The National Museum of Boomer Nostalgia

It was a two family trip to the Smithsonian's American History Museum in DC today. We went because the 2-3 year old boys would love the "America on the Move" exhibit. And they did. But I got a near lethal dose of the dreaded BN.

A note of full disclosure: the Trackball has had it up to here with the Boomer Nostalgia. I was born in 1973, which unfortunately was the same year that BN started - "American Graffiti" came out. It's a great movie by a great director. But it lead to Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Grease, Back to the Future, the Wonder Years, American Dreams, oldies stations, Forrest Gump and all the other stuff that is anchored in the Boomer's golden age, which apparently stretches from 1955 to about 1965. Maybe 1968 or 69. Then, as we all know, the world effectively came to an end (maybe because the oldest boomers had to get real jobs for the first time). I'm not saying that I don't like any of these things, but could we let some other generations get a word in, say the ones who fought WWII, or the Revolution, or how about Gen Y, which is bigger than the Boomers? (And no, movies and History Channel specials about WWII are just Boomers reliving their childhood.)

So here I stood, in this exhibit that is supposed to stretch from 1876 to the current day, trying to figure out if my Boomer nostalgia antennae were getting a false reading or not. The exhibit moves through the 1876-1920s pretty quickly, except for the parts that Boomers had some connection to, like trains, trolleys and street cars that were still around when they were kids. The whole horse and buggy thing was dispensed with kinda quickly. Apparently America also never had waterways or air travel.

And then the cars portion came and went on and on and on. The glorification of the 1930-1960s cars included Route 66, a car dealer showroom, hotrods and neon and sleek Buicks and Fords. Drive-up diner thingies straight out of American Graffiti. Even the mass transit was all set in the 1950s.

The exhibit only soured on cars when it got to the 1970s, where sprawl, the gas crisis, and foreign imports all help evoke Boomers' feelings that the party was over. If it was too subtle to make this point with the placards, they stage a huge traffic jam with a minivan and a 1977 Honda Civic. For modern day they showed a depressing map of L.A.'s sprawling cityscape and a digital tickertape of old news about terrorism, the 1999 Seattle riots and general misery. Oh, happy modern day.

I wasn't convinced though until we went into the exhibit's gift shop. It was like walking into a toy store in 1966. It was all 50s and 60s toy cars, a couple of WWII-type planes thrown in and lots of other toys from Boomer childhood days. There should have been a sign: no one admitted unless they are a Boomer grandparent who will want to give their grandchild the EXACT same toys they had as a kid. I've felt less out of place in Victoria's Secret pushing a stroller.

The museum will be closed and completely renovated. When it reopens, one can only hope that it doesn't turn out like the retro Tomorrowland at Disney World: a tribute to a previous vision of the future that ignores its current visitors, who must be wondering why no one seems to care about what happened before 1947 or after 1969.

1 comment:

mondale/ferraro foreva! said...

ahhh yeahhh! gotta love boomer nostalgia! indeed, 1947 thru 1969 was the greatest time ever, we can't deny it any longer!