WE 2010 : USA Pavilion

With my constant cultural diet of Hollywood, Madonna and KFC, the America Pavilion would’ve naturally been a big draw for me. But I almost didn’t visit the pavilion at all. Being the world’s No. 1 economy, surprisingly, there wasn’t any hype about the USA Pavilion in the line-up of World Expo 2010 must-sees.

Before I visited the USA Pavilion, I wasn’t aware of the controversies and criticisms surrounding it. I found out later that it is 100% sponsored by more than 60 American as well as Chinese businesses and corporations ($0 from the US tax-paying public), and flak was rife for the pavilion’s failure to leave a Titanic impression considering the hefty US$61 million price tag. As much as the biz-wiz paid for the pavilion, it seemed they are also the reason it sank. The inside of the pavilion felt like one big advertisement box.

Some like it, some like it not

The pavilion’s design was supposed to be a metaphoric representation of an eagle with its wings widespread but architects and critiques preferred the description – car dealership. I agree, the grey elephant looks like something I can find at Leng Kee.

I queued for about 2 hours to see 3 show clips and a lot of brand logos… that’s how the Americans became the no.1 economy perhaps? A culture and tradition focused on and encouraging consumerism? Well, at least that’s the message I got. Not that that approach is right or wrong. Just that it makes for one rather boring pavilion. From the country who gave us Avatar. Blame it on Hollywood for setting the bar of expectation.

3 shows & a sponsors' showcase

The 3 short films consisted of a welcome clip where everyday American folks tried to speak Mandarin, a filmlet titled the Spirit of America, and a show about working together for a more beautiful urban living environment.

The shows cost US$23 million to produce, which was more than the cost of production for the Oscar-winning movie, The Hurt Locker. Producers of the 3 clips are probably hurt, and stuffed up in a locker by now since investors decried the value of the shows.

Commercial sponsorships drive the USA Pavilion

While I find the USA Pavilion dull, I must say that no one beats the American is crafting it’s message. Perhaps it’s the big brother to the world mentality that the States is used to that its shows harbour broader concepts such as teamwork and partnership.

It’s not so much what USA can do, but what we can do together. As one world. Sounds like a big PR campaign. But one that rings true and masterfully delivered through President Obama, Hillary Clinton and the use of children.

Here’s a short excerpt on the main show which was projected onto a series of 5 unconventional screens.

It just occurred to me that this post about the United States’ pavilion is posted on September 11. May the grim anniversary reminds us all that harmony and tolerance is not a God-given, but man-driven. Maintaining peace is a lot of hard work!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jeffrey Bingham Mead
    Sep 15, 2010 @ 03:46:35

    I read your comments about the American Pavilion, as well as view images of its interior and exterior. I only learned today that it was designed by a Canadian architect, something I find rather puzzling. I personally have no problem at all with the 100% business sponsorship of the pavilion. What I see in terms of the emphasis on product promotion is an attempt to capitalize on the presence of an estimated 70 million Chinese and other visitors anticipated to visit the Expo. That’s commonly called a “return on the investment.” 🙂

    The architecture of the building does indeed match the image of a car dealership, a a sterile one at that. Very disappointing.

    What is very disappointing, based on the images I’ve seen, is that nothing was included about America’s history and development, its educational system where millions from around the world come to study and immerse themselves in the American experience, culture and other elements that define America and our identity as Americans. Our links to China go back to our independence, and as such it would have been wonderful to have that portrayed in an historical context.


    • Darren Ng
      Sep 17, 2010 @ 18:47:56

      By contrast, the Canadian pavilion looks pretty and a colleague who visited had positive comments. I understand ROI, but I don’t think the returns were high since many of us walked past the hall of brands quickly as there’s nothing to see. They were mostly billboards and TV screens about the sponsoring company.

      In this case, the emphasis on product promotion seem to be the cause of the pavilion being a bore and exhibits about American history and identity were squeezed out. There’s only so much space to exhibit so it’s either one or the other. It’s great that the businesses were willing to sponsor, but blatant promotion serves their corporate interest, not the interest of visitors. Not unless they come together to create a common playground for visitors such as ‘Living in America’ where visitors can experience an American lifestyle with all these products weaved into a game of sorts.


  2. BJ
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 10:41:01

    The USA Pavilion was entirely funded by corporate contributions to a tax-exempt company set up precisely for that purpose. Although the company’s claim to tax-exempt status remains under investigation, for the moment it means that the 60, 70, or 100 million dollars used to create the pavilion and a raft of business-oriented programs over at the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai (AmCham Shanghai) is denied to the US Treasury. Every American taxpayer (other than the corporations and their shareholders) is required to make up the deficit. We funded a six-month infomercial for America’s and China’s largest multinationals — for what? This was not about America. It was about commerce. Period.


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