11.05.2006

anachronism

Much was made this week of Toronto losing the opportunity to bid for the 2015 Expo, or as it is still called here, "The World's Fair". So much ink was dedicated to this massive blow to tourism and ego that I wondered if I was the only person who found the whole idea a silly anachronism.

In the 19th Century, the World's Fair brought inventions and innovations to a public who had never seen such wonders. In those days, the fairs displayed the world itself - "exotic" plants, animals and even humans. At the 1851 Great Exhibition in London (the "Crystal Palace"), African people were displayed in cages. The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, people from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and even cowboys from not so very far away wandered through the midway wearing "native costumes". (A good book about a murder mystery and that World's fair is Devil In The White City, by Erik Larson.)

The symbol of that World's Fair was the Great Wheel designed by George Ferris. No one who rode it had ever been up so high. The press was convinced it would topple in the wind and send hundreds plunging to their deaths. In New York's 1853 Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations (also called Crystal Palace), the attraction that drew the most awe and wonder was Elisha Otis's steam-powered elevator: it traveled five stories high. Passengers fainted from the dizzying height and speed.

Even in the 1930s, before the television age, the World's Fair would seem to have served a legitimate entertainment purpose. But now? For the portion of the world that could travel to an Expo, new technology is instantly available, and news of future technology travels around the globe in minutes. To the rest of the world that lives in relative deprivation and isolation, a Fair is obviously irrelevant.

And why would Toronto want to host an Expo, anyway? Don't we all know by now that a very small number of people benefit from these grand-scale events? Ordinary residents and taxpayers usually come out losers. Toronto's famous inferiority complex about tourism - if it exists, and is not a media myth - isn't going to be conquered by a one-shot event.

I wrote this before I saw that the Star's Thomas Walkom and Jim Coyle agree with me, but I was pleased to see local columnists say so.

My only quibble: Coyle says the World's Fair is a vestige of the last century. I'd argue it's a vestige of the one before that.

1 comment:

M@ said...

Your point about tourism is extremely valid, I think. How many Torontonians are planning to go to Milan or Izmir for the 2015 expo? I suspect not many. Why do they figure everyone will come to them?