Visit to the Millennium Dome (27th October, 2000)
A ghastly Tube journey in a packed train filled with kids (it was a Friday of half-term week). There were problems getting off at Greenwich North, because only one escalator was working. On approaching the Dome, there are huge queues at all 37 ticket booths. A 40 minute wait. The kids were particularly badly behaved, largely ignored by their parents -- standing on each other's toes, karate chopping each other in the kidneys, pushing and throwing punches.
Once past the ticket booths, crowds headed for the Dome itself. An irritating source of persistent child screaming was revealed as a sideshow offering a screaming competition for Hallowe'en. There were lots of fairground type attractions; rides games and video arcades.
Inside the Dome
The Dome itself began rapidly filling up with people. The atmosphere was very stuffy, and there was acoustic cacophony as each zone competed with different sound effects. The Body Zone was so popular that we could only buy timed tickets: we were there at midday, but the next available tickets were for 17:20, so we didn't go. Same for the arena show [so we missed the two most popular attractions!].
Walking through the crowds were circus-type performers, such as young girls on stilts in odd costumes. Huge flimsy puppets were also carried along [you get the same sort of performers at events like the opening of sports tournaments -- when did this practice start and who trains these people? I have heard rumours of Disney involvement]. Children were being offered face paints or caricatures. Various fast food joints, including McDonald's, were arrayed around the edges of the displays, and most looked hopelessly overwhelmed by the mid-day rush.
The Journey Zone
A much hyped attraction sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. Visitors walk it is British!) up a spiral path past scenes depicting journeys. Displays include exhibits from museums -- neolithic boats, replicas of the Rocket. In ways familiar to the Disney visitor, the evolution of journeying ends culminates in Ford concept cars as the end of history and guarantee of a corporate future. A number of nagging environmental displays urge us to reduce petrol consumption, rather paradoxically -- it is our fault not the Company's, and we can trust the socially responsible Company to come up with new fuel cells to save us all. "Interactive" bits include the opportunity to say yes or no to propositions like 'Will cities ban cars in 2020?'.
The Identity Zone
This one is sponsored by Marks and Spencer. The spiral ascent these visitors passed blown up and backlit photographs of the best things about Britain (very multicultural, and includes the Open University). Apparently, the topics were suggested by the public. For the top of the displays are huge grotesque statues by Gerald Scarfe displaying the bad sides of Britain, including football living isn't, TV, violence and racism. Very preachy. The public seemed pretty bored.
The Faith Zone
(This one became notorious as being partly sponsored by the Hinduja brothers in exchange for help with getting British passports). The exhibition was practically empty. Exhibit consisted of a series of glass columns with pictures or photographs form and together with extracts from world religions. The only place that mentioned the connection between the Millennium and Jesus. Strong National Curriculum themes so that visiting schools were helped to 'do' other faiths -- one column was actually entitled 'Awe and Wonder' (notoriously, one of the qualities that a successful religious studies lesson is supposed to induce in pupils). Visitors were invited to write a message for display which would be stored for 50 years and then exhibited again.
The Learning/ Work Zone
This one was sponsored by Manpower (an agency for part-time daily-paid work) and Tesco. Learning and work were connected in sub zones (geddit?). The Learning sub zone was really bad, with lots of apparent learning materials hung from the roof, looking rather like those random symbols used in telepathy experiments. There was a mock schoolroom with extra large objects so we could experience being children again. Some school lockers were open for our inspection, and one seemed to contain saucy female underwear. In a smaller arena, a five-minute film was on show about recent education -- we walked hastily by. We were then led into a dark room with lots of columns in it, possibly meant to be trees. We passed monitors showing lots of video games and educational games. Then we entered a hall where a list of Dearing-approved learning skills were listed and illustrated -- we could work in groups by playing a large table football game; communicate by playing a game involving telephones. It seemed pretty popular with some kids, and prompted a subversive thought about learning skills for me -- why was 'communication'seen as a separate skill from 'working in groups', or from working with IT for that matter? What sort of groups should people work in -- trades unions? The groups illustrated were all based on some task - focused division of labour: it was all quite a nice metaphor really -- passers-by who happened to wander in played a pointless game with other strangers (with very little communication taking part between them in fact). The players then wandered away again. They owned no equipment and set no tasks of their own.
The Work Zone represented beautifully current government thinking on work. Children were told there will be no economic security for them in the future, and they should look forward to a lifetime of short-term working. This was lost by the deployment of a number of euphemisms -- homeworking, consultancy, freelance and so on. Children were told they should look forward to changing their job at least seven times in their career and so they would need a permanent skilling. They should not think of settling in a job (and certainly not joining a Union?). Posters on the wall warned of the dangers of stress by depicting models of PCs with hamsters in and rather ominous jokey slogans --'Due to the restrictions of government expenditure, the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off'. Thank God for private enterprise!
The Home Planet Zone
Visited after something to eat. Seemed to be a sad British Airways exhibit with costumed extras (why no stilts?). We were invited to take a pseudo flight to see Planet Earth. It seemed very much like some of the rides in Disney, but with a much lower budget. BA loves people, it claimed.
We passed rapidly by the McDonald's sponsored 'Our Town Stage', where local amateur performers, mostly kids, from different towns in Britain were allowed to put on a show.
The Money Zone
We climbed the obligatory spiral ramp and encountered the Money Game at the top. We were offered a choice -- play or browse. We browsed. Players get £1 million to spend and some consequences of how they spend it are then displayed. A glass case shows us what £1 million looks like in £10 notes . If everyone spends all the money at once, dreadful inflation and economic overheating ensues (so that's what causes it!). TV monitors relay a dreadful message of economic stability, in the form of a pseudo news programme. It began with warning us of the danger of excessive wage rises! If nobody spends at all, deflation ensues (fancy that!). The triumphant answer is that the money market is needed to balance and regulate the economy! Those chancers, fat cats and crooks we read about have an important social role after all! The whole exhibit was sponsored by the City of London, and visitors were exposed a lot of propaganda posters to say how wonderful the City is, and how badly we all need it.
Unfortunately, visiting those zones took up quite enough of our time, it was late afternoon, and we were all tired and rather bored. Overall, the impression was of crude corporatist propaganda done on a very low budget. The British bits were naff, preachy and heavy-handedly educational, rather like a large ghastly embodiment of the National Curriculum. Lots seem to have been borrowed from Disney. The dome provides lots of employment for Circus Skills majors from Drama departments?
What on earth was it that cost all the money? Not wages, surely? Exhibits seemed cheap and tacky and were sponsored anyway. It seemed difficult to explain running up such a huge debt -- was it extending the Jubilee Line? Clearing the land and building the actual Dome? Was it a real debt or a bankers' debt?