YouTuber This is Dan Bell has two fascinating series worth watching: Dead Mall Series and Another Dirty Room. If you like to travel to see unusual things (as I do), or you simply enjoy cringing, these series are for you. If you’re a business major, you should watch them too.
Dan, video camera in hand, explores abandoned and dying shopping malls and big-box stores, in the Dead Mall Series. Malls seem to be dying at a rapid pace across America, due to online shopping, the slow death of once-popular retailers, and changing demographics. Dan’s mini-documentaries provide a cringe-worthy but beautiful (kriechenschön) autopsy of a once cornerstone aspect of the American dream.
The malls Dan films are mostly studies in early 1990s decor, like pastel colors and diamond & ribbon shapes, and oddly-beautiful decay and destruction. Light cascades down from shattered skylights, feeding a small jungle of trees and weeds that have claimed an old fountain/planter. Vines creep out of planers to rest on seats once intended for mall shoppers. Sprays of shattered glass glimmer like diamonds on floors where hope once strode. (Maybe that’s too poetic).
Dan details the history of the malls, including the reasons why they failed. Many malls die when their “anchor” stores die. Anchor stores include once-great retailers like Sears, K-mart, and JCPenny. The times have not been kind to these former giants. When the anchor dies, it’s like an animal losing its mouth — the rest of the mall loses the nourishment (shoppers) that the anchor provides, and the whole thing collapses and dies.
In his most recent installment, Two Quirky Malls in Michigan: Dort Mall & Hampton Square Mall, Dan visits a fascinating “small mall” called the Dort Mall owned by hockey-magnate Bob Perani. The Dort Mall is an unintended museum of Americana (neon signs, a dinosaur made of car parts) and pop culture (a boat from the Doctor Doolittle film), and home to a single operating hockey equipment store. This is the type of stuff I would pull over to the side of the road to photograph, but it is all conveniently collected in a single dying mall.
Dan and his team of forensic friends Will Krupinsky & Rick Serra check into hotel & motel rooms just to see how dirty a random room can be, in Another Dirty Room. As someone who stays in a lot of hotel rooms, this series piqued my interest and sparked new fears.
Vermin (roaches, fleas, bedbugs, mice), human bodily fluids (including shocking sprays of blood), cigarette burns, soiled bedding, literally rotting pillows, pre-moistened hotel soaps… they’re all there in almost every episode.
The show is equal parts horror and comedy. The lighting and videography are cable TV reality-show quality. I’m reminded of reality-tv classics like Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs, and my all-time favorite, Dave Attell’s Insomniac. Will Krupinsky is innately hilarious — he’s like a Matt Judge character come to life.
The recent episode $40 NIGHTMARE: The Swan Motel: Halethorpe, Maryland is a good place to start. If you like it, you will probably spend the rest of the day binging on the rest of the episodes.