Tuesday, April 01, 2008

This is STUPID. Can we go back to the hotel?

The hubby and I both love museums. We love exploring science museums, analyzing art and ogling oddities of all sorts. When we decide to take weekender trips, usually it’s to see some exciting new museum on at least one of our days. Our recent trip to Cleveland took us to the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Science museums are a blast for us. We’re both passionate about learning and, spoiled perhaps by the Museum of Science & Industry here in Chicago and the MOSI in Tampa, have enjoyed long days wandering around the exhibits. We excitedly added the GLSC to our list of destinations. The website made it seem interesting enough, though smaller than our favorite in Chicago. When we arrived we marveled that we seemed to be the only ones there not toting small children. It was only after we bought our tickets for the IMAX movie and the museum that we realized why that was the case.

The GLSC is a glorified playground. It was filled with noisy children running completely amok EVERYWHERE. Instead of using the displays as a tool for learning, 90% of the parents were using them as tools for distraction. Let’s not teach the kids WHY this is making noise, let’s just let them make their noise. And let’s not talk about the parents who shot sidelong glances to tell us that we were lingering at a display too long and not giving their kid a turn. It was insanity and within 15 minutes I was nursing a migraine. And in under an hour we had explored the ENTIRE place. The exhibits were almost exclusively designed for children, and the second one piqued our interest we were stared down or, twice, shoved out of the way by impatient children. We resisted and said EXCUSE ME, to which the children sheepishly responded with an “excuse me”, but it was insanity.

The IMAX film about the Mars rover was also filled with hundreds of children far too young to understand what they were seeing. So, of course, they got bored. Then they got wiggly. Then they got noisy. It was, all in all, a truly awful excursion and we were thankful it was only a couple of hours with the movie.

The next day, we headed out to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’m a huge music trivia nerd, and my husband is a music lover, so this was an exciting place. (Granted, I enjoyed it far more than he did.) The thing about this place is that it’s marketed as a fun-filled place for EVERYONE, when, in fact, it’s like any niche museum. First-off, it’s filled with stuff. That’s right, just stuff, with the occasional video presentation. Many of the attendees were so disappointed, as if they were expecting to come and meet David Bowie instead of looking at the costumes that spanned his many personas. And all but one child was bored practically to tears.

Because, like it or not, most kids could not care less about museums, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum included. Surrounded by shinies and sparklies that they cannot touch, that hold little to no meaning whatsoever to them, their parents tried to explain it to make it sound interesting, and it was sad. I could tell how excited many of the parents were to be there, and I read the frustration in their eyes, in their furrowed brows, as their kids moped and begged to go back to the hotels. A 9-year-old doesn’t know who ZZ-Top was, why it’s super cool that the Eliminator, the car they used in all their videos in the ‘80s, was sitting right there, or why it was so impressive to see Hunter S. Thompson’s actual manuscript from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (some of the best lines of the book and film, right there, in their original format). They certainly don’t think that seeing the actual guitar that was smashed in the cover images for London Calling is one of the coolest things ever and they don’t care about the evolution of the BeeGees or why the Beatles and the Stones were so influential for the same reason they don’t care about a painting painted 200 years ago or ruins from the 12th Century because it doesn’t feature blinking lights and freaked out animation.

Parents, if you want to spend some time at a museum, then spend some time at a museum. If your kid is not the type to be impressed by history of any sort, don’t force it on them. It’s painful for you, you won’t enjoy it as you deserve, and it’s painful for those around you who have to deal with your kid’s incessant whining about how “this is stupid.” You’re not going to make them suddenly appreciate it, and it’s okay that they don’t.

That said, the rare kid that was excited about the museum was a treat to see. One scruffly-headed boy of about 12 ran to every guitar display and got really excited – clearly he was raised knowing a lot about the legendary guitarists. Another little hippie girl was so excited about seeing the Beatles stuff. These are the kids that really belonged there.

Bored children or not, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum was a total treat for me. And, as we stopped at a pub for dinner and drinks afterward, and out to the club for a late night, we lamented about how we were able to appreciate it as we wanted to. We get to do what WE want to do without considering the kids and what we’ll do with them. That’s pretty awesome, I think.


Allyson said...

Glad to know you enjoyed your stay in my hometown!

I need to hit the GLSC before I move . . . I've been to the Rock Hall about 4 times at this point; I think I'm good on that one!

Anonymous said...

I love museums, as well, and it's my dream to be a curator for a history museum (and to that end, I'll be getting my Masters degree in public history in just 5 weeks!). But I hate it when I go to a museum and it's nothing but screaming and/or bored children. Children under 3 never belong in any kind of museum, period. And children who clearly don't want to be there should not be dragged there by their parents, either.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and have appreciated your insight as I read through the posts. We've all experienced the presence of kids where they're miserable and sharing their frustration.

Locally I have a reverse dilema. There's a great Children's Museum here, and I'd love to see what it's all about. I'm waiting for a friend with kids to visit so I can indulge my own curiosity. Don't want to stick out as the only childless visitor.

I do the same with kid-oriented movies -"borrow" a child because it makes the experience fuller. Then after sharing their joy, I delight in returning him to his parents.

Isa said...

This is a really interesting issue. I'm a curator in a major social history museum here in Australia, and have also worked in family public programs and events. Given this experience, I have to say that the Museum is a place for EVERYONE. Just as parents should respect that their children don't automatically have the first dibs on an interactive exhibit, I also feel that you can't hold it against parents for bringing their children to a museum or exhibition which THEY may want to visit.

There is a real socio-econonic barrier in the world of cultural institutions like museums and galleries, and part of what we are tryimg to do is get rid of this exclusivity, and become more open and friendly to broader audiences.

Tolerance is required at a higher level in public places such as this (in Australia at least the national cultural institutions are all tax-payer funded, therefore they really do belong to everyone).

Good exhibition design can make a difference too - things like creating places specifically for children, allowing areas for 'free play' that will assist in expending excess energy and where the behavioural expectations are made clear.

But just as you are glad you don't have to spend your weekends thinking of things for the kids to do, it's also reasonable that public spaces like Museums and galleries are accessible to everyone, and that you cannot expect them to be child-free.