One of our final assignment options in History of the Information Age was to research and create a blog post on a social media influencer of our choice. Following the theme set with my vaporwave meme project, I have chosen to write about Dan Bell, known for his Youtube channel (of over forty-five million views) “This Is Dan Bell,” a film-maker with a moderate but tight-knit following within the urban exploration category of Youtube. The Facebook group, “This Is Dan Bell Fans” has just over 4,000 members, in which fans discuss both Dan Bell’s content, as well as news and topics related to urban exploration, dead malls, and dirty motels.
Urban Exploration on Youtube
As a topic, “urban exploration” is “the exploration of man-made structures, usually abandoned ruins or not usually seen components of the man-made environment.” While many urban exploration videos exist, as with any topic, quality and creativity varies wildly.
Who Is Dan Bell?
Dan Bell is an American Youtuber, producer, and film director from Baltimore, Maryland. He creates urban exploration videos, and is best known for his Another Dirty Room (ADR) and Dead Mall Series videos. Dan has 473,000 subscribers. Before creating these videos, Dan worked as a director and editor in the early-mid 2000s.
Much like many other YouTubers, much of Dan’s income comes from ad revenue and parternships in his videos, such as with brands like Blue Apron or Nord VPN, as well as through a Patreon account.(As an aside, I have noticed an increased proliferation of VPN-related sponsorships on YouTube videos, which always brings me back to some of our class discussions on privacy – or perceived privacy – on the Internet)
Bell began his YouTube page in 2006. Dan has been featured in headlines in The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, and Time Magazine. He also gave a TED Talk titled “Inside America’s Dead Shopping Malls” in early 2017 on the topic of his personal experience with dead malls and urban decay.
“Inside America’s Dead Shopping Malls.” TEDxMidAtlantic Talk by Dan Bell, 2017.
Bell attributes his interest in film-making, and dead malls in particular, to his childhood and adolescence in Baltimore. Dan recalls attending the grand opening on Owings Mills Mall in Baltimore as a nine-year-old, only to return to the mall in 2015 to find a hollow, desolate shell of the former shopping mecca. Now, in 2019, Owings Mills Mall has been demolished for a number of years.
“DEAD MALL SERIES: Owings Mills Mall **DEMOLISHED**” YouTube Video by ThisIsDanBell. March 18, 2015.
Dead Mall Series
The Dead Mall Series showcases dead, dying, and in some cases, abandoned shopping malls and centers throughout the United States, but mostly on the East Coast. The series, which began in 2015 when Dan sought a creative change of pace and endured professional burnout, couches footage of Dan traversing the malls in between vintage 1980s and 1990s television advertisements and music videos, and typically features vaporwave music.
Dan Bell did not pilot the concept of a dead mall, as the unaffiliated website “DeadMalls.Com” has been in existence since 2000. Bell did however, alter the way in which we consume and perceive content related to dead malls in creating narrative-driven, dreamscape-like videos. If you type “Dead Malls” into Youtube, Dan’s Bell’s “DEAD MALL SERIES: The $100 Mall: The Disaster of Pittsburgh Mills” video with 1.1 million views is the first result, followed by similar content by Ace’s Adventures and Bright Sun Films.
The term “dead mall” is relatively new, referring to a still-open shopping mall with extremely high-vacancy rates. The term “ghost mall” may refer to shopping malls that have been abandoned all-together, and is most applicable to malls close to structural collapse.From 2006 to 2010, the percentage of “dying” malls has rose by upwards of 40%, due to both external forces of changes in consumer shopping trends and increased preference for online shopping, as well as internal forces of decay, socioeconomic decline, and loss of attractiveness within specific shopping malls, which is sometimes due to the construction of preferable shopping malls nearby.
In his videos, Dan Bell explains the history of each shopping mall, as well as possible reasons for the downfall of that specific mall. Most shopping malls explored by Dan Bell are on an unavoidable, permanent decline, however, a few exceptions exist.
The Century III Mall is a well-known dead mall in southern Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Facebook page, Century III Mall Memories is dedicated to preserving the spirit of Century III in its final days. “Century III Mall Ft. Music by Dan Mason ダン·メイソン.” YouTube video by This Is Dan Bell. Marc 18, 2016.
The latest “Dead Mall Series” video was produced roughly one year ago, in June 2018. In December 2018, Bell released a teaser trailer for the series, promising its return in January 2019. Currently, in April 2019, new videos of the Dead Mall Series have yet to be uploaded, however, according to both photographs from Bell’s Instagram, as well as matters within his personal life, Bell promises that he is working on new videos that will be uploaded when they are most ready. Two new videos, one episode of Another Dirty Room, and one Ghost Documentary have been uploaded in 2019.
Another Dirty Room Series
Another Dirty Room (which has a 7.8/10 on IMDB) showcases the trials and tribulations of Dan Bell and friends exploring America’s dirtiest and dingiest hotel and motel rooms. The series was picked up by Amazon Prime in late 2017. Unlike the Dead Mall Series, ADR features is more candid, featuring blog-style commentary from his friends, most notably the infamous Rick Serra, a high school friend of Dan’s who is not afraid to get his hands dirty while analyzing the horrors of each motel room the pals visit.
While the deteriorated landscapes seen in the Another Dirty Room series are not as gleaming and nostalgia-inducing as that of the Dead Mall Series, the same level of curiosity and intrigue is tapped into within these videos. Watching videos of wildly inexpensive (or some might say overpriced) motel and hotel rooms filled with drug paraphernalia, bugs and mites, stains, and other exciting horrors may make us feel more thankful about our next stay at the Holiday Inn.
“Another Dirty Room S1E13 : ALL TIME LOW : Detroit’s Notorious Royal Inn Motel.” YouTube video by This Is Dan Bell. August 6, 2017.
In addition to the Dead Mall Series and ADR, Dan has created a number of urban exploration videos, and most commonly features abandoned houses, outdoor environments, presumably haunted spaces, hospitals, and factories, many of which are documented on the “Film It” series. In fact, Dan Bell has visited and documented over 100 abandoned spaces across the United States.
Significance of Content and Influence
Dan Bell’s content has successfully tapped into a combined sense of nostalgia for the familiar and intrigue for the unknown to create unique and captivating videos. Bell’s content influences other content creators and consumers to both explore and respect otherwise forgotten spaces.
Personally, I discovered Dan Bell’s content in early 2018, when his video of a liquidating K-Mart appeared on my “Recommended” feed on YouTube. While I have not personally engaged in urban exploration, I found the jarring yet ethereal 40-minute video to be a captivating journey steeped both in the history of days past and the problems of today. Notably, the same words that I can use to describe Dan Bell’s content are the words that I use to describe my fondness for vaporwave.
The closest personal encounter that I have to a dead mall is the Landmark Mall in Arlington, Virginia, a mall roughly 15-20 minutes away from my home that I have but the faintest of memories of. As of the past few years, Landmark Mall sits abandoned, with plans being thrown around to perhaps turn the center into an outdoor mall, a homeless shelter, or literally any other site other than well, an abandoned shell. The failure of Landmark Mall never bothered me however, nor those around me, as it will simply fade as another entity nearby takes its place. It is not the end-all-be-all of consumerism in an area, as is the case for many of the denizens of the areas surrounding malls documented by Dan Bell.
Growing up in the ever-developing and ever-expanding suburban echelons of Northern Virginia, dilapidation, while present, is pretty unfamiliar – and most commonly swept away. It takes me more than one hand to count the number of shopping malls or large shopping centers within a stone’s throw from my home in NoVA. Living in right now in Fredericksburg, I can think of two shopping centers. One of those centers, Potomac Mills, is closer to me in NoVA than it is the Rappahanock Region.
I cannot personally relate to the despair plaguing much of the United States rust-belt. I am lucky to have grown up in a family that has not underwent the tragedy plagued by blue-collar America, and I can say that the same applies to most of the friends that I grew up with. The concept of a dead mall captivates me as it is so real, so ethereal, so dismal, so close, and so far away.
I am thankful for the Dead Mall Series, even if I am not as personally interested in ghost-hunting or all of urban exploration as a whole. The series has given me visual insight into an aspect of dying Americana that I previously had only read about in blurbs, and I am patiently (mostly patiently) awaiting the next installment of the series.
“Another Dirty Room S1E13 : ALL TIME LOW : Detroit’s Notorious Royal Inn Motel.” YouTube video by This Is Dan Bell. August 6, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4nEnyktagk
“Century III Mall Ft. Music by Dan Mason ダン·メイソン.” YouTube video by This Is Dan Bell. Marc 18, 2016.
“Dan Bell.” Wikitubia. (accessed April 19, 2019). https://youtube.fandom.com/wiki/Dan_Bell
“DEAD MALL SERIES: Owings Mills Mall **DEMOLISHED**” YouTube Video by ThisIsDanBell. March 18, 2015.
Eldredge, Barbara. “Dead Malls of America Documented in Nostalgia-Filled Video Series.” Curbed. April 27, 2017. (accessed April 19, 2019). https://www.curbed.com/2017/4/27/15443970/dead-malls-america-videos-pictures-dan-bell
“Inside America’s Dead Shopping Malls.” TEDxMidAtlantic Talk by Dan Bell, 2017. https://youtu.be/AYzA2uyd9_s
Kurutz, Steven. “An Ode to Shopping Malls.” The New York Times. July 26, 2017. (accessed April 19, 2019.) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/26/fashion/an-ode-to-shopping-malls.html
Menegus, Bryan. “Take a Weirdly Hypnotizing Tour of America’s Dying Malls.” Gizmodo. April 10, 2017. (accessed April 19, 2019.) https://gizmodo.com/take-a-weirdly-hypnotizing-tour-of-americas-dying-malls-1794179481
Weinstein, Janet. “‘Dead Malls:’ Inside One Man’s Mission to Document the Beauty of Abandoned SHopping Centers.” ABC News. November 23, 2018. (accessed April 19, 2019). https://abcnews.go.com/US/dead-malls-inside-mans-mission-document-beauty-abandoned/story?id=59230235