Sunday, April 25, 2004

Kissing Seals, Progress, and Professor Smartypants

Took the kids to the Museum of Natural History today with Ian perched in Steve's backpack like an Indian lord, and Jonah on foot. A typical weekend retreat when the weather chases us off the playground.

We started off watching a video in whale room. Jonah and I cuddled while watching clips of seals kissing. Swimming turtles. Clown fish cavorting with sharks. I held Jonah in my arms, and we said the names of the fish as they appeared. Suddenly, in the midst of this warm cuddly video, came clips of an overcrowded beach, oil refineries belting out toxins, a thousand dead fish on a beach, a dead sea turtle ensnared in a cruel fisherman's net. Man bad. Nature good.

We backed out of the whale room after assuring my kid that the turtle in the net was just sleeping and entered the Hall of Biodiversity. More PC messages flashing out information about the effect of pollution on nature on a screen spanning the entire room.

Look, I'm all with the environment. Even considered using cloth diapers until I found out it's basically impossible in Manhattan. We recycle. We give money to the National Wildlife Federation. My kid watches Stanley.

But the "evil human" message at the MNH is very heavy handed. So we made a quick right into an exhibit from the 50s, North American Forests. No more "evil human" subtext. Now it is all about PROGRESS. About how humans can capture the earth and its resources to improve their surroundings. It's very hokey, but I needed to bolster my self esteem after the last two rooms.

Here you can see "The Friends and Enemies of the Orchard". In the other room, the enemy was wearing a pair of trousers. In this room, the enemy has eight legs and has burrowed into the heart of a tasteful and profitable apple. The only weapon is a heavy dose of pesticide. In this room, we can see the progress made over the years in farm machinery. And the benefits of fertilization. Absolutely not a word about the fertilizer run off and the ground water. God love the 50s.

Perhaps the hit-you-over-the-head PC message of the recent exhibits is to overcome the bad karma of the museum's early years. Did you know that the museum once had an exhibit of live Eskimos? Terrifying.

On this visit, we skipped the dinosaurs and the planetarium entirely. These exhibits are free from "evil human" messages mostly because there is absolutely no way that we could have fucked with the dinosaurs and haven't yet figured out how to pollute the outer galaxies, though I'm sure we're working on it.

No, we skipped those rooms, because they are just boring. Both are recent renovations that went awry. The displays are no longer about dinosaur bones wrestling in front of elegantly painted ferns and volcanos. Very Marshall, Will, and Holly. Now the bones are in sanitized white rooms and natural light. Nothing to help spur the imagination in a young seven year old.

Scattered about the room are computers, which the kids race towards hoping to see recreations of dinosaurs ripping off the heads of smaller creatures. Instead the kids are shown lectures by Prof. Smartypants spouting off about the scholarly debate about the third bone in the ear drum in dinosaurs in the Jurassic Period. Hell-o. Nobody cares about the scholarly debate.

These exhibits are not geared towards kids. Actually they are not geared to anyone lacking a PhD in paleontology. It's narcissistic and self-congratulatory. The elitism of the dinosaur exhibit and the new planetarium makes the evil human rooms more tolerable. At least, I get what they're talking about.

UPDATE: A moderate approach to environmentalism at Obsidian Wings.

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