CBS considers the American mall

Smack in the middle of the Santa Fe Trail in Over-land Park, Kan. (just outside Kansas City), stands a stunning monument to contemporary American civilization: Oak Park Mall. According to CBS Reports: After the Dream Comes True (Wednesday, 8-9 p.m., check local listings), it is, perhaps, a symbol of what our society has substituted for community.

This superb sociological document - pinpointing the role of the shopping mall in American culture - is in some ways more valid in its sometimes shocking conclusions than many a scholarly tract. Like other Americans, thousands of Kansans spend the evening - and most evenings - at a shopping mall, in a somewhat futile effort to regain the sense of community which the changing order of our society has, in many cases, snatched from the grasp of ordinary people. It is disconcerting to learn that many use the pretext of shopping in a materialistic-oriented ''warehouse'' as a means of reaching out to other people.

On the other hand, reports this program, malls are a clean, safe haven for many people, allowing them to stroll and browse in comfort among a wide variety of features.

''After the Dream Comes True,'' narrated and co-written by CBS's road-running Charles Kuralt, produced and directed by Craig Leake, appears to be an honest look at ''Middle America'' and its obsession with shopping as

entertainment and community. Says David Westbrook, a Kansas educator, about the teen-agers who have made Oak Park Mall their corner hangout, their village green: ''I think the kids are in the shopping center looking for an identity. They're looking for a peer group . . . for a sense of self. They are looking most important of all for a sense of community.''

Will they find it in a shopping mall? this show asks. Will their parents find it there? Is Oak Park a sign that we run the risk of becoming a society bored with itself and its environment?

Filled with nice people who reveal their attitudes much more fully than a surface hearing of their casual conversation might indicate, ''After the Dream Comes True'' is a seemingly casual piece of documentary-making that is actually a subtle and important program.

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