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  • Intermedia ‘95
  • Wendy Anson
The “10th Annual International Conference and Exposition on Multimedia and CD-ROM.” March, 1995. Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco, CA.

  The crowds, some like sheep, run here, run there. One man start, one thousand follow. Nobody can see anything, nobody can do anything. All rush, push, tear, shout, make plenty noise, say “damn great” many times, get very tired and go home.

—Japanese visitor, American Centennial Exposition, 1876

(qtd. in Allwood, 57)

Crowds in record numbers overflowed the Conference and Exhibit halls as the “10th Annual International Conference & Exposition on Multimedia and CD-ROM” got underway in San Francisco’s gargantuan Moscone Hall. Laser “sunrays” fanned out over the packed hall as keynote speaker Glenn Jones (CEO Jones International, Ltd.) heralded the dawning new age of a kind of harmonic convergence: “. . . .Technologies [will] drive us together”; there will be an “historic coming together” with “a kaleidoscope of new electronic tools” in a world where “boundaries of all kinds . . . are disappearing.”

No mistaking the millenial and apocalyptic tone: “It is intense. It is big. It roots through every marketplace, every vested interest—an environment leaving virtually nothing untouched, and it has a life of its own. In its path is turbulence, disruption, the mooing of sacred cows, destruction, opportunity and reformation. . . . It is after us all and none of us can hide. Convergence is nothing less than the process of reconfiguring civilization itself.”

Then Jones parted the digital rays to reveal Mr. Charlton Heston, who introduced Jones’ latest cd-rom product, “Charlton Heston Presents the Bible.”

Technically a trade show, the self-styled “largest dedicated multimedia event in the world” probably has enough bells, whistles, cannily crafted and elaborately staged product launches and disingenuous yokings of commerce and religion to land it squarely in the venerable tradition of the International Exhibitions.

According to John Allwood, the Exhibition Movement “goes back to the roots of our culture” as far as Old Testament notables including King Ahasuerus, who “spread his wealth and importance before his visiting nobles and princes.” Medieval fairs gave visitors and traders the chance to “exchange news and participate in the highly human activity of ‘one-upmanship’” (Allwood, 7)

England’s “Great Exhibition of the Works of All Nations” at the Crystal Palace, completely dedicated to displaying industrial trade and “forwarding the upward progress of industrial civilization” (Allwood, 8) with its display of manufactured goods from various countries in sorted categories in one location was in 1851 the first International Exhibition (or Expo, World Fair, Exposition Universelle, Weltausstellung, Exposicion Internacional).

“Goods sent from America [to England’s Expo] included Colt revolvers, a case of ‘cheap American Newspapers,” a model of Niagara Falls, the goodyear vulcanised India Rubber Trophy, false teeth, and ‘an intolerable deal of starred-and-striped banners and pasteboard effigies of eagles with outspread wings’” (Allwood, 22), thereby perhaps launching the international kitsch movement.

The likely antecedents of the fetching young girls in their national costumes serving food in their native restaurants at the American Centennial Exposition (1876) are the attractive young women draped over machinery at today’s trade shows.

Latest products of industry and technology are on proud display at the Expositions and World Fairs: The American Centennial showcased the typewriter, the telephone, and Edison’s duplex telegraph which could send two messages over one wire at the same time; other world’s fairs introduced the phonograph and automobile, and left behind formidable souvenirs including the Eiffel Tower and Chicago’s Field Columbian Museum of Natural History.

Visitors oohed and aahed.

“What a sight is there!” enthused a Crystal Palace visitor. “Neither pen nor pencil can portray it” (Allwood, 22).

Thackeray raved: “Sheltered by crystal walls and roof, we view/ All Products of the earth, the air, and seas, . . . Extracting good from out the meanest sod; Rivalling Nature’s works, and making him a God” (Allwood, 21)

Victor Hugo on Paris’s 1867 Exposition Universelle: “To make a circuit of this place, . . . is literally to go around the world. All peoples are here, enemies live in peace . . . on the globe of waters, the divine spirit now floats on this globe of iron” (Allwood, 43).

Intermedia had its share of kitsch with logo...

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