When Cher Horowitz felt impotent and out of control in Clueless, she found sanctuary in a place where she could gather her thoughts and regain her strength: the now-shuttered Westside Pavilion. When Jackie Brown pulled off a sting, conning both the feds and her gun-dealing accomplice, she chose the Del Amo Fashion Center. When they weren’t stuck in school (or disrobing by the pool), the teens in Fast Times at Ridgemont High spent most of their time at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. Hollywood didn’t create the mall, but it does reiterate what Angelenos know to be true: These centers of commerce are vital to the city’s culture.
There’s no better digital representation of this than the parody Twitter account devoted to The Americana at Brand, a giant shopping, entertainment, and residential complex in Glendale, a Los Angeles suburb on the city’s northeast border. Americana at Brand Memes is an absurdist paradise of hyperspecific viral humor—all devoted to one extremely odd place, a manicured retail haven that a lot of home-bound Southern Californians are missing these days.
The Americana at Brand is inherently ridiculous. It’s an open-air alternative to the traditional (and enclosed) Glendale Galleria across the street. It’s designed to look like a small town center, and while it’s technically in downtown Glendale, it’s full of luxe chain stores and restaurants instead of independent mom-and-pop shops. And no small town—not Stars Hollow, not Pawnee—was ever so ridiculous. Here, there’s a Bellagio-style fountain in which the water dances to Frank Sinatra songs. A trolley rolls through the not-quite-big-enough space, a grounded alternative to a monorail. Cupcakes are dispensed out of an ATM, a Capital One Cafe serves as an alternative to the coffee shops, and a small re-creation of the Eiffel Tower sits atop a parking deck. It feels a lot like a theme park, and the giant concrete wall that overlooks Colorado Boulevard on the south end of the complex is a reminder that it is, in fact, private property. Moreover, the Americana never really closes: Above the retail spaces are luxury apartments that go for $3,000 a month, allowing the residents to feel like they’re living in a fake small town—or, well, a mall—in perpetuity. (If the latter appeals to you, then maybe you haven’t seen Dawn of the Dead.)
Yet, there is something charming about even its most garish elements. It holds the comforts of suburbia with all the city’s luxuries (which, I suppose, is also the general appeal of Los Angeles as a whole). It doesn’t feel like the malls of the past, like the Glendale Galleria across the street with which the Americana Memes account has a blood feud. It’s whole I’m not a normal mall, I’m a cool mall vibe is so pointedly ripe for ridicule.
“When I started the account, I felt like I had something to prove about Glendale,” says the man behind @americanamemes, who asked to remain anonymous. (He is, unsurprisingly, a comedy writer who lives not far from the Americana at Brand.) “It’s cool in its uncoolness, and whenever you mention to someone that you live in Glendale, they will usually ask, ‘Where do you live in relation to the Americana?’”
He started the account in May 2019, taking inspiration from other hyperspecific meme accounts. A lowkey obsession with memes had already seeped into his comedy life; as a standup, he’d incorporate niche memes into his set, making jokes about comics who had appeared before him in a lineup or audience members who had sat throughout the show. The account is the natural progression of this particular interest, and its author's ability to make the day’s viral Twitter joke—or current coronavirus worry—relevant to its extremely specific namesake is impressive. “The new internet is speaking to, like, 100 people about something super niche and finding a weird audience,” he says. “The Americana is like the stepchild of the [Los Angeles] malls, and that’s why it resonates with people. [It’s also] the actual good mall.”
Being able to quickly compare and contrast the malls in close proximity is a recognizable talent—and it’s what first drew me into the Americana parody account, which often pokes fun at its competition through the universal language of memes. Its Apple store is far better than the one at the Galleria, obviously; its restaurants far superior to the food court at the Westfield Fashion Square. It takes so long to drive all the way to Santa Monica, and for what? The Third Street Promenade's fountain sucks!
As a relatively new transplant to the LA area, the Americana memes helped me develop a sense of geography in a place I had previously only known as a tourist. Now that I live here, I care more about where to find the essentials than the attractions (although the Americana is arguably one of the latter). Just as people personify the city’s neighborhoods, they also bring personality to their local shopping places—and they feel strongly about them. Putting that onto the internet always results in an farcical chaos. Can anything describe the energy of Twitter—or LA—better than an angry mob of Eagle Rock Plaza fans forcing the Americana memes account to apologize for punching down? No, probably not.
Companies, er, brands, have become like people on social media, and fandom has become so extreme that criticism of something we like is easily interpreted as a personal insult. But the Americana Twitter feed is solely a source of joy; its starry-eyed affection for a place that is, quite frankly, a little stupid is bigger than just one mall in Southern California. There are as many jokes about the discounted Criterion Collection Blu-rays at Barnes & Noble and Shen Yun billboards as there are memes about never paying for parking (everyone knows you park at the Galleria for free and walk across the street). That someone in New York can find humor in the account speaks to the appeal of the Americana at Brand itself: There’s something to love, deep down, about efforts to make the mundane and cumbersome a little more special, even if the result is ostentatious.
The Americana at Brand memes account is perhaps more pure than the subject of its obsession. While it can be irreverent, its voice is a giddy one that simply wants to celebrate a deeply weird expression of capitalism. Lately, it’s provided its own service to those who miss the place, who are nostalgic for a time four weeks ago, before the coronavirus shutdown, when an exhausting trip to the Americana—finding parking, wading through the crowd by the fountain, standing in line at the cupcake ATM—was just another weird thread in the fabric of LA life. While it can’t beat the real thing, the virtual Cheesecake Factory is enough to provide a little comfort in an unpredictable world.