Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stephen Colbert takes over the Smithsonian

I was in Washington, DC the first week of January... two weeks before the inauguration of President Obama. The crowds were non-existent, and we flitted around the city, except for the buffer of street closings around the Hay-Adams Hotel where the Obama family was staying. We went to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History which was recently reopened after a major renovation. The new exhibit for the star spangled banner is the first exhibit when you walk in the door, and that exhibit is far better than it was in the pre-renovation museum. Another new addition is Julia Child's kitchen, and I could have spent at least an hour in there watching the videos of her and inspecting every detail of her entire kitchen from Cambridge, MA, that was dismantled and reassembled in the museum.

Three renovated exhibits were disappointing. The fashions of the first ladies used to be in the basement, and it's now on the main floor, but the new exhibit space feels smaller than the old one, and they do not have all of the fashions I know they have in their possession on display. The display of the lunch counter from the Woolworth's in Greensboro, NC where the sit-in occurred in 1960 is poorly done. You can see a picture of the counter in the original Woolworth's, and you can see four seats from the lunch counter, but the display does little to help people appreciate the significance of the counter or the broader context of the civil rights movement. Finally, you can no longer see the Fonz's leather jacket --- it's not on display! The museum still has an "American Memories" exhibit, which displays the Americana memorabilia including Kermit the Frog and Dorothy's slippers from the Wizard of Oz. A huge painting of Stephen Colbert (the one he used to have on his set) hangs to greet people walking into the "American Memories" exhibit. I just can't count Stephen Colbert as a "memory" when he's still on TV! In 20 years, maybe... but right now, he's not a memory. Bring back the Fonz.