Museum Rhetoric

This past weekend I took a trip to the Natural History Museum next to USC.  I can’t remember the last time I went.  My only priority was to see the Dinosaur exhibits, and not the Butterfly Exhibit, even though it’s closing this week.  Butterflies are pretty, yes, but I guess once you’ve seen a pavilion full of beautiful, winged bugs, you know exactly what to expect.  I would be more interested by a Bird Aviary.  At least a Macaw has a personality.

Being a Sunday, the halls were stocked with small, hollering children and their parents.  My experience of looking at fossils and dioramas was guided not only by my own instincts, but by a 3-foot tall curious mind who had no compunction about cutting in front of me.

Well, I guess I’m not looking at that T-Rex brain, then. 

It was great to see how kids can just go for it.  As a spectator, you have the pleasure of overhearing the oohs and ahhs of that discovery and wonder.

Having been several years since I’ve been to this museum, I truly noticed how the museum is designed for educating children.  (It was one of my multiple daily dumb epiphanies.)  Everything is kid-height, and the touchable pieces are often very soft & smooth, and bolted down quite well.  I was so jealous of the new interactive touch-screen catalogues, in which you can select a fossil number, and it identifies the animal, bone, the date of the fossil and where it was found.  There were also some species evolution maps, which included the moving of the continents and the appearance and disappearance of an Ice Age as you dragged your finger from beginning to end.  It felt like many a familiar Homer Simpson moments.

Ice Age. No Ice Age.  Horses.  No horses.

What got me most was how I was reacting to the content written on each of signs for each exhibit.  For example, my response to “Four legs can support more weight than two” was:  That’s true.

Another example was of a poster of something that looked like a ocean floor plant which says, “Am I an animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

Hmm, something tells me they’re trying to trick me.

It was not a vegetable, but a species of coral, ergo animal.  It felt like taking the SATs.  The question itself is phrased in such a way to make you doubt yourself.  I immediately started scoffing at the institution of standardized tests, and it made me feel like a cynical adult for a few minutes.


But when I came face to face with the Megamouth Shark (Megachiasma pelagios), its fully intact carcass on display in a tank on the first floor, my mouth was all agape with wonder and awe.  It had been caught off the coast of Catalina Island in 1984.  Looking past the condensation on the top of the glass into the murky water, I gasped.  It looked like a creature from the Yellow Submarine, in all of its freaky, creative psychedelia.  These bastards still swim around below us, deep in the ocean.  I could haphazardly float right into its mouth if I were caught swimming unawares.

I shuddered at the thought, and was happy to be in touch with some of those earthly forces larger than myself for a few minutes, having learned something new.



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