Jeffrey Ford’s documentary feature film, Where’s the Fair?, takes a look at the disappearance of the World’s Fair… except that it didn’t disappear at all. A combination of history lesson and study on international politics, the documentary shows that World’s Fairs, most known today under the title of “Expo,” are alive and well for most countries around the globe, just not the United States, who hasn’t hosted a fair since 1984, and whose attendance in fairs and expos since have been well-intentioned at best and lackluster, or entirely nonexistent, at worst.
It’s an eye-opening film (I didn’t know the World’s Fairs were still going on anywhere), and it paints a picture of excitement and innovation on one side and poor planning, embarrassing politics and unwieldy red tape on another. The film shows you how important the fairs have been to history in the U.S., while showing their continued existence elsewhere, before taking you down a frustrating road that showcases every mistake the U.S. has made since they stopped taking the fairs seriously.
And if you’re an American, or have any pride in the United States of America, this documentary will piss you off. Sure, it’d be easy to just arrogantly dismiss world fairs as being unnecessary and unimportant for the U.S., and besides, isn’t the internet good enough for connecting with global communities and cultures, but that’s missing the point. The fairs and expos are a global Show and Tell, where the countries bring their best and brightest to showcase everything that makes them unique in their technology, science, culture and art. It’s a celebration, and it’s also an example of how the rest of the world, more than still interested in attending and participating in the events, will come to know the countries involved. And right now, the world thinks our best and brightest explanation and example of American life and values is a corporate movie theater and gift shop.
Can you imagine if, for the Olympics, the U.S. just sent over high school athletes that could care less about competing? Do you think the country would stand for getting their a***s handed to them in an athletic endeavor, or accept being embarrassed in such a way? What if it turned out the host country paid for the U.S. to participate? There’d be media coverage all over the place, government inquiries, outrage… people wouldn’t stand for it. And yet, on the stage of the World’s Fair or Expo, this is essentially what we’re doing, and what has been done.
As Where’s the Fair? wraps up, we learn that there’s an Expo coming up in 2015 and, as of the making of this film, the U.S. is not involved. Sure, yeah, it can be argued that there’s more important things to spend money and resources on, but those same issues, and often more, affect the rest of the world too. So why can’t the U.S. get it together? As the rest of the world innovates and moves on, the U.S. appears to be sitting in the corner alone, playing with itself. As the film suggests, at best the U.S. is in a state of indifference, but at worst it’s arrogance. How do you think the rest of the world sees it?
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