Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ah, Museum Humor

Ah, museum humor. In an earlier post, I have referred to this phenomenon. And my sister has pointed out that it may be a brand of humor with a limited appeal.

Sometimes I am aware of moving in two worlds: the one inhabited by the vast majority of the world (Normal People) and the one inhabited by people I work with (Museum People).

ONLY for the purposes of this post, ‘Normal People’ refers to people who don’t work in museums. I know good and well just how ‘normal’ that makes some of you, but that’s a discussion for another time. Right now we’re talking about the weirdness particular to the insular world of museums.

At a national conference a few years ago one of the speakers gave a speech that mimicked Jeff Foxworthy’s famous “You know you’re a redneck if…” riff, but instead went, “You know you’re a museum person if…” The following list is a partial recount of that speech, with some additions of my own. The crowd at the conference thought it was hilarious, but I’m willing to bet most non-museum people will just think it’s odd.

This should give you a glimpse of the Museum World.

You know you’re a Museum Person if…

- You complain about the ‘signage’ in your local grocery store.

- You use the date estimate ‘circa’ in everyday conversation.

- Your office contains at least two of the following: a taxidermied animal you did not shoot or catch yourself, fire proof filing cabinets, an enormous quantity of white gloves, a Brother P-Touch label-maker, an eyewash station, dozens of pantone color chips, yellowing catalogue cards, a space-aged vacuum that looks like R2D2, a reproduction of a Sears mail-order catalogue c.1905, or an Underwood typewriter c.1910.

- You would be upset to receive fresh flowers at work – and bring in pests!?! The horror.

- Your own personal thermostat is so perfectly calibrated that you can immediately tell when you’ve walked into a room that has cooled or warmed a whole two degrees away from its usual temperature.

- Most things you encounter can somehow be tied to the state education curricula for grades 2-5.

- Your friends bring you baggies with bug carcasses in them, asking for your expert advice: what would you do if you found one of these in your sweater drawer? (‘Scream’ is apparently not considered a ‘professional’ answer.)

- You’ve ever followed a list serve discussion on how to catalogue Dentist Barbie, how to rephrase the command ‘Please don’t touch’ or what were the best Christmas gifts of the 1950s.

- People assume you’re on a first-name basis with Tutankhamen, Claude (Monet), George (Washington), Isabella (Stewart Gardner) and other worthies.

- Anyone at any time has recommended that you or your workplace should appear on Antiques Roadshow.

Now I’m sure few of you are actually rolling around laughing, clutching your sides, begging for mercy and oxygen. But really. That’s just about the acme of museum humor. I find it pretty amusing, but will understand if you don’t.


Pumpkin said...

Okay, so I am laughing but at only one of them...the 'bug carcass' one....the rest kinda fly over my
I've always loved the idea of working in a museum, mostly because I grew up with a love of the 'Glasgow Huntarian' which, before it got all revamped, was my favourite place to go. Who wouldn't love to be surrounded by parts of history and beautiful things all day?
I decided it probably wouldn't be the career for me when, every time I entered the museum, I had an almost uncontrollable urge to climb up onto the T-Rex skeleton that used to sit in the foyer.......y'know, the kind of thing that would most likely make you scream 'DON'T TOUCH' on your first sighting of
ps...I never gave into the urge....not once, I'm a good girl after all!!!

I love hearing your stories of being a museum curator....let's me live vicariously...thank you.

l-bean said...

Two of my favorite things about working in a museum.

1) The amazingly strange list of things you will do in the span of one day-- pick up a potbelly stove from a donor's yard; paint part of an exhibit; research and write labels; talk with other museum folks; try to fix the toilet that won't quit running and that you can hear through the vent in your office; write a grant; pick up crickets; and train docents on a new exhibit. Seriously...all in one day.

2) Overhearing visitor comments about exhibits. I have two that I remember vividly. One, we have an archeology pit in the hall of our museum. Even though there is a label that explains what it's about, I overheard, "Oh. Look.. It's a mine shaft. "See all the rubble?" The other was right after we'd put up a mural depicting the first court trial against the KKK in the 1920s (which happened in our county courthouse across the street). A woman asked me, "Do you really think the KKK was as bad as everyone makes them out to be?" Uh. "Yes." I went on to describe lynchings and the like.

LaLa said...

My favorite visitor comment was overheard by a little kid who sounded like Baby Bear on Sesame Street - you know, all w sounds instead of r's. Everything he saw was "vewy intewesting."