Monday, March 1, 2010

White City

White City, which we read about in Trachtenberg's The Incorporation of America, continues to confuse me. I find something strange with a city that was constructed to dazzle the world with its beauty, with a city that was described as a mark of progress, with a "World's Fair" which mistreated and misrepresented certain cultures of our world. While speaking with Jenessa Irvine and Stefanie Fuentes about the paradoxes within White City, Jenessa pointed out that no other structure in America was constructed on such a large scale with the intent that it would be temporary, at least that we know of.

The architects of White City clearly constructed the City to be temporary and as Professor Pohl pointed out, used a sort of plaster to construct some of the statues and the buildings. Our crowning achievement for that decade was a facade.

I suppose that was part of its appeal - in a time where Chicago was suffering from several social ills and economic problems, White City, as Trachtenberg noted, was the model of what a city could become. It was a release from the real world and into a land described as "magical" and simply fantastical. "It lifted the spirits of over 20 million people who paid to visit the exposition just as the Panic of 1893 hit" (1). Yet I do not think it was "magical" in the same sense as Disneyland is magical - but rather magical as, terrible, in a way. White City is a good example of a paradox and reminds me of Hollywood. As a Los Angeles native, I often see Hollywood portrayed as a fashionable entertainment capital, yet I know that all one needs to do is head to the back allies or simply walk off the main street for a while to see how films misrepresent Hollywood.

When one examines what White City conceals (more than it shows) interesting points can be made. I wondered why artists who were commissioned, artists such as Mary Cassatt, were willing to paint a portrait or build a statue that would only be displayed for a short while (and then afterward, probably destroyed). If one examines White City again, there was a lot of crime occurring within and outside White City's brilliant walls that concealed something much darker than the City claimed to be. This link to a National Geographic documentary on "how a murderer in Chicago made an unforgettable mark in history " (2) shows how dangerous White City truly was, and how its dark side was overlooked. When I looked up White City on the Chicago Tribune site (3), the World's Columbian Exposition was praised as honoring "the progress of American civilization" and as "a landmark event, showcasing the city's and country's emerging role in the world". Granted, it was an amazing feat, but it was also an exposition that discriminated against African Americans, women, and other groups. Another page on the Chicago Tribune site, albeit one which shows up further down the list of search results, points out in a couple of sentences that "as a sop to blacks (but also as an attendance booster), fair officials scheduled a Colored People's Day, promising 2,000 free watermelons" (4). White City is still portrayed, at least in my experience, as something to marvel at.


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