Inside the Millennium Dome
A corporate theme park
By Hassan Mahamdallie
"IT IS all about big business and commerce." That is what one Dome helper whispered to us as we visited the Millennium Dome on New Year's Day. I was with Antonietta (aged ten), Paola (aged six), their mother, Donna Guthrie, and Jamil (aged 11). "I want the vision of the contents to excite the nation," said Blair when he picked up the project from the Tories after the general election.
Eight hundred million pounds and an avalanche of hype later Socialist Worker has "roadtested" Blair's pet project. The children came away interested, but hardly enthused, educated or stimulated. And the adults left angry, having had New Labour's pro-business agenda and shallow money-driven outlook on the world shoved down their throats.
The children were overwhelmed by the size of the Dome. Donna groaned as she spotted the huge McDonald's that dominates the walkway in front of the structure. There is another outlet inside the Dome as well-which became dubbed "McDonald's Zone" by our party. The dome is split up into a series of zones, all of which are sponsored by multinational companies. Rupert Murdoch's Sky sponsors Skyscape Zone. This may explain why the newspaper shop had only two papers in it-the Times and the Sun.
Home Planet is sponsored by Blair crony Robert Ayling's British Airways. The Self Portrait Zone is sponsored by Blair's favourite retail company, Marks & Spencer. BT sponsors the Talk Zone. The Learning Zone is sponsored by Tesco. And so on. Company logos dominate every square inch of the Dome.
For example, Boots sponsors the Body Zone. The length of the queues put us off going in. Apart from the body that you can walk through, there is an exhibition of "health in the future". The exhibits are entirely skewed to give a Boots view of the world. What masquerade as "learning" are in reality soundbites or corporate slogans. There is a mock-up chemist shop of the future. It is stuffed with Boots products. Boots is also hooked up to the L'Oreal cosmetics giant. Or as the blurb had it, "L'Oreal brings to the zone scientific expertise in leading-edge cosmetics and an international dimension to the world of beauty."
We saw a video of L'Oreal models supposedly telling us something profound about the human appearance. We heard Kate Moss telling us that it does not matter what you look like, it is who you are that counts. That we were looking at a supermodel's face somewhat dented the message. Andi McDowell assured us that the process of growing old shouldn't worry us. This is from a model whose "perfect" face sells upmarket wrinkle cream.
Little voting machines are dotted around the Dome. They take a card so you can vote yes or no to a particular question. These instruments of "participatory democracy" are presumably the machines New Labour wants set up in supermarkets and pubs. Jamil tried one, expecting some kind of interactive response. He was disappointed. It just punched his card and spat it out. One voting machine asked, "By 2020 it will be possible to grow completely new body parts. Do you want this to happen?"
The voting machines have been built by Marconi, the arms manufacturer. So if in the year 2020 you have your limbs blown off by a Marconi guided missile, don't worry, the technology will be around to grow you some more! Amazingly, there is a "Millennium Diamond" exhibit put on by De Beers. The gross exploitation of the South African miners who dig the stones out of the earth was not mentioned.
World according to BT and Ford
THE MULTINATIONAL companies sponsoring zones cannot resist putting themselves at the centre of the vision of the future. This distorts any serious message. If schools want to take children to an interactive and educational experience in London they would be better off going to the Science, British or Natural History museums.
Ford sponsors the Journey Zone. Jamil liked the model racing cars and planes, the mock-up of a Euro train and the sense of progression from one type of transport to another. Yet every yard there was a Ford logo. You began to believe that the first wheel must have had that blue disk stuck on it. At the end of the "journey" we were told that "Ford is eager to embrace and shape a better future for us all". Surely this cannot be the same Ford that has spent the last decade blocking any limits on greenhouse gases so that it can continue to sell the polluting internal combustion engine around the world?
Antonietta really liked the Talk Zone, especially the interactive parts to it. But again the BT logo was everywhere. The main exhibit was a huge screen which had the "ET" BT advert (which appeals to children) on a continuous loop. You could log on to the internet. But you found yourself in the BT website, where you were invited to switch your phone line back to BT.
Walking home afterwards we passed a telephone kiosk. "A BT telephone box!" said Paola. The product placement had worked. As Antonietta said, "It's silly. They can sponsor things, but they didn't have to show the adverts over and over again." Jamil commented, "That's all it was about-making money out of people."
"I THOUGHT the Dome was alright but some of it was a bit boring. My wheelchair could not get into very many places. I did not like the fact that the Dome had lots of advertisements, because straight away you knew they were trying to con you and get some money out of you."
"SOME BITS were interesting but overall I found it quite a boring experience. It was the hard sell all the time. The children were put off by the advertising bits. It was a cross between being in an airport (without the nice bits like tax free shopping) and a permanent exhibition centre. The way everything was distorted was annoying, for example our future health being based on the philosophy according to Boots."
Not a cheap day out for us
"YOU WON'T need to bring a picnic as there's a huge choice of food and drink," says the advance brochure for the Dome. That's OK-as long as you've got lots of money. There are no benches. The only place you can sit is in a cafe or food outlet where you have to buy something.
The class system infests the Dome. Ordinary folk can get a McDonald's. If you've got cash you can get a much better class of meal altogether. You can go to the champagne and wine bar or YO! Sushi or get a 35 seafood platter. You can get a three course meal at the Acclaim! restaurant, which boasts a 22 three course meal, including "New Forest mushrooms, poached egg and truffled hollandaise, hot smoked venison and pot roasted monkfish". Donna wandered up to take a peek at a menu. She rushed back: "Do you know what that posh bloke said to me? He said, 'If you have to look at the prices you can't afford it'!"
Family ticket: 57.00 Tube fares: 5.60 McDonald's: 17.00 Soft drinks: 8.00 Souvenirs: 12.00 Total: 99.60
THE 40 minute show in the central arena contained some entertaining acrobatics but was empty of meaning. The performance had a budget of over 25 million. That could have kept a string of regional repertory companies going for a long time or funded a national programme of arts in schools.