Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Snarchives 2/24/2009: Musée Can You See

One of the greatest benefits of life in Manhattan, besides being able to walk into any eatery and pick myself a criminally insane dining companion of my choice, has been learning to enjoy museums. I frankly didn't know this was possible. As a youth, I knew museums only as the settings of extended-family outings. These are great festering protracted wads of forced fun that consist of your clustering en masse around a bemuseumed object, which must be, by extended-family outing law -- and I say this as a cultural enthusiast -- the single most boring-ass object in the history of existence. This is how I ended up spending an estimated 60,000,000,000,000,000 childhood hours in rapt contemplation of, say, the fossilized Dunkin' Donuts* latte lid of noted Egyptian pharaoh and caffeine enthusiast Nidh-ah-Venti, the idea being that this experience was supposed to make us all, I don't know, urinate with cultural fulfillment. Personally, I never delivered, but then I had no artistic sensibilities as a child. I am told that at age 12, during a breathtaking performance of Romeo and Juliet by American Ballet Theater, I fell asleep, totally missing the classic scene in which the Sylphides kill Tybalt.

Fortunately, my cultural palate did ultimately broaden, and I came to enjoy ballets, particularly the scene in Giselle wherein the heroine, wracked with grief over her faithless lover, kills Tybalt. But museums remained a sticking-point for me. So I resolved to turn this around a few months ago, by visiting the American Museum of Natural History, and I'm glad I did, because the museum experience is completely different in adulthood. Those highly edifying exhibits you might have whined and squirmed and picked your nose at as a kid**, you can now -- thanks to the cultural appreciation that comes only of maturity -- walk straight past without even stopping on your way to the gift shop.*** Take the exhibit on HOW MAN HARVESTS THE FOREST. This is a topic that clearly deserves to be blasted past at warp speed,**** which was precisely what I was about to do when I became transfixed by: the Educating Parent. These are everywhere at the natural history museum. Now, I am sure that in their day-to-day lives these are fine, rational, conversation-having, Chinese-food-ordering citizens; yet, put them in the natural history museum with their child, and they become Pod People From Hell. Curiously, this seems to happen in inverse proportion to the child's age, so that the more Cabbage Patch-like the tot, the more the parent becomes what leading behavioral psychologists call an "asshole":

"Look, little Emma," Daddy will boom at Space Shuttle volume, with flagrant disregard for the other patrons, the tour guides, the fact that his child is named Caleb, etc. "This is the story of HOW MAN HARVESTS THE FOREST." Whereupon Daddy, preying on the fact that little Caleb cannot read, proceeds to act out, interpretive dance-style, a highly inaccurate version of said story. Needless to say this allows Daddy himself to assume the lead role, which involves loudly battling various natural foes. This is always the best part, because Daddy never appears to have battled any foe more natural than a System Error.

But I'll tell you when my museum appreciation really took root: last Christmas, when my friend and I visited Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art, a museum featuring art in the form of: grocery store items. Including - wait for it - an entire wall of bendy straws. Seriously. You couldn't focus for all the bendy. To be sure, as an artistic work this was a little "out there," but no more so than, say, the opera Manon (literally, "Manon"), which is about Beverly Sills falling in love with a table. (Although, in context, it makes sense. She is deeply disturbed, because she has just killed Tybalt.)

Anyway, the bendy straw wall affected me so that I was compelled, then and there, to engage in the following cultural dialogue:

GUARD: Ma'am, please don't touch those.
ME: Sorry.

Only I wasn't, really, (NOTE TO GUARD: Yes I was) (NOTE TO EVERYONE ELSE: Not really), because this was an artistic experience of great personal resonance for me. I spent 694 years one summer working at a grocery store, which was a highly bendy-straw-intensive kind of place, only those were bendy straws in small quantities, whereas these were -- as confirmed by the tactile experience -- bendy straws in a very large quantity. This is the sort of distinction you learn to make when you become cultured.***** My experience touching the bendy straws was deeply profound in a sense reminiscent of the movie "Flipper,"****** in which annoying actor Elijah Wood, upon finally coming face to face with the friendly dolphin who will teach him life lessons, is deeply and profoundly compelled to touch bendy straws. Then he gets eaten by a shark.

But the moral of my artistic journey is this: if university education has taught me anything, besides...

SEGUE XING SEGUE XING SEGUE XING to answer psychology questions such as the following:

Byron has sensitive skin, so his mother stops using fabric softener when she does his laundry. Soon Byron’s skin clears up, so his mother immediately starts using fabric softener again, because she hates Byron for being a putrid little dork who makes her touch his underpants. Is this an example of (a) classical conditioning, (b) operant conditioning, (c) silky-smooth conditioning, or (d) HA HA HA IT'S A TRICK QUESTION THE ANSWER IS WOODROW WILSON (1856-1924)?

END OF SEGUE XING END OF SEGUE XING END OF SEGUE XING's to question everything. Had I never questioned my deeply held childhood belief that boring museum experiences are boring, I might never have come to the conclusion that they are, in fact, boring. No, wait, that didn't come out right. New moral! The moral of my artistic journey is this: I am extremely delightful, and you should definitely come visit me, and we should go to a museum together. For you, I'll even go beyond the gift shop. Just don't ever try to tell me HOW MAN HARVESTS THE FOREST.

*"Starbucks," you see, had not been invented yet.
**Not that I am implicating anyone's personal nose here.
***Which not only sells dinosaur poop, but, when they run out, they get new shipments of dinosaur poop. This would appear to be highly suspicious.
****I realize that many of you may disagree, on grounds not only ecological but blah blah blah get your own blog.
*****Don't feel bad if you don't "get" it.
******Literally, "Manon."

©2009, Nicola McEldowney
The Snark Ascending

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