It’s hard to believe, but Expo 2010 [Shanghai World’s Fair] has a mere three weeks of life left in it. No surprise, the wrap-ups, the obituaries, and the tributes are beginning to appear (I’m starting work on mine). I’d like to point readers to an early entry, by my new friend Scott Knowles, an Assistant Professor of History at Drexel University. I met Scott via email, early in the Expo, and then in-person, this summer, when he spent a week at the Expo with a group of students taking his course on World’s Fairs. I think the students were supposed to learn something from me; in fact, I learned much more from Scott and his students. And I continue, to learn: Scott’s Phantom of the Fair is a superb summation of an event that – I believe – will only grow in stature in retrospect. That is to say, I really believe that, in years to come, people who didn’t go, will feel the need to lie about having gone.
But anyway. I like Scott’s essay, especially, the second half:
As I moved through the African Pavilion just before closing time, it occurred to me at last that I was merely a phantom at this fair. It’s a strange moment for an American abroad — and when it happens you wince and surrender your non-existent birthright: the realization that this is not all here to entertain me. In fact, though, all world’s fairs up to this one have in one way or another been there to entertain westerners, even Osaka. With Chinese nationals making up the overwhelming majority of the visitors to Expo 2010, though, I was really witnessing the creation of Chinese elites packaged and presented to the Chinese masses, a tour of the world as the elites want China to see itself, and as participating countries want to be seen by the Chinese.
You can find the complete essay here, at the Smart Set, published by Drexel.
Moving from looking back, to looking forward, California – or, more specifically, Governor Schwarzenegger – has decided to look into hosting Expo 2020 in the Bay Area. This is a terrible idea for any number of reasons, all of which are covered in my pal Jeff Wasserstrom’s California Dreamin’ at China’s World’s Fair over at the China Beat.