Memories of the tropics in industrial jungles: Constructing nature, contesting nature
This essay examines zoos as a site of struggle in the construction of meanings and memories of human-nature relations. Modern zoos are symbols of imperial power and celebrations of the domination of nature. The grafting of “tropic worlds” onto these monuments of modernity renders the meaning of zoos more ambiguous, reflecting discursive struggles over the meaning of nature, questions about the wisdom of development and progress, recognition of the need for conservation and preservation, and nostalgia for a nature that has been lost. Through a close textual reading of “The Rainforest” at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, this essay explores the simulation of nature in zoos and “tropic worlds” in North American cities. These hyperreal spaces contain an extraordinary amount of the history and politics of the culture that constructs them for fascination, edification, conservation, commodification, and salvation. At stake in these simulated natures is not only the constructions of nature as spectacle and animals as commodities, but also the use of knowledge to maintain certain forms of domination and the “writing” of industrial culture's historical memory of nature and human-nature relations.