Sunday, August 14, 2011

Back To The Future

Here are the other 4 postcards I picked up at the antiques store on Monday:

It's been a long time since the US has hosted a world's fair.

The last one I can recall was Knoxville's way back in 1982. It didn't seem like much at the time and it's almost vanished entirely from my consciousness now.

Wikipedia tells me that there was another one in New Orleans in 1984 but I can't recall ever hearing a thing about it.

Wikipedia also tells me that one was going to be held in Chicago in 1992 but it ended up being cancelled.

If we were to host one now, what sort of exhibits would best represent our country? An obese ostrich sticking its head in the sand in a fruitless effort to ignore global warming? The space shuttle Atlantis turned into a homeless shelter? A complex system of pipelines filled with cement representing political gridlock?

How much do you think attendees would be willing to pay for a souvenir rust belt?

All I know for sure is that we certainly have all the room we may need for whatever exhibits we do decide to build (or ask India to build for us).

Today's newspaper tells me that Cleveland alone now has 20,000 vacant lots.

Not enough? Well, Philadelphia is said to have another 40,000.

And Flint and Buffalo allegedly have tens of thousands more....

Of course some Americans might think world fairs are a waste of money - relics of the past that long ago outlived their usefulness in the age of the Internet, American Idol, and meth labs.

Those Americans might be right, but if so why was the most recent world's fair such a record-setter?

Did you even hear about it?

It was held in Shanghai in 2010.

According to Wikipedia, "It was a major World Expo in the tradition of international fairs and expositions, the first since 1992. The theme of the exposition was 'Better City – Better Life' and signifies Shanghai's new status in the 21st century as the 'next great world city'.... It had the largest number of countries participating and was the most expensive Expo in the history of the world's fairs. The Shanghai World Expo was also the largest World's Fair site ever at 5.28 square km. By the end of the expo, over 73 million people had visited - a record attendance - and 250 countries and international organizations had participated. On October 16, 2010, the expo set a single-day record of having over 1.03 million visitors enter the exhibition that day."

What was going on in the US on October 16, 2010?

Well, according to The New York Times, the former chief executive of Countrywide Financial, Angelo Mozilo, agreed to pay $67.5 million to settle a civil fraud case against him; Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke was promising to do more to fight unemployment; and Attorney General Eric Holder was promising to fight efforts to legalize marijuana.

I wish I could walk into a store today and buy a flashy new postcard promoting the wonders of American know-how and technology, but... I can't.

I've tried.

As far as I can tell, I can't even buy anything here that even acknowledges the recent Shanghai World's Fair. I may as well try to find a condom dispenser in the rest room of a Catholic cathedral.

So I settled for buying these artifacts from a time when our future actually looked brighter than our past.

It's not that I prefer living in the past - it's just that the future I was promised as a child seems to have been foreclosed on and is no longer available.

At least here in Ohio.

Maybe I would have better luck finding that future if I tried Googling it using Mandarin?


  1. In Flint they'll let you make a garden in your neighbor's empty lot if the owner doesn't live in Flint and the property is condemned for unpaid taxes.
    I expect urban farming will eventually feed a lot of "unemployed" people.
    I also expect "unemployed" will apply to almost all of us because jobs are just too good of a deal for most employees. People who can quit and contract out their services will, and those who won't will be recycling aluminium and plastic.

  2. I remember that World's Fair! We went, and had our cat Pebbles with us! To save money for the Fair, we all (supposedly) slept (all four of us kids and our mom) in our '59 Chevy station wagon with the horizontal fins that I used to sit upon. But when we got up in the morning, Pebbles had gotten lost! We spent a long time looking for her, so we didn't have as much time at the Fair. What I remember was the Monorail, the Belgian Waffles with piles of whipped cream and strawberries, and the beautiful lights at night.

    I remember hearing that the US embarrassed itself by not taking the Shanghai World's Fair seriously, and put up a highly inadequate exhibit that was inferior in every way to most other countries. I hang my head when I think what fear and ignorance and prejudice and greed have done to this country's promise...