My apologies, but this is going to turn into a long-winded rant — so long I’m splitting it into three installments. But there are two pieces of good news. First, this means there will be new content on this blog over the next week. Second, the entire thing is already written, so there really will be a conclusion. Overture, curtain lights, this is it…
We are under a constant onslaught to make and keep us stupid. I’m not claiming there is some great conspiracy. Rather, we are all complicit in the undermining of our own intelligences. The insidious culprit of this dumbing by degrees is our acceptance of the media as purveyors of absolute truth. And, with that, I present Exhibit A.
Last week, an article ran in USA Today about the new “Night at the Museum” movie. I have no complaint related to the quality of this or the previous movie, and don’t specifically see them as causing the downfall of the world as we know it. They are intended to be somewhat mindless romps and, as long as you don’t go in expecting Fellini (and, to be honest, I really don’t want most, if any, of my movies to be Fellini), they can be fun. I enjoyed the first and plan on seeing the second.
The point of the USA Today article was that the movie would probably renew interest in the Smithsonian (just as the first movie renewed interest in New York’s American Museum of Natural History.) Deep within that article (well, not really that deep — in fact, infesting most of that article) were the harbingers of our downfall.
But let’s start with a minor sidetrack that begins by citing quotes from the movie’s stars (and, in the process, gives us the first hint that the empire is crumbling.) First, Amy Adams. The article quotes her as saying she wants to come back as a patron of the Smithsonian. “I feel like I’ve only seen such a small amount of what there is to see.” For anyone even remotely understanding the size and scope of the Smithsonian, that is an obvious statement on par with “I feel like I’ve only breathed some of the oxygen I will in my life.” Okay, I admit I’m probably being hypercritical and let’s be fair — this quote is not meant to represent Ms. Adam’s post-doctoral thesis; rather, it's a bit of fluff she threw to the reporter to be included in a somewhat fluffy newspaper. Let’s move on.
Next, Ben Stiller. “Stiller says that many in his generation (he’s 43) associate museums and libraries as places you went to only ‘when you had to do a book report.’” I am dismayed by Mr. Stiller’s initial dismissal of museums and libraries as labor camps created to inflict the horrors of learning on any poor child who is actually asked to put in some effort. (And, if Mr. Stiller was doing book reports at the museum, there is a whole ‘nother set of problems we don’t want to address right now.) My greatest fear is that he speaks a truth here; one I would rather not hear. But it also speaks volumes about the mind-set of one of the principle players in this farce.
And, overall, I am flummoxed by the apparent lack of knowledge these two people have about the Smithsonian. Maybe I’m just naïve and most people don’t understand the treasure trove that exists at the Smithsonian, and maybe the movie will excite people to re-explore this museum. (As already noted, that is the point of the article.) And maybe the movie will open people’s eyes to the fact that museums are more than dingy repositories of arcane trivia. But what I would have liked to hear is that one or both of these stars knew the joy that could be experienced at the Smithsonian and were looking forward to sharing that with the public. (What I would also like to hear is that my lottery ticket has hit, my hair is growing back [with its original color], and that every auditee has agreed with every single one of my findings.)
And so ends our sidetrack. Coming attractions in Part Two: the root of the matter, the heart of the beast, the crux of the biscuit (and maybe even a little about auditing).