The Dark Side of the Philadelphia Flower Show

Spring may seem far away, but the Philadelphia Flower Show is in full swing. The fresh dose of flora is a welcome harbinger of warmer times. But at least one observer isn’t as enamored of the event as most people now flocking to the Convention Center.

Spring may seem far away, but the Philadelphia Flower Show is in full swing. The fresh dose of flora is a welcome harbinger of warmer times. But at least one observer isn’t as enamored of the event as most people now flocking to the Convention Center. From WHYY’s Arts and Culture desk, Alex Schmidt reports.

Transcript:
Ah, the flower show. An end to winter, respite from the reality of an unraveling economy and this year, a taste of the European.

Bon giorno.

Who couldn’t possibly love it all? Gary Backhaus, that’s who.

Backhaus: “I have concerns about the intersection of aesthetics and environmental crisis ecology.”

Okay, okay. The guy is a philosophy professor, so he doesn’t lay it all out in simple sound bites. But Backhaus, who teaches at Loyola College in Maryland, believes there’s something seriously amiss with the flower show. Walking past the fountains, stylized gardens and faux marble colonnades meant to emulate Bella Italia, he explains that he started coming to the show for pure entertainment nearly a decade ago.

Backhaus: “It was a sort of, kind of an uneasiness about it, I started to feel. When I decided to write on it, all of these musings started to crystallize and I was able to articulate exactly what I felt uneasy.”

Last year, Backhaus wrote an essay titled The Philadelphia Flower Show and its Dangerous Sensibilities, which was published in the scholarly journal Springer.  Here’s his argument: in our desire to be around beautiful flowers and fantastical landscapes, we sometimes ignore the actual environment. The more Disneyfied, as he puts it, the less real. And that can be fatal to the need for humans to take action during this scary environmental moment. One of the most disconnected exhibits he’s seen in all his years at the Philly Flower Show was part of the 2005 “America the Beautiful” show.

Backhaus: “The one that really stands out to me as being very artificial, was two Harley Davidsons, symbolizing America, dressed up as if they’re getting married.  So there was a sort of a runway aisle, tables with flower arrangements on it.  I don’t find any problems with fantastic landscapes and the imagination going wild.  That’s part of the fun here.  But it is at the opposite spectrum of attempting to educate folks to pay more attention to the landscape.”

Backhaus would like to see environmental realities or needs more thoroughly woven into the entire show, and those aren’t always pretty and fun. He worries that people may leave the Flower Show without ever taking the time to visit the educational areas in the Convention Center.

Backhaus: “By the time we finish beautifying, and make it artificial, we might’ve killed it. But we’d be happy. And if it meets our needs for commuting with other life forms on our terms, we might not even be aware of how important it is to take a different approach, an environmental approach, where humans are not dominant, but citizens of the landscape.”

Backhaus says he knows he may be taking the Flower Show a bit too seriously. But to that, he counters: he’s a philosopher.  What did you expect?

Backhaus: “I don’t think that pop culture ought to be thought of as just pop culture. I think we should think seriously about what pop culture is doing to us. And the flower show is a kind of pop culture. Certainly it’s got some wonderful aspects to it, and certainly with pop culture there can be some wonderful artistry. But when we take things to be mere entertainment, I don’t know what we get out of them.”

Hmm, how about, escape? The Flower Show runs through this weekend. After that, you can go back to worrying about the economy.

More information:
The Philadelphia Flower Show runs through March 8. Visit the Philadelphia Flower Show website for details.

Listen:
Click on the play button below or right click on this link and choose “Save Link As” to download.

[audio: arts20090304flower.mp3]

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