Friday, April 25, 2014

The World's Fair--Or Is It?

Lately, we've been inundated with images and memories of the 1964 World's Fair in New York. Understandable, since it's the fiftieth anniversary of "the Fair" (as organizer Robert Moses insisted everyone call it in his hearing).  As a predictor of the future, it was so-so. Yes, we're all tapping away at computers (then imagined as necessarily ginormous), but no jet packs. Not yet, anyway. (Too many Belgian waffles, maybe?)

Despite the publicity, it wasn't even officially a World's Fair. Because the Fair violated several international guidelines on the length of the exhibition, scheduling, and fee charging, the Bureau of International Expositions in Paris refused to sanction it. And on top of that (probably because of that), a disappointingly low number of countries actually participated. The Soviet Union declined (okay, it was the Cold War). Indonesia came, but withdrew (again, political tensions).  But Canada and Australia didn't show up, and most of Western Europe gave it a pass. When both Germanys gave the Fair the cold shoulder, a "West Berlin" exhibit suddenly popped up. Guess that showed 'em.

Oh, well.  The party went on anyway. And the international theme was carried forward most memorably by America's number one showman, Walt Disney, in the exhibit "It's a Small World."

Here's the charming story of how it happened. Pepsi-Cola, overwhelmed with respect and love for the world's children, hired Disney to create a ride/show in honor of UNICEF.  The promise--to celebrate the children of the world in each culture, and globally.

And here's the result.

To be honest, I have to admit that when I recall seeing "It's a Small World" at the Fair as a child, all I remember is the experience of total sensory overload. That, and the child seated in front of me, who kept asking "when can we get out?"  At one point, she leaned toward a nodding and dancing animatron and screamed "I hate you!"  So much for peace through understanding.  But I'm sure they sold a lot of Pepsi.

Now, of course, all I can see is the almost unbelievable cultural craziness in this round the world tour.  "The wooden-shoe children of Holland"?  Really?  And "exotic Asia," of course, with its mish-mash of China and Japan, followed up by flying carpets over the Taj Mahal. And "the mysterious dark continent of Africa." And let's just stop there.

Because we could go on and on about how clueless we all were fifty years ago.  The point it, where are we now?  How do we introduce our young students to their peers around the world?  Is it any deeper and more authentic an experience than a ride through a tunnel populated by animatronic dolls?

Still not there yet.  Jet pack, anyone?

Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at  

1 comment:

  1. I remember riding the It's a Small World ride at Disney World, after years of singing along with my Disney record. I think in many ways we're better at introducing the world to students but we've still got a long way to go. We'll get there, though!

    Thanks for participating in the #MyGlobalLife link-up!