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CR: The New Centennial Review 3.1 (2003) 109-145

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Offshoring the American Dream

University of California, Irvine

In these successive frontiers we find natural boundary lines which have served to mark and to affect the characteristics of the frontiers, namely: the "fall line"; . . . Each was won by a series of Indian wars.

—Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History

One of the most momentous events that could happen to the modern world would be the ending of this possibility of westward expansion. That it must sometime end is evident.

—Henry George, Social Problems

He would be a rash prophet who should assert that the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased. Movement has been its dominant fact, and unless this training has no effect upon a people, the American energy will continually demand a wider field for its exercise.

—Frederick Jackson Turner, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History"


From the start, Buffalo's 1901 Pan-American Exposition was fated to be compared to Chicago's 1893 World's Columbia Exposition, which "dominated the [End Page 109] nation's memory and set an impossibly high standard of expectation for fairs and expositions"; hence, "from inception, the principal goal. . . was to create an entirely novel experience that would be unrivaled by any prior fair or exposition." 1 Every means was explored to achieve that difference. "In contrast to the 'White City' [Chicago] . . ., Buffalo's Pan-Am was a vibrant, brightly colored 'Rainbow City.'" 2 While Chicago presented two separate areas, more juxtaposed than coordinated within the fair's boundaries, Buffalo followed a unified master plan based on an allegory of evolution, achieved through a stylistic and thematic coordination harmonized through variations in color symbolism. 3 And if Chicago waxed retrospective in referencing the discovery and development of America—Columbus—Buffalo turned to the future, not only by flaunting electricity, but by linkage to the turn-of-the-century dream of expanded, pluralized Americas, the then recently-launched Pan-Americanism. 4 While Frederick Jackson Turner's "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" (July, 1893) ideologically framed the Chicago Fair and the last decade of the nineteenth century within the idea of the end of the beginning ("the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history"), 5 Buffalo suggested the direction for the next phase by expanding the scope of liminal transformation to the rest of the Americas as an opening to the future. 6 Like its beaming Electrical Tower, Buffalo cast a wide, imaginative circle to start the second period of U. S. history and renew the American Dream of open spaces for self-realization by offshoring its scope of action towards new frontiers. 7

The liminality of F. J. Turner's frontier relates directly to the concept of the American Dream of transformational mobility. Turner located the frontier at the fringe of settled areas of the united states, a fringe that shifted geographically over time. Although site-specific particularities resulted in "essential differences," the paradigmatic structure of the process remained constant. "At the Atlantic frontier one can study the germs of the processes repeated at each successive frontier. We have complex European life sharply precipitated by the wilderness into the simplicity of primitive condition." 8 At each fall line, explorers and settlers resolved problems of survival and organization, defining themselves in a dialogue between new possibilities—"for a [End Page 110] moment, at the frontier, the bonds of custom are broken and unrestraint is triumphant" (F. J. Turner, 1965, 41-42)—and old social norms that caught up with them when each area was incorporated into the national mainstream. They realized themselves in the archetypal structure of rupture and continuity, bringing back to the main community, like proof of merit, their identity as frontiersmen, in a process similar to the Puritan errand that sent dissenters into the wilderness to indulge their self-expression while expanding the central community's sphere of evangelized territory. 9

Thus imagined, the frontier resembles Victor Turner's liminal experience: a space and...


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