American Museum of Natural History, New York City

My brother and I had some time to kill on the Upper West Side on Saturday (and I felt like throwing away $40 to park my car for a couple of hours) so we took in the American Museum of Natural History. Perhaps my fifth or sixth visit in my lifetime, and I think the first time I didn’t see the dinosaur bones. I do love that museum, though; it’s a classic example of the Victorian-era museum, with few changes toward a more modern philosophy. This leads in some places to exhibits that might be perceived as socially or racially insensitive (I have to assume there were others that were more offensive, that have since been removed or updated) and to captions that, while not denotatively sexist, are fairly amusing in their language.

Of particular interest was the exhibit on ritual and magic among African tribes. They had a display of ceremonial costumes that was particularly fascinating in its unusual mythology. I would love to see a fantasy world developed around African tradition, the way much of fantasy has been developed around European and Christian mythology. I get the impression Octavia Butler writes things in this vein, but I’m not familiar enough with her work to assume so. I know I greatly enjoy Orson Scott Card’s “Tales of Alvin Maker” series, which plays with North American mythology and beliefs, like knacks, voodoo, and hexes.

I also have to say, a museum like that is great fun when you have a ridiculous sense of humor and an appreciation for the ironic and subtly off-balance the way my brother and I do.

A few photos from our museum experience:

Apparently these are the “first New Yorkers,” according to the caption. The guy on the right is asking someone for a quarter. The guy on the left secretly thinks that Jeter is a fag. I mostly took the picture because of the peg leg.

This is from the “Hall of Awesome” (our name, not theirs), an exhibit that was just lots and lots of preserved animals hung in no particular order on the walls… Just about thrown in a heap on the floor, actually. I think the point was to show “biodiversity” and motivate people to save endangered species, but that might be a stretch. Take, for instance:

Some kind of crab monster that was attacking us. I like to call this part the “Wall of Molluscs”

A squid fighting a flamingo? That’s just confusing.

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