Expo 2015 opened in Milan on May 1st – the latest of the five-yearly world’s fairs where the nations of the world build pavilions to showcase national wealth, culture and enterprise.
Wealth and consumerism
Adopting a sceptical take on the expo’s commitment to sustainability is made easier by the inescapable aim of the event which is, as always, to attract tourism which is, almost by definition, consumerist. As you could just as easily say for anything in our consumerist world, the Expo 2015 experience is attainable only for those who can afford it.
Expo 2015 has gone some way in attempting to mitigate for the wealth inequality of its participating nations, however. For example, it has introduced a new “cluster model”, which means that pavilions are not simply organised geographically with national pavilions, but also thematically.
In this new model, poorer states which don’t want to spend considerable amounts of money by having their own pavilion can participate in the expo through a themed one – for example in the areas of rice, coffee or fruit. For non-exhibiting visitors, Expo 2015 is marketed as an opportunity to have a foodie holiday, to be combined perhaps with a nice cooking class at a vineyard or an adventure tour with the whole family. Their associated pollution is not mitigated by expo-funded offsetting, however.
The consumerism represented in the 2015 expo is not unique to Milan, but is recycled from previous world’s fairs. They were, after all, originally a way for empires to display the offerings of culture and consumer goods brought about by imperial expansion and technological progress.This world’s fair continues a tradition of playing out an ideology that simultaneously insists on the unity of humankind and the uniqueness of national cultures. In pavilions, basic versions of national culture are simulated and put on display. These cultures are offered up as tasty dishes on a cultural buffet, where wealthy consumers can pick and choose the bits of culture that they like.As the Expo Milan 2015 website tells us: