Remember World's Fairs? Those dazzling displays of self-cleaning kitchens, rocket cars and robotic servants--the futures we'd all be living in around, well, now? Whose effervescence and ability to captivate seemed to have fizzled into nothingness long ago?
Well, they're back--having never technically gone anywhere. Shanghai, the world's foremost exploding City of the Future, is hosting the largest and most expensive World Expo ever presented. What visions of exactly what kind of future await? We're here this week to find out.
The first World's Fair was held in London in 1851--the center of the rapidly industrializing modern world. Under the banner of the "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations," the first Expo (held before even the first transatlantic telegram was sent) was literally the only place one could go to learn anything about the latest technologies of industry and design pushing the world forward.
New York, in 1939, was where World Expos transitioned from the more practical, trade-showish gatherings of industrialists to the mind-boggling displays of a dreamy future shaped by technology. That fair's famous Perisphere and Trylon and its central "World of Tomorrow" theme helped cast off the darkness of the Great Depression and push the minds of New Yorkers and the world toward the "dawn of a new day." Reporting on the Fair's construction in our March 1938 issue, we showed our own considerable excitement: "With lights and flame, motion and sound, this $175,000,000 show will dramatize the progress and the promise of science. It will reveal the World of Tomorrow as it is foreseen today."
But as communication technologies evolved, the importance of World's Fairs as the only points of exposure for such things diminished. And a general lack of enthusiasm for the Expos, abroad and most certainly at home, set in. New York's second go-round in 1964-5 and Montreal's Expo in 1967, home to Buckminster Fuller's fabulous geodesic Biosphere, were among the last resonant World's Fairs, although they continued to be held every five years (Knoxville! Sunsphere!). Indicative of the Expo's fall from grace, less that ten years later the very same Biosphere--its acrylic skin stripped by a fire--served as a tattered, ruinous backdrop for post-apocalyptic cinema and television like Battlestar Galactica.
2010 marks an interesting resurgence. China has invested more state money in the Expo—$45-$60 billion is the unofficial range making the rounds--than it did for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Granted, the Expo will last six months and not two weeks, but the number is still staggering. Writing in Canada's Globe and Mail, Mark MacKinnon sees the Expo as a natural follow up to those impressive Games, noting that now, as opposed to thrusting itself onto the world's main stage, it's the world's turn to come to China. In fact, MacKinnon smartly points out that 189 of the world's 196 countries are represented here in some way, hoping to get a wink and a smile during future dealings with the world's most rapidly expanding economy.
I'll withhold final judgment until I've checked out our pavilion for myself in the coming days. But judging by early looks of the competition, it's disappointing that the U.S. didn't aim for something riskier, something more imaginative. That is, after all, what a World's Fair is all about.
With every element of China seemingly pegged to 11--the economy, prominence on the world stage, and cultural influence abroad--a World Expo bigger than any previous seems fitting. In our completely and fully networked present, does a World Expo still have the ability to captivate? If nothing else, Shanghai Expo 2010 gives almost every country on this planet a chance to express its uniquely vivid dream of the future, with one of world's most futuristic cities as backdrop. Even by today's standards, that spectacle should be something.
Our coverage of Expo 2010 from Shanghai starts tomorrow. Check back here all week for photos, videos and more.
Each Countries pavilion is unique in its own way and portrays a specific message to the World and China. Each pavilion displaying awesome architecture. I have to agree with the writer above. The U.S. Pavilion is some what boring and I would have expected a whole lot more from my country. On the other hand I do think it’s a good idea not to use tax payer’s money and acquire funds for private investors. Although, World Expos don’t come along very often. It would have been nice to see a much more spectacular building. The overall message of the pavilion is very American. I can appreciate that. I Wish I could see it for myself.
John Mahoney has his facts wrong regarding the US Pavilion. For some reason, he implies that getting Congressional funding for a publicly supported pavilion would be difficult. Has he spoken directly with Congress members? I have.
The Senators reminded me that it was Members of Congress, not the Bush Administration, who first traveled to China in 2005 to express our desire to participate in the Expo. For nearly five years Congress waited for the Bush and Obama Administrations to request an appropriation; no request was forthcoming. Why, when it would have been the easiest way to fund and operate the US Pavilion?
The reason was our Government's obsessive desire to sell itself off to private interests, to outsource -- to "Blackwater" -- every function of government that can possibly be sold. The transaction and subsequent privatization makes it so much easier to horse trade for financial and political favors.
What did it get us for our US Pavilion? A commercial real-estate brokerage paid for by the taxpayer via tax exemptions and virtually owned by the 60 multinational corporations that could give a hoot about "Better City, Better Life," but who do care about controlling the State Department. You think it's boring? What until you see wha the corpocracy does with our embassies. Oh, it already has?
For the complete history of chicanery surrounding the US Pavilion effort and its significance for American public diplomacy -- now on the auction block via State's Global Partnership Initiative -- read "'Blackwatering' Public Diplomacy: The US Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo," Huffington Post, May 3, 2010. Visit:
I happened to be in Shanghai on business this weekend and got to spend a day at the Expo. After visiting 13 pavilions I would have to say the US was one of my favorites. Yeah you had to sit down and watch TV like an American but it was engaging, well done and well received by the crowd. True our pavilion lacked the wow factor one would expect from the largest economy in the world but its presence was known and it was easy to find. I knew I was close when I saw the Burger King. Hats off to China for doing a great job with this whole event it is quite impressive.