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"In one of his not infrequent philosophical moments the old labor leader was thinking out loud about some of the civic conditions of Chicago. Reference had been made to the pride with which the city's big business men were pushing toward completion their new world's fair, the Century of Progress Exposition on the lake-front. Uncle Steve laughed.
"'Do you know what I'd like to do?' he demanded. 'I'd like to take this fort of ours, just as it stands, and move it down there next to the reproduction of old Fort Dearborn. Then I'd like to stick up a sign across the front of both of them: 'A Century of Progress!'"
The above quote is taken from the opening section of Paul Hutchinson's article "Progress of Parade", which appeared in the June, 1933, issue of The Forum and Century. You see, not everyone in America shared the optimistic view held by the Fair managers that the century of 1833 to 1933 in America could be rightly characterized by the term 'Progress.' Here, Hutchinson refers specifically to labor strikes, which marred the Chicago image during the times of both Fairs--first in the 1890's around White City, then again in the 1930's. Hutchinson proposes the following question: "Is the great exhibition a testimony to a fact, or to a delusion?
The story that Hutchinson relates in the opening anecdote is meant to suggest to readers that the foregoing one hundred years was not a century of progress for labor, and he also hints that perhaps it was not a century of progress for many Americans at all. The iconography of the image to the left, which appeared with the article, is telling. To my eye, the image depicts several human beings dwarfed by, and bowing in service to, the great machine.
"The life of the city seems at the mercy of exactions for endless "services" which are beyond the control of any agencies which have so far been devised. (There is a certain ironic fitness in the selection of the home of the Instill pyramid as the site of a celebration of urban achievement.) The life of the country has been wrecked by the demand of city serfs for cheap food. And man - man the clod on the land; man the cipher in the factory and tenement is the ultimate victim.
It is a great show that is being put on in Chicago this summer; a truly great show. If ever a world's fair deserved a visit, this one does. But its premises are not to be granted without thought; its title should not be spoken in the simple declarative mood. A "Century of Progress"?
Only if it is admitted that such a fair serves to demonstrate the limitations as well as the achievements of our progress. For after all, as those who come to the fair will discover, all Chicago, rather than merely the buildings inside the exhibition park, is the true exhibit against which to form judgments as to whether the past hundred years have borne us forward."
Ludwig Lewisohn went even further than Hutchinson in his criticism of Chicago's exposition. Writing in Harper's Magazine, also in June 1933, Lewisohn first rejects the whole concept of 'The Machine-age.' He sees nothing new in the 'Progress' leading up to 1933 Chicago.
"Flagrant above all other examples and illustrations of the fallacy that in this machine age we are thinking new thoughts and creating new morals is that delightful machine or group of machines by means of which, sitting in a darkened hall at our ease, we can see far lands strange as dreams which we shall never visit and the tiger in his very jungle and are told stories and hear and witness dramas which,
however foolish in fable, are of a never-ending and irresistible interest by virtue of the unheard of wealth of human aspect and human gesture, and latterly of word and voice, that, amid the old and beautiful and familiar scenes of earth and sky, they offer us."
He certainly would not agree with my argument.