Blockbuster Fatigue

The Times has an interesting article about how museums are hyping up their 'special' exhibitions too much and it is becoming meaningless.

In the context of other leisure activities... are we are so used to having everything marketed to us as 'spectacle' that there is the danger that museums will otherwise be ignored if they do not push what they offer?


Amy said…
As you know, I'm rather preoccupied with the nineteenth century at the moment, and it's just occurred to me, reading this article and your comments Ceri, that one can trace a link between the international exhibitions of the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries (roughly the Great Exhibition to the Festival of Britain) and the so-called blockbuster exhibitions. As Grayson Perry says, it's all 'once in a lifetime' this and 'spectacle' that. We are encouraged, no compelled to attend under a kind of insidious social and cultural pressure to experience these 'unique' events. It all feeds into a sense of collective social/cultural identity and memory, I think. We have a need to say 'I was there'. I took part (albeit in a very small way) in this great event which will go down in history. Of course, the more frequently these kind of exhibitions occur, the less they we perpetuate in the collective memory.

It also reflects, I think, today's society. So many of us experience a large proportion of our lives 'virtually'. We have more information at our fingertips than ever before. More information, in fact, than we could ever possibly know what to do with. Things are no longer mysteries* - we can call up an image of an object in seconds. So, perhaps, a relationship with the real object - seeing it with our own eyes - is more important than ever. After all, seeing is believing. ;)

However, I always feel a bit let down by the whole experience - often a bit of an anti-climax when you actually get there. And the memories really don't persist in the way one would like (or perhaps expect). I believe strongly that our memories are, to an extent, constructions based on reading reviews or talking to other people after the event - not necessarily entirely based on our own experience of the event.

*I can find an allusion in my current research, i.e. as contact between Europe and China increased in the mid-nineteenth century, the western fascination with China began to alter from reverence to contempt.
Ceri said…
I have to agree with you over this. The funeral of Princess Diana I think was one of the largest spectacles of recent memory. It was so odd for me watching it on television and all the grief that people felt for someone who controlled her image as much as the media sought to control her. We only knew Diana 'virtually' and yet we felt (as a nation) more for her than other people who may have done more than her to help society etc and from a less privileged position than she had.

And then to be told that the whole country is united in grief... well I was sad that she died in such a horrible and seedy fashion but I did not feel anything that could be attributed to grief. And in a way that did make me feel an outsider as I was against what the media reported to be the majority. When in fact most of my friends and family felt the same... so what is this thing we call public?

Whilst on a rant (of sorts) perhaps it is the most 'empty' of experiences that need to be hyped up as spectacle in order to hide the fact there is little to them. I am also thinking of how the media hypes up the most useless celebrities - those who do absolutely nothing and are famous for nothing. Maybe it is just a big ironic joke of which we are the victims!
Ceri said…
Sorry I realised that had little to do with museums!
Amy said…
No, I think it it's a good comparison. I too felt this way at the time. I wondered how many people were doing the whole 'grief-stricken' thing simply because they thought that's how they should be reacting, because that's how the media said 'everyone' felt. I was working at a housing association at the time - I nearly lost the plot when some residents phoned up to request money to set up a shrine (seriously, that's the word they used) on their estate.

Another example might be the myth of community in London during the blitz. While many people did 'pull together', the black market flourished, violent crimes, rape and murder increased. Largely unreported in the media, the perpetrators went undetected. There's always a flipside to these so-called collective experiences. Which leads us back to the discussion we had the other night about using museums as a vehicle to present multiple voices and experiences and subverting the preferred, single linear version of history.

I think the whole pseudo-celebrity thing going on at the moment is akin (in some ways!) to going to watch public hangings or gladiatorial contests. It's a way of dehumanising people for base entertainment. In a way 'Othering' them, to define who we are by what we're not, in an era when (thankfully) overt prejudice on the grounds of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation are unacceptable. Therefore, we focus on less tangible things like personality, background, perceived qualities, or lack of them. Take Britney Spears for example. If a friend had been sexually exploited throughout her teenage years (which she was, let's face it), had to grow up too soon, found herself married to a complete arsehole with two kids by the age of 24, with no qualifications nor career to speak of, not to mention possible alcohol/drugs abuse issues, had a breakdown and as a result was admitted to undergo residential treatment, we'd be really concerned, really supportive, we'd do everything in our power to help her. But, because it's Britney Spears it's presented as vaguely shocking in an amusing, titillating way by the media. And we (I mean society) just accept it without question, for fear of being accused of taking ourselves too seriously, or not being able to get the joke, or - yeah - of being different/Outsiders ourselves, and as such fair game for ridicule. Sad, but I fear it's an inevitability of being human.

Can't tell you've been reading Baudrillard! ;)

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