A short, hopefully funny, essay about culture.
| I took my kids, the wife, and my parents up to DC on the VRE. It was interesting experience. We saw two museums. There was the museum of Air and Space and one dedicated to the American Indian. One should see them side by side.
My kids hated the air and space museum. They are girls and do not seem to possess the same kind of warrior spirit that I did in my youth. I always imagined myself in the space capsule, wearing the cool space suit, and winking at the girls that wouldn’t date me, who were now not cool enough to date me, because I was Mr. Spaceman. My imagination put me in the cockpit of a world war two plane. I was Mr. Invincible. The native American museum would have been lost on me in my adolescents, because it was too deep and too tragic. I would have been bored looking at pretty dresses, handmade crafts, and art trying to make an appeal to our better nature.
Museums are monuments to a culture. A culture is a shared consciousness. I love the fact that these two museums are side by side, two cultures that collided. One museum shows the United States in its prime, complete with phallic missiles that once carried nuclear warheads. Most of the space exploration technology exhibited was created and used when my dad was a little boy. They are ancient monuments to something that has passed. The people that looked to the moon and dreamed are gone.
There is a joke that goes like this:
People wonder how the pyramids were built. They wonder how a people who had no access to machines were able to move rocks that weighed tons several miles to place them in precisely the correct way to create a pyramid. One theory is that people were crazy smart back then. Like so smart they could move things with just their mind. These crazy smart people died out because the stupid people out fucked them. The crazy smart people invented robots or something to have sex with and just got old and died. After a while, only the stupid people were left, and they looked around at all the pyramids and said “hey, we built that.”
The Museum of the American Indian is so beautiful that one could hang outside it for a while. The building is sort of wavy and clay colored, almost like a mountain cut by winds. It is landscaped with corn, squash, purple coneflowers, and chili peppers.
Inside are collections of exhibits from a collection of people that tend to get lumped into Native Americans. To me, the theme of the museum is to speak for those that have been silenced and misrepresented. Dozens of tribes contributed to the exhibits. There is one that sticks out in my mind. There was a demonstration at one exhibit where a man had out a skin and on the skin, was a series of simple pictures starting from the center and spiraling out. He asked what we thought it was. I knew immediately that it was a calendar. It was, and it was nice to be right about something. Each year the tribe voted on the picture that would represent that year and the calendar spiraled out until the American government put the tribe on a reservation, which was represented by a final picture. The man that explained the exhibit was from that tribe. I don’t think I have ever seen the end of an era so well defined. It was haunting actually.
Monuments are built on sand and life will rise and fall with the tides in a constant dance between order and chaos, while the order of life will walk the middle path between the two.
In the end of course there is the train ride home with my kids and my wife. I think that whether your ancestors flew to the stars and left behind an empty rocket ship or made intricate bead work and a deep oral history, we all still want the same things. My life is just spiraling out from its center.