Normally I don’ spend a whole lot of time checking out world expos. I spent a part of my youth trawling the aftermath of expo 1967 (Montreal if you didn’t know), expo 1889 holds a special place in my heart (Paris and the creation of the Eiffel Tower), 1939 – hey world of tomorrow is always a theme here (New York if you really don’t know) and that’s about it. But this year, 2010 is in Shanghai. And I wouldn’t mention it but for a thought provoking column in the Los Angeles Times, informing that Dow Chemical sponsored the US Pavillion.
Have we sold out our whole America is the greatest democratic nation in the world to a corporate sponsor? It’s bad enough every sports stadium has become some corporate named behemoth, confusing sports fandom the world over.
The cause is a 1990s law that restricts federal funding for international expositions. This silly bit of isolationism meant the pavilion had to be built by a nonprofit group and given to the U.S. as a gift. State governments were asked to contribute to the nonprofit, but only three — Texas, Tennessee and Hawaii — came through. As a result, there’s a map in the lobby that leaves 47 states unidentified — an appalling symbol of disunity. (Chicago and San Antonio also contributed.)
The other donors were corporations. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who stepped up fundraising after she took office, and the companies that wrote checks should be commended — without them, the U.S. would have been AWOL. (That may be unthinkable, except that it has already occurred: In 2000, the U.S. was a no-show at the World Expo in Hanover, Germany. And in 2005, when the Expo was held near Nagoya, Japan, Toyota’s hometown, only the automaker’s largess made it possible for the U.S. to participate.)
So, some dimwits in Congress decided that public funding, meaning tax dollars, shouldn’t be used for nation building. Unless of course it has something to do with Iraq. Meanwhile, the LA Timers reports:
By contrast, the U.S. pavilion has all the appeal of a suburban multiplex. (It was designed by Clive Grout, a Canadian who specializes in “attraction” architecture.)
But the real problem is inside the building, where bland ideas reign. On giant video screens, spokespeople for corporate sponsors such as Chevron and PepsiCo spout platitudes about the future, and a little girl gets her neighbors to help her turn a rubbish-strewn lot into a garden. When a thunderstorm appears over the garden, seats in the auditorium shake and a bit of rain falls from the rafters. It’s a cute gimmick, but the exhibition designers used it five years ago in Japan, that time to spice up a video about Benjamin Franklin.
Bland and boring. Our marketing at work in the global economy.