The 1939 New York World’s Fair

The New York World’s Fair was a spectacle to say the least. To be honest, I had little to no information on the Fair before we discussed it in class. The idea of a World’s Fair seemed relatively mundane to me, as I have grown up with places like Disney World’s Epcot being prevalent. In addition to this, the connection of the modern world due to technology has made the “mystery” of other cultures lose its luster. What intrigues me the most about World Fairs is the idea of what pursuing what things could be, rather than what they actually are. The attractions at the World Fair in 1939 were obscure, fascinating, and in some ways frowned upon in the lens of modern eyes. This articles provided by Daily News and Wired showed the good, the bad, and the ugly that came with this shining eyesore of the late 1930s.

Some of the exhibits, such as the giant waterfall, were beautiful in their own right. But this was not the case for every portion of the Fair. Many of their “attractions” were things that many found, and still find, comparable to a car accident. By this I mean that it’s not something that should be looked at, but you still do anyhow. The best example of this in the article provided is the nude women that were “shown off” as an “attraction”. The article notes that “even in 1939, naked women still drew a crowd”. But what fascinated me was the controversy that came with it, yet the creators of the Fair still continued with it as a key piece to the fair. When looking objectively, this made sense. The goal of the World Fair was to draw attention, and women in the nude did just that. However, it came with boo’s and controversy, as “the News’ initial coverage of the fair includes an item headlined, “Crowds Boo Clothes, Cheer Nude Dancers.” The “dancers” encapsulated what the Fair is remembered by: a misfire of an event meant to show what the future would look like. While the Fair did bring functional ideas to the world, such as the Nylon pantyhose mentioned in the article, the Fair was an unnecessary exhibit of a futurist fever-dream.

As I continued to think about the Fair as a whole, however, I realized that I was looking at this all wrong. While the timing of the Fair was marginal at best due to the second World War brewing near, it did inspire many “fairs” that we know today. Disney World has made a fortune on the concept that the 1939 World Fair was built upon: a thirst for the unknown. I began to take the Fair as a giant (and expensive) art exhibit. Other cultures and future ideals fill the minds of everyone around us, and the Fair gave people a canvas to show people what things COULD be. While we know many of these things did not pan out, it is easy to look at the Fair with 20/20 vision. The Fair was a compilation of both culture and an intoxicating fascination of what those involved did not know, and it gives everyone a consistent reminder that people have always been driven by obscurity and grandeur.

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