Saturday, January 3, 2015

Reflection for the New Year

Happy New Year to all you MuseumX fans!  For our first post of 2015, we (predictably) will be doing some reflecting on the past…  Although we are going back kinda far this New Year—from 2015 all the long way back to 1968.

As 2014 has come to a close, so too will “The 1968 Exhibit” at the Chicago History Museum (tomorrow is the last day to catch it!).  Fortunately we did not drop the ball before the ball dropped - we were able to attend a special viewing of it last month!

To be honest, I was not thrilled about the subject matter of this exhibit, solely based on personal preferences.  The 1960’s are generally a period of American History I have always been uninterested in.  My parents are products of the mid-60’s, and my mother is nostalgic, so she always had on TV sitcoms from the era..  As a kid, these bugged me because they were A) not animated and B), unbelievably not-funny.  So much of what I reluctantly digested from the 60s, I disliked, because it was not relatable.  As I grew older and learned more about the Civil Rights Movement, the American political system, the Vietnam War, my disinterest was sustained.  What a sad, sad time.  To have an exhibit that highlighted so many of these central events and themes of the 1960s, was not that exciting to me.  Fortunately, my mind was changed very quickly upon entering the gallery in the Chicago History Museum.

The foremost recollection of this exhibit is the entrance, because it is so striking.  The first space within ‘1968’ is at first, a normal living room by 1960s standards: golden brown, straight lines, wooden furniture, more shades of brown, and, a television set.  Next in the order of the living room properties is an actual “Huey” helicopter, to denote the heavy presence of the Vietnam War in the thoughts (and tv sets) of Americans during the war.  It’s a powerful and provocative image.  The staging in ‘1968’ is pretty well done elsewhere in the gallery, too—my favorite “scene” is the desk of a typical young woman in her 20s during the 1960s.  While the technology has shifted a bit from the blue typewriter featured on this desk, I can firmly say that the general set up of the room (political posters, colors, birth control) remains the same (being friends with several female new-age hippies currently in their 20s).

Desk of a "Modern Woman," from 1968
Actually, this very characteristic of ‘1968: The Exhibit’ to me is what was most surprising, and most rewarding: the events presented during 1968 are presented in such a way that they are totally relatable to the happenings of 2014.  While ‘1968’ is nostalgic to many of the museumgoers that lived through the year themselves, I have no personal ties to the 60s.  Although I was not really turned on by the subject matter of the exhibit, I was able to enjoy myself moving through the year of 1968, both learning new information about these events, and relating them to events that are happening this day in age.

One of the many graphics on Race Issues in 1968
At no point was this relatability more clear than at the station in the exhibit dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.  Watching the featured documentary clip, listening to his words on oppression, violence and peace, was so eerie.  The violence and racism of which he speaks has not really changed at all, although 46 years have passed since that time.  Ambling through the exhibit, you will see words like “police brutality,” “violence,” “racism,” and “equality” appear at multiple points during that year.  Although the exhibit provides great context for these words and corresponding events, none is needed.  These words, these struggles and instances, are still occurring.  In light of the recent tragedies in Ferguson and New York, to name just a few, it was striking to look upon these acts of violence that happened in 1968 and know that we have made little progress since. The Civil Rights Movement remains ongoing all the way into 2015.  I was grateful “1968” was able to make me look at my own day in age differently.

Food for Thought: Up top, from 2014, below, from 1968

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