Thursday, February 26, 2015

The superhero World's Fair, 1939-1940 : the American monomyth personified

New York City has held only two World's Fairs, both very famous, one in 1939-1940 and one in 1964-1965.

Naturally both have been much dissected.

However I have never seen them exposed for displaying America's deeply ingrained 'go-it-alone' and 'we're above communal law and democracy' superhero-superpower attitude to a T.

After a convention signed in 1928, the world's states all agreed that a bureau based in Paris would ensure there weren't costly and competitive nationalistic train-wrecks in the planning and timing of highly expensive international World's Fairs.

All the world's nations belong to the bureau with a few exceptions : currently, for example, the Caliphate of ISIS and the Caliphates of Canada and the US are not members.

Among the rules all nations - or almost all - have agreed to adhere to : a maximum of one World's Fair per nation per ten years, fairs only to be held for six months, no rents to be charged to the exhibiters.

These rules are designed to protect smaller nations and smaller cities from the world class cities of the biggest nations dominating world fairs, thereby gaining all the hegemonic publicity and tourist dollars resulting .

New York City, America is the biggest world city in the biggest superpower nation.

And its behavior with world fairs shows the value and the limits to such world wide agreements : for NYC's elites didn't feel bound by any such petty rules, even if reached after a globally communal and democratic discussion.

Scholars Jewett and Lawrence have long suggested that American has refined itself a variant on Joseph Campbell's supposedly universal myth of the Hero with a Thousand Faces ; one they call the American Monomyth.

This hero does not, a la Campbell's thesis, venture out from our normal world into a supernatural world, win his spurs and return with a 'boon' for his community.

You've already seen their variant a billion or so times on American TV, in movies and in western novels and comic books etc.

In it, the formerly harmonious community is itself in grave danger - as much (in the superhero's mind) from its democratically minded willingness to publicly discuss and debate solutions while a crisis looms, as from the crisis itself.

Sometimes, he reasons, you must break the law to save the law - so he singlehandedly breaks the law and defeats the foe.

Then he quietly leaves the community to fight another loner's extralegal battle for truth and justice.

Superman fits this bill - as does George W Bush.

But so too, do the two NYC World's Fairs.

They rejected the Bureau rule that because America had just held a World's Fair in a one of its smaller cities that New York and America would have to wait its turn ten years away.

They rejected the limit of six month fairs designed to avoid the biggest cities sucking up all the tourist dollars - the two NYC fairs were each two years affairs.

They rejected the Bureau rule that no exhibiter was to be charged rent - designed to ensure the smallest nations could afford to send an exhibit.

They charged rent and this resulted in the most noted exhibits being not those of the big nations - let alone those of the tiny nations - but rather those of rich and powerful corporations.

The 1940 fair is often remembered because of the recent debut of Superman and of the first fan-driven Sci Fi convention, one held in the same place and time.

Ironic that the Fair itself was, in its own confidently arrogant way, as much a 'superhero', in the negative sense of the term, as anything the comicbook boys could dream up ...

No comments:

Post a Comment