On 07/07/07, in Lisbon, Portugal, better known in India as the erstwhile home of gangster Abu Salem, the seven new wonders of the world will be announced. It will be a worthy and flashy event, featuring such modern wonders as Christiano Ronaldo and Jennifer Lopez.
The event will mark the culmination of a two-year-long campaign to give the world a new “official” list of seven man-made wonders of the world. So, which office is this and why exactly do we need yet another list of wonders? The answer lies in the greatest wonder of them all—human ingenuity, or the limitless imagination of the modern entrepreneur. After all, all of us have known the wonders—ancient, medieval and the much-disputed modern, and natural and man-made—since we were children. To how many of us did it occur there was money to be made in those hanging gardens and leaning towers?
It did, to Swiss businessman Bernard Weber. His New Open World Corp. is the office in question that is conducting a global poll to decide the “new and updated” list. Not Unesco, not any of the other UN agencies or a global non-profit heritage society, as I first thought, when one of those impassioned pleas to vote for Taj Mahal—the kind that is now all over the Internet—first landed in my inbox. To be fair, the New Open World Foundation is involved and half of the net revenues from the project will go to restoration of monuments around the world.
The voting process itself depends on some modern wonders: telecommunications—fixed and wireless—and the Internet. Voting online is free, and limited. However, the process allows people who vote through phones and SMS, a major revenue stream for the company, to cast as many votes as they like. In that aspect at least, it doesn’t aspire to live up to the principles of that other modern marvel—democracy. You can order unlimited voting certificates for $2 apiece, but it isn’t clear if you are buying votes or just copies of certificates for the same vote.
It shouldn’t matter. It’s unlikely the Taj Mahal will get left out—passionate Indian netizens, why, even mainstream TV channels, their nationalistic pride wounded finding the Taj Mahal out of the top seven at one stage, are doing Weber’s PR for him for free. Of the 25-million-plus votes that have been cast so far, the biggest volumes have apparently come from China, India and Latin America.
I propose the government of India should get involved, and cry indignant at the Taj Mahal being subjected to competition. The Egyptians took this route with considerable success—the country’s culture minister and other top officials condemned the competition as an effort to undermine Egypt’s heritage and monuments. Result: the Great Pyramid of Giza was taken out of voting and declared an honorary candidate. Why they still call it seven new wonders is unclear, considering one has received a wild-card entry.
The project’s website compares Weber to Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics. The awareness about the project, the site says, while inviting business partners to “together create marketing and commercial history”, will reach 25% of the world’s population. One can’t help bow before the wonders of modern PR. As to my other question, exactly why we need a list now—isn’t it obvious?
Sruthijith K.K. is copy editor at Mint. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org