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March 31, 2011 8:06 PM   Subscribe

Historically Hardcore is an awesome fake advertising campaign for the Smithsonian. Created as a portfolio project by two students, the ads have gone viral and the Smithsonian is none too pleased about it.
posted by helloknitty (73 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cute, but the copy is all kinds of terrible and gets jumbled up in my head as does the line "Historically Hardcore."
posted by thylacine at 8:13 PM on March 31, 2011


By its nature, once fake advertising goes viral then doesn't it immediately become real advertising?
posted by codacorolla at 8:14 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it's a neat idea but the execution is awful. Too much words.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:15 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's nice to see Chuck Norris-type facts that are 1) not entirely ludicrous and 2) about someone who is actually a badass.
posted by phunniemee at 8:15 PM on March 31, 2011 [15 favorites]


I think they're great - especially the Rosevelt one (they should do one for FDR now). The Smithsonian - or the History Channel - should ask to buy them to use for real.
posted by jb at 8:17 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a neat idea and the execution is just fine. Fuck the haters. Fuck 'em.
posted by jjray at 8:18 PM on March 31, 2011 [28 favorites]


The Smithsonian logo was removed voluntarily but as a public institution could they really have forced the issue?
posted by MikeMc at 8:18 PM on March 31, 2011


That story about Teddy Roosevelt is actually true?! Or did someone edit Wikipedia after the ad went viral? Holy shit.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:23 PM on March 31, 2011


Nah, I think he got shot before he started his speech, not on stage.
posted by ODiV at 8:28 PM on March 31, 2011


Hey everyone, I'm too cool to like or care about this! I care so little that I'm going to *tell* you I don't care! That's how little I care!

But actually, I think these are great, and I hope they inspire many worthy imitators.
posted by mecran01 at 8:30 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Kind of male-oriented, no?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:32 PM on March 31, 2011


I saw these last week, and I thought the idea was interesting and even cute, but the Genghis Khan one bugged me enough that I couldn't really get into sharing or enjoying them as a funny.

Kind of male-oriented, no?

So is history! Heh.
posted by flex at 8:34 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seems like the Smithsonian would be better served by just politely saying, "Thank you for your unsolicited, uncompensated, and voluntary (yet cool) promotion of our museums. Here are two passes to the Air & Space Museum."

Then we all go yay Smithsonian, yay students and get on with our day. Instead of wondering why their institutional knickers are in a twist over two graphic designers who made a couple of nifty things saying good things about them.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:37 PM on March 31, 2011 [14 favorites]


"Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet - there is where the bullet went through - and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best."

Then he spoke for 90 minutes. Badass.
posted by Errant at 8:40 PM on March 31, 2011 [57 favorites]


Yeah, it's a neat idea but the execution is awful. Too much words.
yawn
Kind of male-oriented, no?


Hey, you know what would be a much more fun use of the comments section here? If we could dig up more crazy facts about famous badasses (men and women!) from history and post them here.

I'll go first.

That guy from Fear Factor may have eaten an entire bull penis...but Barry Marshall drank a petri dish of Heliobacter pylori to prove that the bacteria he was studying actually caused ulcers.
posted by phunniemee at 8:40 PM on March 31, 2011 [23 favorites]


Then we all go yay Smithsonian, yay students and get on with our day. Instead of wondering why their institutional knickers are in a twist over two graphic designers who made a couple of nifty things saying good things about them.

Yeah, I agree...but I'm sure some higher-up marketer made a stink about it.

They don't want the world finding out that anybody could do their job, ya know.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:40 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fuck the haters. Fuck 'em.

Fuck yeah.
posted by marxchivist at 8:41 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kind of male-oriented, no?

MOLLY SHANNON
SINKS HER FINGERS
INTO HER ARMPITS
AND SMELLS THEM

MOLLY BROWN
WAS UNSINKABLE

There you go. I'll be selling t-shirts at le Cafe de la Press.
posted by katillathehun at 8:42 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm really uncomfortable with 50 Cent getting called a "whiner" for complaining about being shot nine times, particularly when he's being compared negatively to a racist eugenicist. Actually, between that, the use of "chicks" as objects to promote Michaels' and Khan's studliness, and yet another iteration of the "Andrew Jackson was an entertaining badass, so who cares about that whole genocide thing" attitude, they're all pretty gross.

In contrast, Awesome Stuff Women Did. And if anyone knows of similar links dedicated to people of color/people with disabilities/LGBTQ people in history, I'd love to see them!
posted by bettafish at 8:55 PM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


PAULA DEEN
MAKES PUMPKIN-PECAN SQUARES
WITH A WHOLE STICK OF BUTTER

CATHERINE OF SIENA
DRANK A CUP OF PUS
posted by DaDaDaDave at 8:56 PM on March 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


Hey, you know what would be a much more fun use of the comments section here? If we could dig up more crazy facts about famous badasses (men and women!) from history and post them here.

Those posters are awesome. I've learned so much about history from Badass of the Week, Cracked.com lists and my little brother's Horrible History books. They actually do make history pretty interesting. FDR has done so much insane stuff he's pretty much the patron saint of Cracked.

And before people start telling me how inaccurate the above sources are they at least inspire me to look up the real history. Cracked just taught me about an obscure slave rebellion in New Orleans.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:09 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


LADY GAGA WEARS
A DRESS OF MEAT

XIPE TOTEC WEARS
A FLAYED HUMAN SKIN
posted by unliteral at 9:25 PM on March 31, 2011 [21 favorites]


And if anyone knows of similar links dedicated to people of color/people with disabilities/LGBTQ people in history, I'd love to see them!

And I'd love to see someone post about all the bad things those same people did.

(Not really.)
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:32 PM on March 31, 2011


This typography is like a parlor impersonation of good typography.
posted by scrowdid at 9:40 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the Badass of the Week guy may be slightly uncomfortable at how excited I am to see him when I run into him at comic conventions. I got my copy of Badass: The Birth of a Legend a full nine days early as a result of the last encounter.

Also, Birth of a Legend includes a chapter on Skeletor, and that's just awesome.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:55 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER

IMMANUEL KANT

posted by zippy at 9:56 PM on March 31, 2011 [40 favorites]


The Smithsonian logo was removed voluntarily but as a public institution could they really have forced the issue?

They have held trademarks on their name and/or logo at least since 1972.

I don't think these are the greatest thing ever -- they're more like a first draft of the greatest thing ever. But it was just a portfolio filler for them.
posted by dhartung at 9:57 PM on March 31, 2011


I think these are a bit rough, sure, too wordy and not exactly great typographically. But they are also much better then most campaigns for these kind of institutions, so I wish they were real.

As an almost unrelated aside: I was once at a cookout where I recommended a pal check out Metafilter, she said she was well aware of it and tried to like it because there was some cool material posted but ultimately she stopped visiting because he felt like the comments were overrun by the type of people who love to mention how they don't even own a TV and play sensitivity-one-upsmanship to try and prove they are the most socially conscious person in the room.

She then gave a hypothetical example of a cool post (I think it was something like a how to guide to making X-Men sock puppets) and then gave her impression of 3-4 of the comments she'd expect to read in thread, I remember her riffing was undoubtedly hyperbolic but also pretty damn hilarious. I swear to god one of her parody examples was almost exactly a perfect recreation in tone, spirit, and content of bettafish's above comment. So much so that for a second I thought she had popped in here as a lark.
posted by Jezztek at 9:58 PM on March 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


ALICE COOPER BIT THE HEAD OFF A CHICKEN
AND PLAYS GOLF

TARRARE HAD A MOUTH THAT COULD HOLD TWELVE EGGS
AND UNUSUAL EATING HABITS
HIS SMELL COULDN'T BE ENDURED AT TWENTY PACES
AND HIS CHRONIC DIARRHOEA WAS FETID BEYOND ALL CONCEPTION
posted by unliteral at 9:59 PM on March 31, 2011 [9 favorites]


Errant: Thank you so much. That link reminds me that at some point progressives had a spine...and that progressive ideals are worth fighting for.
posted by schyler523 at 10:04 PM on March 31, 2011


Where is it implied that a mere mention of a "racist eugenicist" or the genocidal Andrew Jackson is necessarily an endorsement of their policies? History is interesting, regardless of our agreement with it. Just because Hitler was an awful person doesn't make him less interesting as a historical figure.
posted by hafehd at 10:46 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


DAVID BLAINE
STOOD ON A PILLAR
IN BRYANT PARK
FOR 35 HOURS

ST. SIMEON STYLITES
LIVED ON A PILLAR
IN NORTHERN SYRIA
FOR 37 YEARS

Motherfucker tied himself to a stake so he could remain standing for all 40 days of Lent, since he also simultaneously refused to eat or drink.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:20 PM on March 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


What sort of person writes a blog with red/pink text on white background? That's impossible to read.
posted by thewalrus at 12:14 AM on April 1, 2011


I'm really uncomfortable with 50 Cent getting called a "whiner" for complaining about being shot nine times, particularly when he's being compared negatively to a racist eugenicist.

What are you talking about? He was the ORIGINAL Ruff Ryder!

Also...what are you talking about?
posted by hal_c_on at 2:10 AM on April 1, 2011


Lindsay Lohan got busted by a receptionist when she escaped rehab for a night out with her pals.

Napoleon Bonaparte escaped the island of Elba, made the King of France flee, and ruled with an army of 200,000 men.

Museums-We got some hardcore motherfuckers up in this bitch.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:25 AM on April 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


PARIS HILTON HAD NOT SO SECRET FLING

EMILY DICKINSON, EMERSON TOUCHED HER SECRET SPRING
posted by zippy at 3:33 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Design and typography aside. I think this is a great promotion. Juxtaposing the contemporary and the historical piques the interest and appeals.
As I write this comment, maybe 9 more people know about XIPE TOTEC and 2 more about TARRARE
posted by unliteral at 4:29 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, they were less than pleased about the attention the posters were getting and requested that I take them down immediately.

The Smith is less than hardcore. Whiny bitches don't understand how the Internet works.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 4:34 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


particularly when he's being compared negatively to a racist eugenicist.

Who was born in 1858 (On the Origin of Species was published but a year later). It's easy to judge people of a different time with the benefit of hindsight and a bit incongruent when our societies implement quite a lot of questionable policies.
posted by ersatz at 4:58 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


phunniemee: "Hey, you know what would be a much more fun use of the comments section here? If we could dig up more crazy facts about famous badasses (men and women!) from history and post them here."

Do we have to copy reddit every time?
posted by mkb at 5:06 AM on April 1, 2011


Do we have to copy reddit every time?

Sorry to offend your delicate sensibilities, dude; some of us don't even read reddit. Had no idea. Feel free to not participate.
posted by phunniemee at 5:10 AM on April 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Where is it implied that a mere mention of a "racist eugenicist" or the genocidal Andrew Jackson is necessarily an endorsement of their policies? History is interesting, regardless of our agreement with it. Just because Hitler was an awful person doesn't make him less interesting as a historical figure.

Wait, what? This isn't a "mere mention" of Roosevelt or Jackson; this is a mention which paints them as awesome badasses. While promoting one particular fact about their lives isn't an explicit endorsement of everything they've ever done, it is part of a pattern in which Roosevelt, Jackson, and other vaunted figures in American history get painted as entertaining, larger-than-life heroes, all the while glossing over the uncomfortable realities of some of their beliefs and policies and the very real negative impact those policies had on the lives of people who weren't financially secure, able-bodied white dudes.

I have absolutely no objection to taking the opinions and actions of historical figures in the context in which they lived, but a repeated pattern of not mentioning those opinions and actions isn't putting anything in context -- it's just whitewashing.
posted by bettafish at 5:13 AM on April 1, 2011


Hey everyone, I'm too cool to like or care about this! I care so little that I'm going to *tell* you I don't care! That's how little I care!

Stop that kirthing. Just stop it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:14 AM on April 1, 2011


The past is dope. Now lets go watch TV.
posted by MarshallPoe at 6:09 AM on April 1, 2011


I really loathe Andrew Jackson, but I didn't think the ad campaign made him seem like the greatest dude ever. I thought the ad made him see like a crazy guy with a foul-mouthed parrot.
posted by mmmbacon at 6:37 AM on April 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


he's being compared negatively to a racist eugenicist

Holy shit, gain some perspective. That kind of historical relativism is what keeps people dumb. Grow.
posted by yerfatma at 6:37 AM on April 1, 2011


ANGELINA JOLIE WAS THE OTHER WOMAN, TALKED TO TABLOIDS
WU ZETIAN WAS THE OTHER WOMAN, PARTIALLY DISMEMBERED THE WIFE, DROWNED HER IN A VAT OF WINE, AND WENT ON TO RULE CHINA FOR FORTY YEARS

I suck at this game. It takes too much text to tell the awesomeness.
posted by winna at 6:50 AM on April 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Eh, they're okay if you don't mind the history fail in the TR one. The idea is good, execution to be desired.
posted by Atreides at 7:36 AM on April 1, 2011


winna - that's a great one. and not at all too wordy.

The people complaining about the "wordiness" of the originals or others are on crack or something. I was reading the originals out to my husband and they read perfectly. Maybe some people just don't like having to read more than five words in a row, but then I have no idea why they're on metafilter.

Speaking of the effectiveness of wordy ads - the other day I saw an ad on a subway train for a charity/advocacy group for street children which was so wordy it was about 500-1000 words of dense text that could only be read when standing nearby. Far from being ineffective, I looked twice, was intrigued and went over to investigate it more thoroughly. An most importantly -- I remembered the ad and it's message.
posted by jb at 7:41 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


phunniemee: "Sorry to offend your delicate sensibilities, dude; some of us don't even read reddit. Had no idea. Feel free to not participate."

Feel free to take me too seriously.
posted by mkb at 7:48 AM on April 1, 2011


Andrew Jackson survived the first attempted assassination of a president. Jackson was leaving the Capitol building when Richard Lawrence tried to shoot him with a pistol, but the gun misfired. Lawrence then pulled out another pistol and shot--it misfired, too. Then Jackson tried to beat the shit out of Lawrence with his cane. Congressman Davy Crockett and others present subdued Lawrence. The prosecuting attorney was Francis Scott Key. Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:29 AM on April 1, 2011


BitterOldPunk: "Here are two passes to the Air & Space Museum."

All Smithsonian museums (and the zoo) are free. Even to illegal aliens and advertising folks.
posted by QIbHom at 8:48 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's less funny when you explain it.
posted by stet at 9:05 AM on April 1, 2011


TIL that Congressman Davy Crockett was a real thing. Thanks, MetaFilter!

I sure wish Congress had more members wearing coonskin caps these days: those little beady eyes taxidermied into the front would look so good on C-SPAN.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:56 AM on April 1, 2011


Jebus, give these guys a rack in the gift shop already. When was the last time anyone mentioned the Smithsonian around here?

Yeah, it's a neat idea but the execution is awful. Too much words.

I... just... *sigh*
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:59 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought they were great, but tongue in cheek. But history isn't really about the past; it's always about the present (see: responses of "I like it but [complaint that boils down to modern cultural issues]").

And boo to the Smithsonian for not adapting the campaign and doing something with it themselves if they didn't like it as it was.
posted by immlass at 10:29 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


But history isn't really about the past; it's always about the present

Really? But when I write history, it's about the past. It might have some bearing on a present issue because we can always learn from the past, but it's still primarily about what was.
posted by jb at 12:00 PM on April 1, 2011


Really? But when I write history, it's about the past. It might have some bearing on a present issue because we can always learn from the past, but it's still primarily about what was.

Historical demographers (and historical researchers at the university level) are in it for the real thing, sure. But public history, particularly in the US, are about history for all kinds of current reasons, like supporting the civic religion of American exceptionalism, providing support for political ideology, etc. I invite you to look into, for instance, textbook and curriculum selection for secondary US history for an idea of what I'm getting at. And that's exactly the sort of responses we see in this thread, too.
posted by immlass at 12:22 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Errant: Thank you so much. That link reminds me that at some point progressives had a spine...and that progressive ideals are worth fighting for.

I always find it weird to have people hold up TR as an Ur-progressive. The guy's super interesting and quotable, sure, but he was also a major American Imperialist. If you're gonna play the "Oh, progressives USED to be so awesome" card, you might want to keep in mind that "took the Panama Canal," "largely responsible for getting us involved in the Spanish-Amercan war," and "created the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which asserted the right of the United States to intervene in Latin America" cards are also sitting in the deck, and they're not so progressive.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:55 PM on April 1, 2011


Really? But when I write history, it's about the past. It might have some bearing on a present issue because we can always learn from the past, but it's still primarily about what was.

It's like Sci-Fi. You may think you're writing about the [OTHER TIME], but you're still where you are, writing.

In the end, it's more about you and where you where.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:13 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Houswives of Orange County backstab and bitch at each other while calling each other "friends".

Alexander Hamilton was shot and killed in a duel by Vice President Aaron Burr after he expressed disparaging remarks about him.

Museums-No 'frenemies' up in this bitch.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:33 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amanojaku: Progressivism, I would argue, focuses primarily on domestic - not foreign - policy. So, yeah, Roosevelt might have been the most progressive son of a bitch to ever have a shot at the white house.

"New Nationalism" Platform of the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party:
1. Universal woman's suffrage
2. A National Health Service (still waiting for this one)
3. Unemployment Insurance and Elderly Stipends
4. Increasing worker's power to stroke
5. Workers Compensation
6. Inheritance Tax
7. Federal Income Tax
8. Direct Election of Senators
9. Support for the Recall/Referendum/Initiative ideals of the Progressive West
10. Campaign Limitations for Corporations
11. Lobbyist registration
12. Strong Regulations on Corporations

This platform was 99 years ago. Holy shit, your right, that guy was definitely not a progressive.
posted by absalom at 1:50 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


4. Increasing worker's power to stroke

No, that's what happens when you don't have health benefits, unemployment insurance, or workers' comp.
posted by phunniemee at 2:04 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


absalom,

Don't forget that the motherfucker's presidency sued 45 companies. He WAS a trustbusting pimp.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:08 PM on April 1, 2011


RICHARD BURTON MARRIED ELIZABETH TAYLOR

RICHARD FRANCIS BURTON LEARNED TWENTY-NINE LANGUAGES IN BED

could be true
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:18 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


But public history, particularly in the US, are about history for all kinds of current reasons, like supporting the civic religion of American exceptionalism, providing support for political ideology, etc.

I would hope that institutions, like the Smithsonian, would set the tone that public history really should be about learning more about the past and bettering our understanding of what happened then and how things worked, etc, and not be supporting nationalistic or politically-driven history. Not that I have ever noticed the Smithsonian doing so.

It's like Sci-Fi. You may think you're writing about the [OTHER TIME], but you're still where you are, writing.

In the end, it's more about you and where you where.


One can't help but be affected by the ideas and concerns of one's own time, but good historians really do try to get out of their place in the now and back into the reality of the past. It's not at all like Star Trek (SF as metaphor for current issues), as much as I like Star Trek; it's more like astronomy - seeing the past through the remnants of what was, piecing together fragmentary evidence to try to recreate what we can't directly witness.

Now, there are different areas of history, and some are more affected by contemporary concerns than others; there are also historians whose interest in the past is more driven by contemporary concerns than others. But what might inspire your questions does not - or at least, should not - affect your answer, which are based on empiracal research. Interpretation is, of course, much more difficult, but we do try to interpret data/sources with the issues and mindset of the time in mind.
posted by jb at 3:19 PM on April 1, 2011


The point of the advertising campaign is to get you in the door. They can educate you about what a sonofabitch Jackson was once you get there.

The museum does you no good if you don't go inside it. The Smithsonian is always getting new, cool stuff - a campaign like this, that would juxtapose cool, modern acquisitions/facts/events against more "properly historical" pieces of the collection/events, etc., you might actually get some people in the door that, unlike the typical member of the MeFi demographic, might not have gone there without such advertising. Please, do this campaign - and then take the opportunity presented by new patrons to educate the public.

I might be crazy though.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:52 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


jb, I normally really appreciate your contributions to threads, but in this case you are on crack. Nobody's suggesting that your professional colleagues at the Smithsonian are incapable of overcoming their biases in terms of their peer-reviewed work. On the other hand, if you don't think being the national museum, and federally funded*, affects the topics that the Smithsonian presents and the way in which they're presented, we so radically disagree on the premises for discussing the biases of the Smithsonian as an institution that there's no point in discussing the matter further. The Smithsonian side has had at least one run-in with Congress over intelligent design (admittedly not over presentation, but ID has huge implications for how evolution is presented in the Natural History museum) and as recently as last December the National Gallery (also part of the Smithsonian) pulled a video from a gay-themed exhibit in a brouhaha that ended up with Eric Cantor urging the gallery to censor the entire exhibit and Bill Donohue urging Congress to stop funding the Smithsonian--as the House is currently trying to do to NPR. If the historians at the Smithsonian are somehow immune to the pressures that are facing their colleagues in natural history and the arts, I for one would be shocked.

*also funded by large corporations, who don't necessarily want to pay for exhibits that are controversial or that run counter to the interests of the funders, although I think of that as more of a problem on the natural history/science side. Apart from evolution, how about climate change?

And in any case, the real issue here is that this is a funny, clever, engaging campaign that the Smithsonian doesn't like in part because as the national museum for history, it's got to be all SRS BZNS about history. This is a shame because Medieval Maven nails it: you can do more with and show more to people when you get them in the door, even if you are stuck worrying about how you can satisfy the kind of people who want to turn off your funding if you tell the nasty side of our national history as well as the story of our manifest destiny and national greatness.
posted by immlass at 7:13 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your mother is pretty good at organizing coupons

Mother Jones was called the most dangerous woman in America for organizing the mine workers and creating the IWW.

Museums-Your mama.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:24 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ted Nugent shoots at defenseless animals.

General George S. Patton shot down Luftwaffe aircraft using his pistol.

Museums-Its a free for all (on Wednesdays).
posted by hal_c_on at 8:33 PM on April 1, 2011


immlass - I haven't been to the Smithsonian as an adult, but I've never found the curation to be historically questionable in any other government supported museum (British museum, Museum of London, Royal Ontario Museum, Imperial War Museum, V&A, Canadian War Museum). I know someone who complains that "The Trench Experience" at the Imperial War Museum was much too clean and nice, but I didn't find much white-washing in general in British museums (not like the British Life in the Uk citizenship book).

Is the Smithsonian not like these sister institutions?
posted by jb at 9:00 PM on April 1, 2011


particularly when he's being compared negatively to a racist eugenicist.

Reducing this man to these caricatures does nothing but make you come off as an axe grinder. I mean come on, you're comparing him unfavorably to 50 Cent? Boycott national parks if you want to take a stand against everything TR stood for, otherwise for God's sake take the time to learn a little more about the man.

Fun fact: TR negotiated the end to the Ruso-Japanese War, which had claimed 130,000 soldiers by that point, because he was eager to leave for his bear hunting trip. That's right, he negotiated a seemingly impossible peace among parties sharing hundreds of years of hatred so that he could go kill bears with his bare hands*.

*some facts such as killing bears with bare hands may indeed by "facts"
posted by TungstenChef at 9:34 PM on April 1, 2011


I don't think they whitewash, but I think there are definitely some safe-choices issues. IME, it's on the level of a high-school to college history textbook, which inevitably involves some simplification of issues. Certainly the Lincoln exhibit I saw at the history museum on the Mall last year didn't whitewash some of the less appealing aspects of his presidency, but the level of controversy presented was limited in the same way that women's history/black history/Native history were sidebarred when I was in secondary school back in the dark ages. The Smithsonian doesn't sidebar black history--there was a large, if pop-oriented, exhibit on the Apollo Theater while I was there--but there's no question that the audience it aims at is middlebrow with all the limitations on approaches that necessarily requires. It's not a question of the work of the historians; it's more a question of management's operating assumptions about what will cause controversy and what will get funded easily.

Another thing about the Smithsonian is that the collection has been accumulated and curated over time. While historians are always revising their understanding of events and historical figures, there's not always enough money to bring every exhibit up to date with the most current information and understanding. While the curation of new exhibits may be as unbiased as possible given current knowledge, that doesn't mean older permanent exhibits don't carry the biases of the time they were created. (This is the kind of thing that leaves you with the Halls of Funny Brown People in the AMNH in New York. Those exhibits are awful, frankly racist, and need to go, but there's not enough money to fix them, and corporate sponsors would rather pay for dinosaurs and planetariums and IMAX and space stuff, which is exciting. In art, this is why you get a ton of travelling exhibitions about Egypt and Impressionism. Planners know that people go to those blockbuster shows when they may not go to an exhibit of lesser-known works.)

I did see some curation last year that made an eyebrow go up in the Natural History museum, where they had an exhibit to do with birds and evolution that was somehow related to Darwin. There was nothing wrong with the science presented, but they were clearly careful to endorse evolution in a way that didn't touch the idea that humans had evolved. I noticed the omission, and I wasn't at all surprised to find out afterwards that the Smithsonian had tangled with somebody in Congress over evolution and ID issues.

(Also, while I understand the objectives of the NMAI and I'm glad I've been, the curation choices make my teeth itch.)
posted by immlass at 9:36 PM on April 1, 2011


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