Back in the day, the World’s Fair was a global showcase of innovation and a peerless cultural event where visitors envisioned a neon future filled with technological wonders. These international expos featured miracle inventions and opportunities to explore new ideas, but also on display were useless gizmos, silly stunts (who’s ready for a game of topless donkey ping pong?), and some of the most unattractive towers people have ever built. Worse yet, a dismal thread of racism runs through the history of fairs, and in recent times, faux sustainability has become a recurring theme. Explore the diminishing marginal returns of both World’s Fairs and technology in general, and consider what’s next as dreams of a high-tech utopia go the way of the animatronic dinosaurs. For episode notes and more information, please visit our website.

Transcript

Jason Bradford

I’m Jason Bradford.

Asher Miller

I’m Asher Miller.

Rob Dietz

And I’m Rob Dietz. Welcome to Crazy Town where your favorite ride at the amusement park is the self-driving bumper cars.

Melody Travers

This is producer Melody Travers. In this season of Crazy Town, Rob, Jason, and Asher are exploring the watershed moments in history that have led humanity into the cascading crises we face in the 21st century. Today’s episode is about World’s Fairs, the diminishing returns of technology, and bizarre notions of progress. The watershed moment took place in 1851. At the time, the estimated carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 285 parts per million, and the global human population was 1.24 billion.

Jason Bradford

All right, you guys, you ever tried to explain to somebody at a bar or family event how you think about the world and the state of it, and our predicament? It’s kind of deep,

Asher Miller

I do when I want people to clear out.

Rob Dietz

Right. If I’m at a party or a bar or something, I try to keep it a little lighter than my worldview.

Asher Miller

I’m an introvert. So I totally pull that card out because then people clear away.

Jason Bradford

Well, you know, the typical reaction I get, and I don’t know about you, it’s like, “Nah, don’t worry about it that much. They’ll think of something.”

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, we did an entire episode on that a couple of seasons ago, right? There was like solar roadways and all this weird technology.

Jason Bradford

Precisely. You’re a good archivist for Crazy Town.

Rob Dietz

I’ve got to be good for something.

Jason Bradford

We’re gonna visit this theme again. But in the spirit of this season, we’re going to pinpoint the historic moment when this crazy type of thinking got going.

Rob Dietz

Okay.

Asher Miller

Yeah, well, that’s interesting. I guess I should be prepared for getting mad because this stuff pisses me off like nothing else.

Jason Bradford

Why so?

Asher Miller

Because it’s intellectual laziness. It’s capitulation. It’s being delusional.

Rob Dietz

I really thought we could just talk about your anger issues here.

Asher Miller

Is this an intervention.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, that’s right.

Rob Dietz

You’re sort of like the new envisioning of the Incredible Hulk. You’re always angry.

Jason Bradford

Well, right. I mean, this is this way of thinking is pretty ingrained in our culture. And today, we’re going to argue that this got going, it got a huge push at least, from an invention in the year 1851. And this invention is ongoing. It’s something that still happens today, but in a very diminished cultural importance. We’re talking about World’s Fairs.

Rob Dietz

World’s Fair.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Have either of you been to a World’s Fair?

Rob Dietz

No, no. Not once. I’ve witnessed the aftermath of several World’s Fairs. So yeah, then I guess maybe the afterbirth of them?

Jason Bradford

If you’ve been to any major city in North America or Europe you’ve probably seen the consequence.

Asher Miller

I’ve climbed the Eiffel Tower.

Jason Bradford

There you go. There you go.

Rob Dietz

Like on the outside? You climbed it?

Asher Miller

I did. Yeah. I was in a James Bond film.

Rob Dietz

I thought you were like King Kong, sort of going up the outside.

Asher Miller

Well you just talked about me being Hulk.

Jason Bradford

It’d be cool if you base jumped it. Anyway. All right. So let me introduce you to this first World’s Fair. They’re also called expositions, or now they’re called World Expos. But anyhow, the same thing.

Asher Miller

They’re called the Montreal Expos.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, very good. Very good.

Rob Dietz

Ahh. The baseball team.

Jason Bradford

Yes. So 1851. This was in London. And it sort of set the standard. It was huge. It was a sprawling complex in Hyde Park London. This place called the Crystal Palace.

Asher Miller

I lived across the street from Hyde Park when I lived in London.

Jason Bradford

Oh really, Well you can’t see the Crystal Palace anymore. It burned down.

Rob Dietz

It doesn’t seem like you could have seen it then. It’s a Crystal Palace. You should be looking right through it.

Jason Bradford

Right. Well, that was spectacular. They were using plate glass for the first time en masse. So that was an amazing invention of the period. And this thing was gigantic, almost a million square feet.

Asher Miller

So like a small Amazon warehouse now.

Jason Bradford

I mean, at the time, a million square feet, it’s huge. Multiple floors, cast iron framing.

Rob Dietz

It’s probably like the size of the mansion that the head of Amazon lives in.

Jason Bradford

And so you know, there were about 100,000 objects on display, more than 10 miles you had to walk. There were 15,000 contributors. This thing went on – this World’s Fair went on for six months. There were millions of people in attendance from 25 different nations. And it’s fascinating. It had to be put together very quickly and this gardener who had been designing glass houses, greenhouses, in London at the time, ended up coming with a proposal that was accepted. And he just produced the biggest, essentially greenhouse the world had ever seen. And that’s where the exposition was in. And the drawings that they have at the time are just spectacular. It’s just hard to imagine something this size with these displays from all over the world.

Rob Dietz

So too bad that he couldn’t have built your greenhouse so that we could have used that double duty for broadcasting this podcast.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. It gives me an idea of what I should do. I should sponsor a World’s Fair on the farm. Well, okay. So what I’m getting at is this was a huge deal early on in the history of these expos. Millions of people showing up. In fact, the first one in London had about 6 million. In Montreal in 1967, okay, 50 million people showed up. And Canada’s population at the time was only 20 million.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I mean, that’s important, maybe the percentage of population. But I was thinking like, how hard was it to get to London back then. It’s not like you’d hop on the plane or take the high speed rail or whatever, you know.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So these were huge draws, obviously. They were giant important cultural events.

Rob Dietz

Well, what I think is the best thing to look at in the World’s Fair is all the awesome inventions. It’s kind of like going into, what’s the name? Q in the James Bond movies and seeing what what cool stuff is on display. So, I mean, and you you already mentioned the plate glass.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, plate glass. We take that for granted nowadays. But that was a big deal, obviously.

Asher Miller

Let’s talk about two that might be the biggest deals of any inventions ever if you think about it.

Jason Bradford

Okay.

Asher Miller

One is the telephone, right? That was that was debuted in Philadelphia in 1876.

Jason Bradford

Party lines.

Asher Miller

Graham Bell. Yeah, that’s what it led to.

Rob Dietz

976 numbers.

Asher Miller

And then electric lights.

Jason Bradford

Oh my gosh. I use those every day.

Asher Miller

Two years later.

Rob Dietz

1878 in Paris. So I did ask us, let’s look for some of our favorite things that showed up, and made their debut at a World’s Fair. And for me in 1878, I also wanted to note that the microphone came online. And of course, that’s huge. I mean, look, our listeners would not be getting this fabulous content if we didn’t have these microphones in front of our face.

Jason Bradford

I mean, 1878 might have been like one of the greatest. But go through some other inventions besides just that one.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, that was in Paris. In 1878, that’s when they came out with the Statue of Liberty, the phonograph, braille, you said electric lights, an ice making machine, and a solar concentrator engine.

Asher Miller

Wow.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So that engine, the solar concentrator, that was the gold medal winner. And it was fascinating because the inventor was looking ahead to when coal reserves and oil reserves would deplete.

Rob Dietz

That silly man.

Asher Miller

He was just a little ahead of his time.

Jason Bradford

He was a little ahead of time. So people were like, “Eh. Whatever.” So  yeah, turning to coal and oil, the petrol car

Rob Dietz

What the hell is petrol?

Jason Bradford

Well, diesel – You can have diesel or gasoline, right? Gas in a petroleum car.

Asher Miller

Ask a European, buddy.

Jason Bradford

That’s Paris 1889. And then, a few years later, it was the dishwasher in ’93. I use that every day.

Rob Dietz

Great, great inventions.

Asher Miller

Okay. So, one of my favorites, just because it’s sort of post carbon ready. If the power goes out, I could still use this invention. And that’s the escalator.

Jason Bradford

Genius. I mean, all the shopping malls are still available.

Asher Miller

Yeah, you know, just walk up it if it stops working.

Rob Dietz

And I don’t think the inventor of the escalator realized what an awesome role it would have in movies. You know, like you ever see “Total Recall” where they’re chasing Arnold Schwarzenegger on the escalator? And he’s using all the people on it as human shields while they’re shooting at him. I mean, that seems –

Asher Miller

Is that “Total Recall” or is that the one where he’s the dad in the mall?

Rob Dietz

Well, it’s probably in that too. That’s what I’m saying. It appears over and over in chases down and up escalator. Yeah, it’s huge for the movie industry.

Jason Bradford

Trump announces his presidency –

Asher Miller

Exactly. The peak moment of escalator.

Rob Dietz

Well, you know, not every single invention was quite as awesome as the escalator. I mean, the next one that I kind of took note of was the picture phone. Which although, you know, was sort of influential. We are using all these things like FaceTime and Zoom and whatnot these days. But back then it was like this honkin’ thing on the desk and they didn’t show this but I bet you there was a 10,000 pound camera somewhere on site to make that work.

Jason Bradford

Another ahead of its time invention in 1964. I mean, just think about how bad TVs were then.

Asher Miller

Yeah. I want to talk about the sort of the pinnacle of probably all World’s Fairs debuts and that is –

Rob Dietz

Cherry Coke.

Jason Bradford

Well, Rob, you should be – I mean, that’s from Atlanta, right?

Asher Miller

1982

Rob Dietz

Well, what genius thought of the idea to add cherry or cherry syrup to Coke? I mean, that’s on the level of inventing electric light or the telephone, right?

Jason Bradford

Yeah. But what about 1985, buddy? I mean, we went to ballgames, we were kids.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah, jumbotron 1985.

Rob Dietz

And again, a huge advance in technology making a really big version of something we already had all over the world.

Jason Bradford

Unbelievable.

Asher Miller

There’s nothing better than going to an event and instead of watching it live right in front of your face, you look up at a screen to see it.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. When you gotta watch people kissing as they play the “Kiss Me” song, or whatever. Or you gotta watch those proposals of marriage that fail in front of a crowd of 50,000.

Asher Miller

Yeah, that’s right. Well, maybe we can end on an invention that, you know, has yet to be proven. You know, yet to prove itself. But I still have hope in this, and our buddy, Arnold Schwarzenegger. And that is, the hydrogen car.

Jason Bradford

I hate the hydrogen car.

Asher Miller

2001, baby.

Jason Bradford

Well that’s fascinating because I remember that was really pushed around UC Davis around that time. So soon after it was invented it was like on campus in California. I was a visiting scholar.

Jason Bradford

Well, you can drive your hydrogen car now.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. What are we up to? At least 50% of all vehicles on the road or something like that? Is that what we’re talking about? Yeah, not quite.

Asher Miller

Maybe 50. Five – Zero.

Rob Dietz

Total cars. Well, you know, this is the case of diminishing returns, which we’re gonna get back to in a bit. But, you’re seeing that the technology goes from sort of world changing to oh, we tweaked this, we dropped a cherry in the drink.

Asher Miller

But, you know, it’s not just the inventions for these World’s Fairs that that made them so important and relevant for a long time. You know, a lot of it was culturally focused as well. And I mean, art and exposure to different peoples from different parts of the world before people could really travel far and wide. Certainly before the internet, the advent of film, this is a way for people to be exposed to completely different types of culture.

Rob Dietz

Sure. So I’m often described as the wet blanket guy. And I’m gonna do that to you right here. Because you guys know about in 1939? The big cultural thing at the San Francisco World’s Fair was Sally Rand’s nude ranch where customers could watch topless cowgirls ride donkeys while playing ping pong.

Asher Miller

You just made all that up.

Rob Dietz

No, I did not. So Jason, I know you want to recreate that later today on the farm, but please refrain.

Asher Miller

I would be happy- Look, I’d be happy to be the first one to jump on the donkey.

Jason Bradford

I just don’t want to get this anywhere near the glass house. You know, keep those away from the glass house. But yeah, right. You have all this European culture. And then of course, the crass Americans come in with the nude donkey ranch.

Asher Miller

Sally Rand’s nude donkey ranch.

Jason Bradford

But, you know, thinking about this, and also the culture and social issues, that was a big deal. The United Nations was a 20th century invention, right? And before that, how would these countries get together and think about trade relationships and labor and other human rights issues? Well, it was that these World’s Fairs. So a lot of progressive social issues are actually dealt with there. And so there are these documents that are produced in addition to all of the technology and all the arts and commercial products on display. And not only on display like temporarily, but by golly, we’ve all been to cities probably where the World’s Fairs, the Expos, have obvious long term changes. And probably the most prominent place this occurred was in Paris, which sets the record. It’s hosted the most World’s Fairs or Expos.

Asher Miller

Really?

Jason Bradford

Yeah. They’ve hosted six. All between the years 1855 and 1947. And these have absolutely transformed Paris. So the first metro line was put in. A bridge over the Seine. Tons of monuments have been put in museums, parks, and my favorite the Eiffel Tower.

Rob Dietz

Well, so as you’re listing this off, you can see that a city can maybe become more grand. The Eiffel Tower is beloved, of course. But let’s get real here for a second because there’s a lot of crud that gets slapped around during World’s Fairs too. You guys know of some of the phallic other towers that –

Jason Bradford

Oh yeah. I mean that the Space Needle in the Seattle. I think that was a 1962 World’s Fair.

Rob Dietz

And well, the Space Needle is actually pretty damn elegant compared to what comes after. You got the Tower of the Americas in San Antonio.

Jason Bradford

Never heard of it.

Rob Dietz

It’s not so in my nature really to make fun of a particular place, but this tower is like the poor man’s Space Needle.

Asher Miller

Talk about diminishing returns. We go from the Eiffel Tower, to the different phallic symbols that are just like going downhill.

Rob Dietz

So the Tower of the Americas looks like you could hit the base of it with a sledgehammer and the whole thing would fall down. And then you go from that to the Knoxville World’s Fair in 1982 with the Sunsphere which is a cylinder with a big disco ball on top of it.

Jason Bradford

And that was a specialized Fair. So it didn’t have the status of the grand World’s Fair, but it was important.

Asher Miller

Wait, that was 1982?

Rob Dietz

1982, Knoxville.

Asher Miller

So didn’t disco die by 1982?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I don’t know.

Asher Miller

They’re way behind.

Rob Dietz

I don’t know what they were thinking. The Simpsons in its early years actually did a total parody on the Knoxville World’s Fair. Basically, Bart and his buddies got hold of a driver’s license. And they were thinking, well, we could go anywhere, where should we go? And they got a travel guide that was talking about the 1982 Knoxville World’s Fair. And they didn’t realize that it was ’82, or they thought it was still going on. So they drive down there, they get to that Sunsphere, and it’s a wig shop. Yeah, maybe we can play a little clip from that.

The Simpsons Clip

We’re on the homestretch. Next up, the Knoxville World’s Fair and it’s fabulous Sunsphere. Hurry up we’ve only got four days spend at the – . Umm . . .Excuse me? Is this the World’s Fair Visitor Center?

The Simpsons Clip 2

Used to be. Back in 1982? You’re 14 years too late.

The Simpsons Clip 1

What about the Sunsphere?

The Simpsons Clip 2

You mean the Wigsphere. You’re welcome to go out there if you want to see 16,000 boxes of unsold wigs.

The Simpsons Clip 1

I hate this place.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, and then one of the characters ends up knocking the Sunsphere down by throwing a rock at it.

Jason Bradford

Well, then, of course, you know, the latest one was in Korea, I think. And that thing looks like it’s about 40 feet tall.

Asher Miller

Okay, so we’re making fun of some of this stuff. But, you know, the World’s Fairs, and I think you touched on this a little bit, Jason. They really were a means of promoting international trade and exchange, you know. The promulgation of innovations. You had Alexander Graham Bell going from Philadelphia, where he just launched the telephone, and he took it to Paris a couple of years later. Sort of spread it internationally.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. And, but there was this tension that was noted very early on. At the first World’s Fair even there were commentators, and some were waxing about these idealistic visions of spreading progress throughout the world and how wonderful this was to bring the world together with peace and commerce and technology. And then, the next town over the paper is basically talking about how those foreigners are going to rip off our intellectual property. We’re idiots. I mean, it’s like identical to what happens today, right?

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, I think you’re making a little turn here Jason toward some of the downsides of World’s Fair. I mean, maybe that’s a pretty minor one, the idea of, “Hey you’re ripping off my awesome invention,” but there’s some other stuff that I think we got to delve into now. I don’t know. Did you guys ever read that book by, I think it’s Lars Erickson –

Asher Miller

It’s Erik Larson. Same thing. Close. If you’re dyslexic it works.

Rob Dietz

The book is called “Devil in the White City.” And it’s about the World’s Fair in Chicago. And they built a bunch of white buildings. But they don’t just talk about the World’s Fair, they talk about how this serial killer is basically stalking the scene. So it’s kind of a, I don’t know… maybe Larson had a good sense of some of the downsides that come with World’s Fairs.

Asher Miller

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s kind of hard, maybe, to blame the World’s Fair for serial killers.

Rob Dietz

So wait, every World’s Fair doesn’t have its… This is like the mascot for the Olympics, but it’s the serial killer for the World’s Fairs.

Jason Bradford

Oh, the mascots for the World’s Fairs are hysterical by the way. If you want to go look at those.

Asher Miller

Yeah well, talk about dark sides, let’s talk about the exploitation of people. I mean, maybe the best example of this is at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. It was the centennial. The 100th anniversary of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase. So they called it the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. And it was attended by more than 19 million people. So it was one of the biggest ones I think we ever hosted in United States. And, you know, people raved about the, I think it was like a 22 story high ferris wheel that they had there. And, you know, the public debut of the X-Ray machine, the ice cream cone –

Rob Dietz

I bet they just lined people up to go get X-Rayed. Just getting bombarded by radiation.

Asher Miller

But the real dark side to this thing was that they, in kind of the true spirit of Louisiana Purchase, you know, where we colonized the western half or two thirds of the United States, they brought in 1000’s of indigenous peoples from around the world and put them on public display at this World’s Fair. It was basically like a giant human zoo. And they actually got the cooperation of the scientific community you know. This is around the time where there’s a lot of fucked up eugenics shit. And, you know, scientific study. We’ve talked about this. And maybe the best, sort of awful example of this is this Congolese man that they put on display. I think his name was Ota Benga. And they sort of presented him as this pygmy from Africa. And in his tribe they actually did have a tradition of sharpening their front teeth to points. And so they put him on display. And then after the World’s Fair there, they sent him to the zoo in New York, right. And he thought he was going there to actually be a caretaker of this elephant that they had there. But instead, they actually put him on display, you know, as like, an exhibit at the zoo. And in fact, the New York Times heralded the exhibit with a headline, “Bushman shares a cage with Bronx Park apes.”

Jason Bradford

That’s incredible.

Asher Miller

Just terrific.

Rob Dietz

You can’t . . . I mean . . . It’s just so heinous. It’s hard to even comment. And it’s crazy that, I don’t know. Is the New York Times the paper of record or whatever? You know, that they are, “Yeah. This is great. This is fine.”

Asher Miller

You know, talking about sort of the display of peoples, and there other examples at World’s Fairs.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, it’s not just St. Louis. It was all over.

Asher Miller

Yeah, just really disturbing. But the other thing I think we just need to point out, as you talked about, Jason, the sort of the economic development that came — it’s a little like when cities host the Olympics now or something. The exploitation of labor. Bringing people in often in terrible working conditions. I think there are stories about African American workers in Chicago and the way that they were treated, and just this sort of underbelly that is not visible to people necessarily, but it’s definitely part of the picture.

Rob Dietz

I’ve always wondered about that when you see something as big as a World’s Fair, or whatever. I have never been to one but like at Disney World. What do the steam tunnels underneath that place look like? How massive of a horrible work setting is there for them?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, and that tension was brought forth by the labor movement to try to like force rights improvements, because they often had to be put together very quickly under duress, and they had the attention of the world and so they often use this then as also springboards for supposed improvements, but there definitely was that problem with all these. And the other thing is, I sort of think of these as early versions of like these Las Vegas consumer conventions, right? That everyone just goes nuts about and there’s all these gadgets and these are the write ups and news reports covering – what’s the giant electronic convention called? I don’t even know but –

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I only know the Comicon one. Maybe there’s some portion of that with the cultural . . .

Jason Bradford

But this was akin to that and so it really then was propelling consumerism obviously. So not only did you have these great inventions, but you had often the companies that were then marketing them and selling them, right? Like cherry coke for gosh sakes. I mean early toilets for example were shown here. There was great inventions like this

Asher Miller

Showing people the toilet. “Don’t sit on that! It’s just for display!”

Jason Bradford

Well the London, the very first one, had the first public toilets, flush toilets.

Rob Dietz

Public? Like no walls, or what?

Asher Miller

What you didn’t realize is you were actually on display when you went in there. They use a plate glass you know?

Rob Dietz

Oh, they used the 1964 picture phone with the toilet.

Asher Miller

Two way mirror. Yeah, you’re talking about propelling consumerism. This is I think one of the reasons we wanted to bring the first World’s Fair up as this sort of watershed moment in the history that brought us here to where we are today and it really is such a testament to this sort of like almost religious devotion to progress, right. I mean, so much of the, almost the propaganda of these World’s Fairs and Expos was really around this idea of like, look at all these inventions and the future that’s coming. And I think that maybe the ultimate expression of that was the 1939 World’s Fair.

Jason Bradford

In New York City, I believe right?

Asher Miller

Yeah, there was this display called Futurama. In fact, they did a Futurama 2 later but –

Rob Dietz

Wow, that’s like, right on the brink of World War II.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, you’ve got a lot of tension in the room.

Asher Miller

And, Futurama was this exhibit that was sponsored by General Motors. They hired this guy who had actually done a previous exhibit for Shell, right. So hand in hand fossil fuel interests there. And he created this, like enormous scale model city, creating a vision for a city of the future. I think a city from 1960, which seemed far off to them then. And it was the largest scale model ever constructed. I think might still be the largest. It included more than 500,000 buildings in this scale. A million trees and 50,000 motor vehicles. Some of them were like actually moving around, right. And what it really represented was sort of the modern city, a vision of the modern city and suburbia.  It was all built around a highway system. And it had all these like cutting edge technologies, you know, multi lane highways.

Rob Dietz

I bet you they didn’t have nearly as many lanes as a current highway in say, LA or Atlanta or something.

Asher Miller

Sure. But you know, they had these semi-automated vehicles, they had power plants, they had farms for artificially produced crops. They had platforms on the roofs of buildings for flying machines.

Jason Bradford

Oh awesome. By 1960 we were supposed to have flying cars. The Jetsons.

Rob Dietz

You’re really making me think of Walt Disney. Either of you guys ever been to Walt Disney World?

Jason Bradford

Disney Land.

Asher Miller

I’ve been Wally World.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, you showed up and couldn’t get in.

Asher Miller

Exactly.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, so then you know, Jason, about Tomorrowland.

Jason Bradford

I think there’s something like Futurama at Disneyland in the LA area.

Rob Dietz

And I think the philosophy at Walt Disney was right in on this. He had this whole notion of wanting to actually build a future city that he called the experimental prototype community of tomorrow. Which if you take that acronym, it becomes Epcot. And the Epcot Center that was developed in 1982 in Orlando, Florida, was the bad Disney park manager’s realization of Walt Disney’s original vision for this place. And I gotta just tell you guys, so I had an aunt who lived in that part of the world, and we would go visit and Epcot was on the horizon. So my parents actually got this poster and they put it up in our house and it said something like: “On October 1st 1982, Tomorrow is Coming, or the Future is Here”

Jason Bradford

It was right next to your Farrah Fawcett Majors poster.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And so we had this Epcot poster, and I think it was either the year it opened or the next year. So I was like 10, or 11. We went to Epcot Center. And I had this big anticipation because the poster looked like some futuristic space thing. And it was such a letdown when we got there. I wanted to tell you specifically about this pavilion there, the Universe of Energy. And so this was a special area and a ride that was sponsored, of course, by Exxon.

Asher Miller

So the Universe of Energy was narrowed down to very specific energy types.

Rob Dietz

Well, and this this thing was available from 1982 to 2004. And it explored the world of energy through these big film presentations. And I remember me and my sister, my parents just let us roam the park. So we went in and we got on this ride, and you’re in the dark on this slow moving bench, essentially. And it just takes you into a jungle, a fake jungle, and you can see these like, really crappy steam machines. They are really noisy. They like, “Shhhh,” and then this pile of steam hits you in the face and it smells bad. And there’s dinosaurs around and they’re like that really bad animatronic stuff.

Asher Miller

Is it supposed to be like a historical review? Like this is where fossil fuels came from or something like that?

Rob Dietz

I think that’s basically what they were saying. The world of energy is dinosaurs. It was really – I remember at the time – it was really boring. It was just a terrible thing for an amusement park and not real informative. And the weird thing is, you know, it took them so long to replace it. And finally in 1996, that became “Ellen’s Energy Adventure,” which featured Ellen DeGeneres.

Asher Miller

Because she’s an energy expert.

Rob Dietz

And Bill Nye the Science Guy. But then here’s the really crazy part. It closed in 2017 and got replaced with Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.

Jason Bradford

Oh my gosh.

Rob Dietz

So, you know, you go from this World’s – I don’t know, think of Epcot as almost like a permanent World’s Fair, except commercialized maybe even more. And then it goes from trying to explain energy, even if it’s tainted by the corporate view down to a goofy Marvel movie.

Asher Miller

Well, and it’s actually, I mean, we lament on Crazy Town all the time about the lack of energy literacy. I don’t know how good of a job that was doing being sponsored by Exxon Mobil.

Rob Dietz

Oh that’s why I’m here now.

Asher Miller

But at least there was some attempt, you know. I mean now whatever –

Jason Bradford

Guardians.

Asher Miller

Exactly. We’re gonna be in space.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, you get it from those little Infinity Stones. That’s where the energy comes from.

Jason Bradford

Well, you know that the irony, of course, is that we don’t have flying cars, we don’t have hydrogen cars, we haven’t figured out how to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. The whole infrastructure of modern society is sort of crumbling, in a sense, like the Expo architecture in a sense of which you see in cities like Knoxville, or whatever, and these theme park displays that obviously have a life to them. It just kind of reminds us that at the same time that they were putting these people on display, these colonial nations were like trotting out, “Yeah, here’s the people I’ve got from Africa in my realm.” And it’s ironic because they were sort of making fun of them.

Asher Miller

Yeah, they’re juxtaposing them to this new technology that was supposedly –

Jason Bradford

– this grand society.

Rob Dietz

Well, and you had this photo that you shared, Asher, that had these sort of fat white guys in bowler hats and suits looking at some Indigenous people in a pen.

Asher Miller

Yeah, outside kind of a fenced area.

Rob Dietz

And I mean, the whole thing is weird because those guys in a bowler hats look like some kind of nut jobs as well.

Asher Miller

They’re staring at though –

Rob Dietz

The whole thing is just surreal.

Jason Bradford

Well the irony, of course, is that the World’s Fair culture, in a sense, is a culture that is going to go the way of this Epcot display. Whereas these people who were put on display to make fun of, they had these cultures that had been persisting for 1000’s of years. And in many respects, they’re the ones we have to learn from now.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, well, it’s funny, because the World’s Fairs. I mean, you’re talking about how over time we eroded something that sort of needs to stick around. But there’s another trend that’s happened over the whole course of the World’s Fairs, too. And it’s the classic case of diminishing returns. Which, you know, any economics student will have studied the idea of diminishing marginal returns. And simply, I find the simplest way to describe it is with pizza and beer. If you’re hungry, and you order a pizza, and you got a pitcher of beer, and you pour yourself a glass, you eat that slice, you drink a beer. You’re like, “Ah, that was really satisfying.

Jason Bradford

The first drink and the first slice are the best.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, let me have another. And the next one’s okay, but not great. By the time you get to the 27th slice, you’re vomiting all over yourself.

Asher Miller

I mean, that’s what happened with my cocaine addiction.

Rob Dietz

Exactly. So, you know, you see that in the technology even. The simplest, coolest part of a World’s Fair. You know, you go down that list from the most amazing, earth shattering world changing-

Asher Miller

They were transformational inventions.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. Things that really –  and it just gets kind of dimmer and dimmer as you go on.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, they’re less impressive as you go on. But there seems to be this attempt right now to use these World’s Fairs. And they’ve turned towards sustainability as a major theme. And it’s very ironic because it’s coming from this culture that has no clue what that means. And there’s actually a special kind of World’s Fair, they’re called the horticultural World Fairs. And it’s fascinating. I don’t know exactly what the history is. But these –

Asher Miller

Sponsored by Archer Daniel Midland and . . .

Rob Dietz

Monsanto.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, the Netherlands are very much involved in these. I love them, but they are in other places as well. So for example – This gives you an example of what’s going on. They’re taking sort of these urban centers, because all these World’s Fairs are about this sort of hyper modern urban culture in a way, right? But how do we make them sustainable and green? So these are themes and mottos of some very recent events. The 2019 Horticultural Expo in Beijing quote, “Live Green, Live Better.”

Asher Miller

Yeah, Beijing.

Jason Bradford

Right. The 2020 World Expo in Dubai quote –

Asher Miller

Oh, another green city.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. “Sustainability: Respecting and living in balance with the world we inhabit to ensure a sustainable future for all.”

Rob Dietz

So that one’s green because they imported a shit-ton of green paint and they’re just painting all the buildings.

Jason Bradford

And this year, in 2022, Horticultural Expo in Amsterdam, quote, “Growing Green Cities.”

Rob Dietz

Oh Amsterdam, the city that has adopted Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics, which says we need to limit the size the economy, is going to grow the green city.

Asher Miller

Well, and I hate to say this to my Dutch brothers, but it’s also a city that’s facing being underwater.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Yeah.

Asher Miller

It’s kinda hard to grow when you’re underwater. I mean, you can grow but –

Jason Bradford

But it’s grasping at straws in a sense. It’s like this idea that we can shove houseplants into urban centers and make them sustainable. I’m overstating, okay.

Rob Dietz

That’s the negative spin. Look, we can shut down this podcast and the three of us just need to hit Beijing, Dubai, and Amsterdam and it’s all solved.

Rob Dietz

Hey, guys, we got a five star review with the subject line, “A binge worthy podcast,” exclamation point. This one is exciting. Okay, so in this review, it says, “The only things keeping me going these days are new episodes of Crazy Town and The Handmaid’s Tale. Both offer a sobering view of our future.”

Asher Miller

I feel so sorry for this person.

Rob Dietz

Well, yeah, but that means you feel sorry for yourself too, because you’re putting out this content. “Both offer a sobering view of our future if we don’t collectively get our act together. And some good old fashioned entertainment.”

Jason Bradford

Excellent.

Asher Miller

Aw, that’s nice.

Jason Bradford

That is nice. And I appreciate people who can stare into the darkness with us, but still do something about it.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Laugh maniacally. Right?

Asher Miller

And how did this person know what outfits we wear?

Rob Dietz

Anyway, thank you so much for leaving us reviews. And I would encourage all our listeners, if you have a chance, a few moments, please go out and do that. It helps others find the podcast.

George  Costanza

Every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.

Jerry Seinfeld

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

Asher Miller

Yeah, so if we’re thinking about doing the opposite, what about doing a World’s Fair? Make a lot of fanfare about this.

Jason Bradford

Different kind of World’s fair. The opposite World’s Fair.

Asher Miller

Yeah. So let’s do like the low-tech World’s Fair. Yeah, so we’ll hire Kris De Decker. For those who don’t know him, Kris has this amazing website, “Low-tech Magazine.”

Jason Bradford

Fascinating stuff.

Asher Miller

Yeah, totally incredible. And maybe we’ll pair Kris with some, you know, Indigenous peoples, let’s say from the Amazon, or maybe from around the world. And they could organize a World’s Fair that is basically about promoting appropriate, responsible, truly sustainable, truly just –

Rob Dietz

Can I bring an invention? Would that be alright? I’ve got an idea for a reusable cup. It’s your hands. You just cup them together. And you can scoop up all the water you want. It’s not good for coffee, okay, or –

Asher Miller

Yeah, you might burn yourself.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, okay, that’s a mighty fine idea. But if you really think of the opposite of the World’s Fair, let’s just go down to the local scale, right? Like the block party –

Jason Bradford

I love block parties.

Rob Dietz

– is really the opposite. Start thinking about investments that build your local economy, places where you can generate ideas, and then you can come up with innovations that actually improve the health of your community. And to me, this is really all about, instead of relying on gadgets and technology and sort of the individual hero inventor or the materialist way of surviving, it’s about relying on your neighbors instead of the technology. And we’d probably be remiss if we didn’t drop a reference here to David Fleming and the work he did. He’s got that book that Shaun Chamberlain has worked on with him.

Asher Miller

“Surviving the Future.”

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And it talks about carnival and the role of it in a sustainable society. But yeah, I mean, partying is great, but it just doesn’t have to be at the worldwide scale.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, I completely agree. And that reminds me when you’re talking about sort of neighborliness, and the importance of that and how people get by, it reminds me of a recent article you actually forwarded to me from the New Yorker that was looking at Wendell Berry and his wife, Tanya and their life.

Rob Dietz

He’s a famous agrarian writer, philosopher, poet, novelist.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. And I know that I’ve met him once, you’ve interacted with a number of times and he is quite fun to be around.

Rob Dietz

Oh, unbelievably funny. He’s this weird kind of person who not only writes incredibly beautifully, but also speaks incredibly beautifully. And Tanya, his wife is funnier than he is, too. They’re such an amazing couple.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. And his daughter as well, who runs the Berry Center. So anyway, I found it fascinating because they talk about how he moves to this place, you know, Kentucky. This rural community and runs a farm, and how important relying on your neighbors was for getting things done. But at the end, also, there’s a tool. So we talked about, you know, the technology we are going to need to rely on. And it’s this tool that is a maul. And basically a maul is like a like a giant hammer that you’re going to, to drive stakes into the ground with, let’s say, and where this maul comes from. And here’s this quote when he’s describing to the author of The New Yorker article this maul and why it’s important.

Asher Miller

What was the maul made out of?

Jason Bradford

It’s made out of a tree. But think about a smallish tree where you dig up around the root ball, and then you hone it down into device where the root ball is the hitting side. You hammer things with the root ball.

Rob Dietz

So this is completely different from say, a maul you would get at a Home Depot, which is a wooden handle with a big metal head just jammed onto the top of it.

Jason Bradford

Exactly. And what’s neat about the root ball is that because all these roots are going different directions, there’s no seams that it splits on. You can hit it from any direction, and there’s no easy way for the thing to split open. So it’s like bulletproof in a sense, or maul proof.

Rob Dietz

Wait, maul proof. Like if you hit that maul with another maul, it won’t break?

Jason Bradford

That’s right.

Asher Miller

You’re talking about like the Mall of America? That kind of mall?

Rob Dietz

Wow. We’re getting confused here. Let’s just call it a big hammer.

Asher Miller

Yeah, nature’s hammer.

Jason Bradford

But I think yeah, let’s end on this quote, because I think this sort of sums up a lot of what we’re getting at here. Wendell Berry writes,

“There is a kind of genius in that maul that belongs to a placed people to make of what is at hand a fine, durable tool at the cost of only skill and work.”

Rob Dietz

We want to give a special thanks to Elana Zuber, our star researcher of the watershed moments through history. Without her work, there’s no way we could have covered such sweeping topics this season.

Asher Miller

Yeah, and we also want to thank her other outstanding volunteers.  Anya Steuer provides original artwork for us, and Taylor Antal prepares the transcripts for each episode.

Jason Bradford

And a big, big thank you to our producer Melody Travers who helps us bozos stay professional.

Rob Dietz

And finally, thanks to you, our listeners. If you want to help others find their way to Crazy Town, please drop us a five star rating and hit that share button when you hear an episode you like.

Jason Bradford

Well folks, a World’s Fair episode demands that we get a sponsor that rises to the occasion. And sure enough, we have. The North Korean Expo 2027 contacted us and I’m very proud of the Nampo City Development Bureau and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Tourism Board because they basically really want to promote that Nampo, North Korea is going to have the World Expo in 2027 with a theme that I think Crazy Town listeners are going to appreciate of sustainable autocracy. And this is going to be one of those fairs that remakes the city of Nampo. One of the key attractions in the works for example, is a tower in the style of the dear leaders hairdo.

Asher Miller

Beautiful.

Jason Bradford

It’s gonna be beautiful. Yeah, on the observation deck, looking at the marching bands and –

Rob Dietz

– just standing on the flat top of his head.

Jason Bradford

I’m looking forward to this. I’m hoping that we can fly to North Korea and that we have passports that work and visas. And I don’t know.

Rob Dietz

Sustainable autocracy.

Jason Bradford

Thousands of people may show up.