Wot is to Be
Wot is to Be is a satirical flipbook containing images of the people expected to contribute to and attend the Great Exhibition. Its characters seem to be marching in a parade, led by British law enforcement and a band of musicians, and loosely categorized based on the nature of the attendants or their contributions. The people, as well as the categories they are placed in, are all caricatures and stereotypes of the times. Unfortunately, as someone viewing this item in the 21st century I am unable to grasp the context of many of its images because these standards and expectations have changed since its publication.
The categories often contain both metaphorical and literal subjects. There is, for example, a section on food items, including a piece on the “Sandwich Islands” as well as literal edibles and beverages, such as grapes and alcohol. (The only contributions expected of Portugal.) There is also a section at the end for animals, and a subsection for insects which includes “numerous lady birds- guarded by a dragonfly and followed by spiders.” The “lady birds,” or “ladybugs,” are actually young women attended by their matron, the “dragonfly.” The “spiders” are the young men trailing after and ogling them. A foreign ambassador is displayed soon after, ‘On the ground of his being “a regular lion.”’ These seem to perform cultural critique on the upper and noble classes in particular.
The flipbook seeks to portray the Great Exhibition and everyone associated with it in a humorous, but cynical light that highlights some of the fears of the people, who may have been uncertain of the impact of having so many foreigners on British soil. It both criticizes the goals of the exhibition, as well as aids them by easing these fears by poking fun at Britain, too.