#46 Going to the movies
This is the sixth part of a more extended series of updates (‘book’) about abundance and how our cultures’ legacy can shape a better tomorrow. If you’re new to this newsletter or missed an earlier update, here’s the index so far:
I imagine this will be an earlier chapter. Or not a chapter at all. It may be a movie. Or performing arts. How I’d love to be on stage again. Below is a simplified transcript of a lecture I did on Tuesday for honors students at the University of Leiden, courtesy of Maartje van der Woude, with whom I’m collaborating on an art and social impact idea.
Imagine. Imagine being in a museum or library. Maybe close your eyes (which is hard while reading). What do you see? What do you smell? What is on the walls? Who else is there?
What did the path leading you to this space look like? What did it feel like? Was the entrance impressive, empowering?
How were you greeted? What are the toilets like? Was it easy to figure out where to leave your coat? Or do you still have it on?
Are you warm or cold? Do you feel safe? Do the people around you feel safe? Do you feel safe with the people around you?
To most people who are not professionals in art and culture, the image they get from art and culture is based on a few scattered experiences. I like to say going to a museum is like going to the dentist: twice a year because you have to. The image is further shaped by movies. Libraries are places of mystique and ancient knowledge — Se7en, Harry Potter. The theatre is a place to flaunt your wealth — La Grande Bellezza cs. And museums… Indiana Jones must have sparked many a career in museology.
To understand those non-professionals, i.e., virtually all people, it pays to understand the movies. I narrow in on museums. They result in the flashiest scenes. Therefore, seven iconic depictions of museums in the movies and what we may learn from them.
Number one. Vertigo. A classic. When you closed your eyes earlier, this may have been what you imagined—a room, empty with people and packed with stuff. Beautiful stuff, or so you are led to believe. And then, an uncanny resemblance (and generous room attendant). It is a complex space. An exclusive space. A space where the rules may be different.
Two. The Thomas Crown Affair, the remake in this case. Iconic movie. I was shocked most students hadn’t seen it. None had. What do we learn from this movie about the world of culture? Well, it’s a world for rich people. People unlike you and me. This begs the question: Are cultural workers rich? The answer: typically not. Are there wealthy people working within this world? Yes. And although the pay ratio from CEO to FOH is not as bad as in the for-profit world, culture is a world of significant inequalities.
The other thing to learn from the Thomas Crown Affair, of course, is the intrigue. Museums can be full of priceless artifacts that are valueless at the same time. They’re not always on the museum’s balance and lose their direct market value when stolen. Most culture, nowadays, is a natural extension of a capitalist system, although not all rules of capital apply to them.
(Efficiency is another. Why pay actors and stagehands and everyone else every night if you can also show a movie?)
Three. Night at the Museum. Now, this they saw. So, what do you get from this movie? A business model, if you can organize nights at your museum. The film sparked a profitable side business for natural and cultural history museums left and right. Because who doesn’t want to believe that the past has relevance in the present?
I know of a few museums that come to life at night. They’re haunted. I haven’t seen anyone capitalize on that fact yet, but I’m sure I haven’t looked well enough.
Yeah. Four. The Square. Do we need to talk about that? We don’t, do we? OK, just a few words.
There is not a single scene in this movie that I haven’t seen happen in real life. The few extraordinary ones I’ve heard about from reliable sources. Also, I have been many of the characters at different moments in my career. I vividly remember when I brought my kids to cultural business meetings. Kid. Singular. He played under the table while we discussed narratives. It was my… well, whatever.
Five. Yes! John Wick. I must say I’m a big fan of the John Wick movies. I find them enthralling. Realistic and yet utterly unrealistic. There is also a library scene that has one of his best kills. The museum is real — the Galleria Nazionale Arte Moderna in Rome (not New York). The mirrors aren’t.
Spoiler alert, museums don’t see this much violence typically. Even the Kortz Center in GTA is quiet in comparison. But culture can be a violent place. Art is a violent place. Oppression, exclusion, exploitation… John Wick has nothing on the British Museum.
Six. Ocean’s 8. I actually haven’t seen this one myself, but I’ve read everything there is to read about it. I understand it is much like the Thomas Crown Affair, only this time it is not the museum that gets robbed. Fine by me. I immensely enjoyed the Louvre scenes in Lupin earlier this year as well. Museums are great places for a crime. What does this teach us about the world of culture?
Seven. Yes, there will be a seven. But before we do. While these movies give a sense of what a museum is by what they show, they equally show what a museum is by what’s missing from them. What is absent from these scenes? Who is missing?
No matter the range of museums — from natural history to contemporary art — I think the movies do an excellent job showing culture, by and large, is an exclusive place. Not everyone is welcome. It is OK if you do not understand what is going on. There may be violence. That is, I’m afraid, realistic.
So as the seventh depiction of museums, I wanted to remind you of Apeshit. So much was said and written about this song and its video back in 2018 that I recommend you google if this is new to you. The New York Times reported some excellent articles about it. For the last time, what does this teach us about what culture can also be?
Thanks for reading, subscribing, forwarding, and replying; generally, thank you for being here with me. Apart from the student lecture, I facilitated a session this week in a virtual real room; see below. It was amazing to be on stage again, albeit virtually. It doesn’t look like I’ll get a vaccine anytime soon, so this will be it for now. I also started reading The Ministry for the Future, which has given me nightmares since. Wonderful book.
See you next week, until then, take care!