Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Museum of Science and Industry is a crock

So, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry with some out-of-towners. This place bills itself as the largest science museum in the western hemisphere. So, it has quantity, if not quality.

On the occasion of Christmas, there is this syrupy display, which also manages to be culturally insensitive -- possibly even to Americans. There are a whole bunch of Christmas trees decorated in the mode of different countries -- "beautifully decorated by members of Chicago’s ethnic communities", they say. Here's what that means: take the most obvious and stereotyped symbols of a place, and plaster them over an evergreen. Thus the Canadian tree is covered in maple leafs and hockey paraphernalia, and the American tree is covered in American flags (decorated by members of Chicago's American community). So, those are just silly, but it's starting to get a little tasteless when you get the Kenyan tree with a giraffe sticking out of it.

The museum has a whole exhibit devoted to petroleum and oil. Now you might think that this would be very topical right about now. Except it doesn't say a thing about climate change, or conflicts over oil, or the possibility that we could just plain run out. Why not? Well, a clue can be found in another exhibit, on nuclear energy. This exhibit features a map identifying different countries, and informing you how much of their energy comes from nuclear sources. Among the countries you get to learn about on this poster in the Museum of Science and Industry are the Soviet Union, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the German Democratic Republic.

The damn thing hasn't been updated in two decades. That map was older than a solid majority of the people in the room.

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