 an hour, Machado is surrounded by some of the world's most affluent shoppers. "Every day, I park my run-down car among BMWs and hybrids. The mall rats who hover around the doors smoking cigarettes wear brands of designer jeans I've only ever heard about in songs. Some of the stores resemble modern-art exhibits, and I'm still not entirely sure what they sell because I'm too afraid to approach the willowy, elegant salespeople to ask."
For Machado, the culture shock goes beyond a simple feeling of otherness. There are studies detailing the actual psychological damage that's done by seeing so much money moving around — among them are desensitizing people toward others, contributing to antisocial emotions, and feeling a "diminished sense of well-being." Machado is careful to point out that her customers aren't to blame; most of them, she says, are pleasant and affable. However, the dichotomy between those on top of the financial food chain and those on the bottom is so obvious in places like malls, even more so during the holidays. Click through to read the poignant essay. (New Yorker)