'The State It's In' - Squall Editorial
Dome Is Dead Donald Duck
February 2000 / Squall Download 3, March/April 2000, pp. 4-5.
If this country loses its ability to laugh at itself then gawd help us. For whilst TV documentaries, chat shows, and idle column inches reverberate with the notion that mainstream England has no identifying culture anymore, the ability to laugh at ourselves should be preciously guarded from similar extinction. Fortunately, we're not short of good material.
It is in this vein we postulate that the project designed to show the world exactly what new Britain is made of, has wound up demonstrating that our renowned aptitude for comedic farce is one of the few remaining mainstream characteristics in good shape. Indeed, for all those who value British humour, this must be the blessing extracted from the curse of the Millennium Dome. A bit of an expensive gag at £818 million (£758 million plus the recent £60 million emergency bail out) but the money's been spent now, despite our protestations, so we might as well get a chuckle out of it.
Indeed, if a satirical script had been written beforehand, then the reality would surely have surpassed it for comedic content. For if this huge Victorianesque folly crammed with corporate logos (many of which are US in origin) represents the "new Britain for the new millennium" then oh dear, maybe Ali G aint enough to keep us smirking through the winter blues. And if the Dome's faltering set of exhibits were supposed to wow the masses like the Festival of Britain did in the relatively pre-technological years of the 1950's, then, ooh missus, what a spectacular custard pie in the face of Britain plc. Richard Branson was certainly having a chortle when the London Eye Ferris wheel sponsored by British Airways, succumbed to technical failure when only a few feet off the ground. The Virgin hot air balloon hovered over the prostrate wheel sporting the huge message: "BA CAN'T GET IT UP."
They still couldn't get it up by the time the actual millennium celebrations came around....the wheel didn't turn and even the lights went on the blink. And so having proved such a leviathon flop, the grand hyperbole farts its pompous way into the graveyard of expensively bad ideas. "The building of the Dome has brought jobs and residential development and it has made a real contribution to the growth of the area," offered Dome minister, Lord Falconer, by way of excuse. Just a moment, we were told the Dome at Greenwich was supposed to show the world what Britain was made of, not just offer some local investment to an area hardly short of a few bob. Little of the jobs or investment helped poorer inner city areas like neighbouring Lewisham. On the other hand future housing development on the site will certainly make money for British Gas. They generously loaned the toxic land on the pretext that the British taxpayer (for we are all thus) would pay to clean up and then hand it back as prime development land after the millennial hot air had expired. If jobs and housing investment is a worthy reason for having spent so much money on a dead duck, then imagine how many jobs and houses could have been secured if the millions had been spent specifically on this purpose.
Even Lord Norman Tebbit couldn't raise any nationalist interest in a project first inititiated by his own party: "What we have got inside seems to be the most awful, Disney style second rate trash. It would have been better to have had something about the UK and what the British people have done." Oh come off it Norm, one of the two McDonald's in the Dome was the thousandth McD burger bar in the country. Something for all free market capitalists to be enthusiastically proud of surely? Indeed, the Dome's obvious parallel with modern day shopping centres, complete with Boots, Marks and Spencer, McDonald's and 'activities for all the family', ought to have at least endeared it to those who love such formulaic commercial monoculture. But there again you don't have to pay £20 to get into the Bluewater shopping centre, so why not go there instead. Although business 'genius' is by far and away the most officially applauded form of 'genius' in Britain plc these days, could it be argued that the Dome was successful at presenting even this unwholesome view of social progress? Having cost £758 million to build (a figure which excludes the further millions spent on associated ventures), we are told the Dome will now be sold for around £100 million. If losing a cool £658 million on a one year investment is supposed to demonstrate the best of British business nous, then the world is surely splitting its sides.
"Don't listen to the people who write about it, listen to the people who go there," pleaded Lord Falconer at the beginning of Feb. OK, we chuckle, how about Cecily Engle, ordinary punter with family: "It took an hour's queuing to see the Body zone at the Dome the other weekend with our daughters, a wait we justified to ourselves because we felt it would be educational. We were right. Putting my three-year-old daughter to bed that night, she asked me: "Mum, do I have escalators in my legs?"
Of course farce doesn't work so well if the performer makes desperate pleas to be taken seriously, as indeed both Blair's crew and the New Millennium Experience Company have done up to now. Therefore it is more than appropriate that a gimmick merchant from Disneyland, Paris, has been flown in to try and save us from further unmitigated financial disaster. By appointing Pierre-Yves Gerbeau - jus call me PY - the UK government is giving up the pretence that the Dome at Greenwich is anything other than a Mickey Mouse project; a laughing stock. So gone is the attempt to portray this botch of uninspiring corporate advertising as "the best of Britain". From conception to grave, it was never ours. All puff and no chest. The Dome's corporate sponsors are exploding their top buttons over the British public's indifference to their Millennium mall. With their concerns being made known at the highest political levels, the hapless Britisher Jenni Page is sacked as chief executive of the New Millennium Experience Company, and a Frenchman hired to try and make a silk purse out of a pigs ear.....pronto. So the Dome will continue to tread its comedic path, more honest to its true worth, as a Disneyesque attraction hastily remarketed to suck up a few face saving dollars from this Summer's foreign tourists. Meanwhile the rest of us unconsulted British citizens may choose to place our cultural dignity elsewhere, whilst echoing the empty aisles with laughter and trying not to stiffle our winter mirth with thoughts of what could have been achieved with £818 million......and the rest.