Saturday, November 1, 2014

Regional Political Correctness and the American Museum of Natural History

As part of low self esteem, I have noticed that my friends in San Francisco or Cambridge MA are by their very nature more in touch with the socially politically correct doctrines which are required for one to be accepted by certain elements of our elite society. When a friend in SF goes to the library, he goes to a union worker's library founded in the late 19th century. When he is involved in a bisexual S&M polyamorous relationship/s, I know that he is on the leading edge of socially correct behavior by his very nature. I am envious of this since I am a notorious stick-in-the-mud who does not even own a single pair of handcuffs.

This regional cultural diversity or sensitivity towards leading edge correctness has also been brought home to me by people who live in the Cambridge, MA academic circles. Their sensors are so finely tuned that they can sense an incorrect belief from hundreds of yards away and respond correctly, which is to say with the hot certainty of outrage at the presence of incorrect thought.

Other regions of the country bring other sensitivities and advantages. I noticed when I lived in NYC that I naturally had a much greater sense of what was happening in the finance community than I did living anywhere else. It was interesting, it wasn't necessarily practical information, but you just naturally heard things. You heard some anecdotes about the insurance industry after 911, and about the savings and loan crisis years before the controlled press bothered to mention it. In N. California any supermarket packer knows more about venture capital than most people in the world. In LA, we know more about what is going on in the glamourous motion picture industry and know intuitively that reward for merit and art-for-arts-sake is not part of the equation, generally speaking, but only happens more or less by accident when it happens at all.

I have an example that demonstrates this fine sensitivity to political correctness and also political incorrect blindness of these different regions of our country. In order to understand this example, I first have to explain a few things about an esteemed institution in the NYC area, the American Museum of Natural History (the AMNH).

NYers love the American Museum of Natural History. The local US Post Office Branch for Zipcode 10024 is proudly called Planetarium Station in its honor.  When I consulted for the AMNH almost every adult male I knew who grew up in the region volunteered the information that he had committed hookey (skipped a day at school) as a kid and spent the day at the AMNH and that it was very important to them that a certain exhibit (perhaps the weird marsupial third from the right) not be touched because it was their favorite. Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium was a local hero and celebrity in NYC years before the Cosmos reboot established him in the national consciousness.

Skeletons in the closet?  What do you mean?

Any institution that has been around for a while is likely to have a skeleton or two in the closet, but at the AMNH they really do have skeletons in the closet. Many closets in fact. No one inside would accuse the AMNH of perfection but NYers do not care.   The halo of their esteem protects this institution from criticism and for most NYers it can do no wrong.

At one point, I was “seeing” someone who worked in academia at MIT in Cambridge, MA. She would come visit me in NYC and of course I would take her to my local favorite institution, the AMNH. The museum earned her contempt almost immediately because so many of the exhibits there consist of a vast number of ethnicities described by a set of mannequins dressed in representative clothes and with a selection of artifacts, facts, food types, cultural descriptions and so forth. But “humans under glass” is not considered politically correct in modern museum theory, even though these older exhibits are very informative and also very low maintenance, which is a good thing. I used to direct people to our project offices at the museum by telling them to go to the Hall of the Ancient Murdered Peoples and turn left at the cold blue nomads.

But that is nothing compared to the first time she saw the front of the museum.

Teddy on his horse surrounded by his young fans in blue

At the front of the AMNH is a statue of Theodore Roosevelt which most NYers would barely even notice. Pres. Roosevelt had quite a bit to do with the history of the AMNH and had an office there when he left the White House. 1 His statue in front of the main entrance is of him on a horse looking bravely into the far distance and being followed by a Native American and an African on foot and walking a few respectful paces behind.

My friend from Cambridge did not get closer than 100 yards of this statue before she started fuming. She was no closer than 50 yards before she started all-but-screaming in outrage at this, well, outrage. This essence of non-political correctness. This racist, imperialist, oppressive example of American narcissism and cultural arrogance. The white man leading the colorfully dressed savages into the future of white oppression.

I tried to reassure her that the Museum understood her concern and that the statue as it existed was already an improved version.  The original version of the statue had the colorfully-dressed native people carrying Roosevelt's luggage and there were three of them, not two. The third was an orthodox Jew carrying the accounting books, but the Jewish lobby in New York was able to get him removed. The original slogan for the statue was “They Will Learn To Respect the Whip" but now it says something benign.

But all my efforts were to no avail and her mood never improved.

American Museum of Natural History


1. I have been in this office and it is very nice.   

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