My brother made a side trip to Chichen Itza a few weeks ago while celebrating his 50th birthday down in Mexico. Apart from the full court press the locals put on everyone to vote for it — his trip fell during the frenzied last moments of voting — he apparently had a lot of fun. For an old guy, at least.
In case you missed it, the New 7 Wonders were selected by a worldwide vote with roughly 60 million people taking part, most of whom apparently live in Latin America. The winners, announced on 07/07/07, were Chichen Itza (Mex), Machu Pichu (Peru), Christ the Redeemer (Brazil), the Colloseum (Italy), Petra (Jordan), the Great Wall (China), and the Taj Mahal (India). Apparently, the Pramids of Giza got a bye.
Does it strike you as odd that Stonehenge didn’t make the list? Is it not that great a Wonder? Or is it just that the Brits didn’t have enough cell subscibers to sway the vote? Does it strike you as equally odd that three of the seven are in Latin America? Did you hear that Brazilian cell phone subscribers were blasted with text messages urging them to vote for free?
I applaud the effort to bring attention to the world’s most precious manmade landmarks. Honestly, I do. I shake my head at the gaming of the system, of course.
A few rhetorical questions emerge from all of this. Should we be concerned with evening out the voting? Does evening out the voting matter and is all this a lot of hubris? Is the vulgate qualified to judge such things or is UNESCO a better arbiter of taste?
Do we turn to “the people” or “the experts” when highly subjective criteria are at stake? I find it odd that I’m naturally taking the side of “experts” for some reason — my above-mentioned brother and I almost got thrown out of Les Halles in New York one afternoon debating how the National Endowment for the Arts should allocate its funding. Should it fund “art”? Is country music “art”? He chose art, so I had to choose the latter, being the contrarian younger brother. Another odd coincidence, me picking sides with country music, which I still consider to have lethal side effects since seeing Mars Attacks. But it illustrates the point well, so let’s stick with it.
On points of taste, do we ask experts or do we ask the unwashed masses to cast their fickle votes? We’ve seen less than honorable behavior in gaming the votes on American Idol. And we’ve certainly seen nationalism and public policy sway the vote here. (The Acropolis didn’t get voted in. Come on, guys. Sorry. I’m not being Grecophyllic or Pro-Western-Antiquity at the expense of our Meso-American brothers or anything remotely similar. It’s just an editorial comment).
We test advertising, don’t we (Don’t we? Tell me we do… please…)? Packaging? Even promotional concepts, new product introductions and other similar things. We certainly run contests where people vote. But these are commercial enterprises, where the likes and dislikes of the “public” are the point. On matters of pure aesthetics — not commercial ones — where does the role of the “public” fall?
The entire emerging field of social media hinges upon the central issue that “consumers are in charge,” whatever that means. We seek feedback and we get it; whether we choose to act on it is another thing which we, as “decision makers,” need to acknowledge. Customers don’t like your new product design? Is it because they don’t know enough to judge it (“We haven’t TOLD them what to think yet!”) or because, shudder, the new product stinks? Be bold, be decisive, and make up your own mind.
Does this whole new New 7 Wonders of the World (Wide Web) work for you? It feels a little hollow to me. I’m not sure how I would have fixed this, either. If we choose the “public” version, and asked each voter to only vote on landmarks outside their own country, no one would have voted. The entire project would have been a global yawn (a post on Live Earth is pending, in case you were wondering). By opening up the contest to a global audience and having 187 million Brazilians vote for Christ the Redeemer (for free — thanks, Lula), we proved that there are 187 million Brazilians and many have cell phones. Which we already knew, frankly.
If the voting had been expanded to create Seventy Wonders, the 71st would still be pissed, so even this has problems. But if we showed a ranking of all 70 with the number of votes each received — maybe even votes from outside each landmark’s native country, just to even things out — and tied it all up in a neater package, I’d be OK with that. Draw attention to the cost of maintaining sites such as these by collecting sponsorships from national and international brands. Feature the stories and blogs of people who are making the effort to visit them all, maintain them, and promote them. Just find a way to make this into something more than a stunt — and more of a living, organic “brand” that stays in our consciousness.
It’s a shame when something that promotes some of the greatest and most enduring human achievements just leaves everyone feeling a bit let down. On a lesser scale, these are lessons for us all.
Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny
I’m going to post on this on on my blog – but do have to say that Stonehenge (a few stones tipped up and arranged in a circle) is in NO WAY comparable to the complex of pyramids and buildings at Chichen Itza.
Of course to each his own!
Tom: we agree in general while we disagree specifically; if Stonehenge isn’t comparable to Chichen Itza, then you’d have to agree that Chichen Itza isn’t comparable to Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills and its vertical gardens. The fact that one was built a few years ago, the other a few thousand and the last a few who knows what ago makes all the differece. And it’s all terribly subjective. Which is the central question.
What we choose to “choose,” who we ask, how we poll, and (most importantly) what the intent and long term implementation plan is for the project should be front and center in our minds.
To raise awareness is one thing. To affect change is another. To build a lasting impression and create a historical inflection point is bigger and better.