Knocking the Millennium Dome and its organisers is one of the few morally and socially acceptable bloodsports of the Nineties. Let’s face it, it’s fun. Creative reputations are held up for examination and mud is hurled at them.
But the media backlash against the Millennium Dome has reached its zenith, with the predictable outcome of a backlash against the backlash. A group of respected designers and design writers has now teamed up to write In Defence of The Dome, rather self-importantly described as a “polemical pamphlet [which] attacks conventional prejudice about the Millennium Dome”.
The work, by James Woudhuysen of De Montfort University and product design group Seymour Powell, Penny Lewis of Project Scotland, and Vicky Richardson of the RIBA Journal, divides the population at large into two main categories: Whingers and Enthusiasts.
Whingers are criticised for thinking small. “The Dome, in fact, is no parasite upon the public purse. But Whingers are parasites upon the Dome. Holding a mirror to the public mood, the Dome reflects a nation of malcontents, sulking in their respective corners,” say the authors. Whinging creatives are to blame if the Dome turns out to be an imitation theme park, they say, by failing to support a vision which could contradict such plans.
But Enthusiasts are just as bad, say the authors: “Enthusiasts believe that society has heard all the Whingers before, so ‘it’ll be all right on the night’. They are as complacent as the Whingers.”
The 1951 Festival of Britain is regularly cited as an example of how the Dome will succeed despite initial scepticism from the public. Woudhuysen, Lewis and Richardson dutifully point out that it succeeded despite the Korean War, three currency crises and rationing. But they do not follow this argument to its logical conclusion: namely that in 1951 the British public had endured years of hardship, food shortages and Spam. But today’s punters have seen Legoland, Disneyworld and Alton Towers. They have been to the Epcot Centre in Florida. They have travelled half the world on cheap package holidays, and seen the rest of it via television and the Internet. They are a bit harder to impress.
“An inglorious strand of British scepticism does indeed greet every innovation, building and festival of design,” counters the report. I disagree. British scepticism is the best in the world, and we should be proud of it.
The report’s authors even show some scepticism, albeit hidden beneath new-age wisdom, themselves. They are especially critical of the proposed “edutainment” content of the Dome. “To be edutained is to surf wave after wave of Awareness, never to arrive on Wisdom Beach,” they claim.
But the essay is not a hollow one. It includes proposals of what the authors believe is needed inside the Dome. (Example: “Drop the theme of time, and instead Develop the Dome as Dome: as cranium, library, Earth’s crust, planetarium, sound system, Rave.”) Happily, the public would moan, or laugh, as much about these as they do about the real proposals. And, on closer examination, the proposals in the essay are unlikely to be any more viable than suggestions that have gone before.
Large-scale projects such as the Dome provide an unmissable opportunity for discontent, and the public is never happier than when it has something to moan about. Something of a whinge itself, In Defence of The Dome bravely sets itself up as an alternative target. The public will no doubt have its fun.
In Defence of The Dome by Penny Lewis, Vicky Richardson and James Woudhuysen is available from the authors, price 12. Contact by e-mail on: pennyl@ easynet.co.uk, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com