Sunday, January 30, 2011

Moment of silence?

You almost had it, Newseum.  You almost featured an entirely appropriate violence-related display.

Don't get me wrong.  I fully believe in freedom of speech and of the presses and everything like that.  But a museum, a museum of all places, should retain that caution, that gravity with respect to the violence.  Justin and I have been locists, or tourals, for a while.  Tourists and locals.  We live here, we've lived here a couple of years now, but there are seemingly infinite sights, so you're kind of stuck being a tourist for a long time, even at the clip we've been seeing them.  First year: statues, memorials, major Smithsonians.  Next six months: neighborhoods, restaurants, more offbeat museums (shoutout to my good peeps at Renwick!).  Second year: refresher on the majors, and (dun dun dun) The Ones That Cost Money.  These are only coming now because of our friends at group discount websites whose popularity has soared and caused them to invest in such costly fare as Madame Toussaud's, Crime and Punishment, International Spy, and, most recently, the Newseum.  The memorials are very serious.  They command all the sincerity and respect you have.  The Ones That Cost Money, however, are kitschy.  They're not "DC" as generations have imagined it.  They're attempts at information and entertainment, and that second label is getting increasingly upsetting, because it undermines the horror a human is supposed to feel.

Crime and Punishment and International Spy are, in a strange sense, to be forgiven.  Or maybe it's just that I've gotten so used to this fact that I don't expect any differently -- the standard glorification of mobsters.  Now.  It's occurred to my generation in recent years that pirates aren't really as lighthearted as we liked to think.  They were brutal terrorists, on ships instead of planes.  Somewhere along the way, they became dissociated with profound violence and associated with parrots, cartoons, and hilarious accents.  That bothers me -- but, unfairly, it dates back too far for me to get as offended as I do about mobsters.  Mobsters are, obviously, way more recent than pirates; but also obviously, of similar blood.  Senseless violence (or, senseful: power and riches, duh), innocent lives.  The press coverage at the time resembles a thrilling novel, released by chapter daily or weekly, and that's bad enough.  But we understand the actions, we understand the people, and shouldn't we know better as a society by now than to make light of these characters, now an undeniable, sickening part of our history?  Should we really be okay with museum reviews like "Good news is I got to get my friend in the gallows, where he belongs" (Yelp, Crime and Punishment)?  Shouldn't we have thought twice before opening our mobster wing exhibit with life size cutouts, advertising "POSE WITH MOBSTERS" adding, as an afterthought, "Or J. Edgar Hoover"?

1 comment:

Justin said...

I've gone through similar crises in studying the ancients. By one reckoning, wasn't the entirety of Athens--her people, her history, her ideals--one big orgy of violent conquest? How do we reconcile that with all the art, philosophy, and humanism that we owe to her as well?

This doesn't even get into Rome. If you're going to admire in a moral way instead of simply via power or influence, it gets very tricky.