Kristin and I had a debate over what the seven wonders of the world are. We agreed on the easy ones like the Library at Alexandria and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon but we weren’t sure if one of them was a temple to Zeus (which one was) or to Athena (which none were). We settled the issue by renting an A&E DVD on the matter, hosted by Leonard Nimoy. It was kind of boring but it did teach us what’s what.
Now there is an international consortium, the New7Wonders Foundation that will put the New Seven Wonders to popular vote. There are twenty-one sites to choose from. On July 7, 2007 they will announce the winners. I guess it sounds like a fun contest, and the organizers seem to have good intentions, but I actually don’t like the idea.
The most distressing thing to me is that, this contest is putting together landmarks that to me are incomparable. Which is more wondrous, Machu Picchu or the Statue of Liberty? The former was built in high altitude with no metal tools. The latter is beautiful in a European way, and it holds symbolic meaning for a superpower. Which is better? I have no idea, because I don’t even want to compare them.
Why can’t we declare Twenty-One New Wonders? The Seven Wonders were confined to Europe and the Middle East and was named centuries ago. Time has moved on since then, people have created great structures and performed feats of art and engineering all round the globe. Must we stick to seven?
If we declare a new Seven Wonders, it sets up a line between the have and have-nots that is completely removed from reality. Are the fourteen sites who lose worse in any measurable quantity than the seven who win? Obviously not, but the losers will certainly be treated worse than the winners though. Tourism, publicity and funding for preservation will be affected for no real reason.
The contestants are also based on landmarks that currently exist. The destruction of the World Trade Center shows us how impermanent our world is. Is the WTC not a wonder because maniacs took it apart? What if one of the new Seven is unfortunately defaced? Would it be time for a new contest?
While the New7Wonders Foundation should be commended for raising awareness about world heritage and the preservation of history, I have several serious problems with their contest to name a New Seven Wonders. There is no logical or quantifiable way to choose among the twenty-one sites. The designation of Seven Wonders is an arbitrary division from which people will infer real meaning. The dichotomy between seven wonders and fourteen non-wonders will have negative effects on the losers. The list of sites is also short-sighted for such an epic endeavor, including sites which exist in the immediate present.
My solution for most of these issues would be to designate all twenty-one sites as “Wonders” so we can enjoy them all on their own merits. Pitting these fantastic locations against each other cheapens rather than elevates them. Looking at the grid of twenty-one contestants I feel awe that humanity has made such a wide variety of architecture and art. I do not look forward to July 8th, 2007 when I will see just seven.