In elementary school, I developed obsessive tendencies in my media consumption. There was a multi-month section of my youth where I watched the indelible classic, Newsies, at least once a day and there was the constant din of Paula Abdul from my room as I had discovered the joys of repeat on a newly gifted CD player. And from the school library, there was a book. I would maneuver myself towards the front of the class line to make sure that I would be the first to re-discover it once we got to the library. Although, I’m sure that I over-estimated my competition.
David Macaulay’s Motel of the Mysteries spent more time on my bedroom floor than on the dusty shelves of the Peter G. Schmidt Elementary library. It was about the discovery of a lost civilization and the imagined grandiose uses for the items found. Except that what had been unearthed was simply a single, ordinary hotel room. This book fed my need to know, my need to discover, my inner Columbus – that is to say, my need to stake claim on an idea already thought but then lost to time.
In my travels, I’m drawn to what a culture deems important and therefore appropriated to represent themselves to the future or the things that have been discarded and buried in attempts of disguise. I want to know what is carefully preserved behind Plexiglas and velvet ropes, because it defines a culture just as much as the living still populating the city. What makes a city ‘cultured’? Art, music, academia,….museums? In earlier centuries, the more libraries, galleries and collections housed within the walls of a city, the more renowned and lauded it became for its ‘culture’.
I’ve never been to another city without going to at least one museum and, honestly, I’ve only gone to some cities just for a museum. While, rusty artifacts and browned, frail documents are sometimes the draw, don’t read too far into my nerd-ography. It is true that in my less than 24 hours in London, the first thing after a pre-dawn hike to the London Bridge, was a pilgrimage to the British Museum, but there’s a reason sideshows attracted fairgoers. Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography turned out to be a strange trip that included pictorials of frightening ape-humans and discarded “personal” items in a park known for its shady inhabitants – and not the dendrological type.
As the Travel, History, and Discovery Channel have meticulously documented, museum themes encompass all of the strange and obscene. But so does a population. If there is a Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum (and there is), it’s because it’s of relevance to someone. But the larger message is that this is a culture of acceptance, tolerance, humor, and…..love for Smokey-dodging smugglers.