Monday, July 31, 2006

The Washington Ghost

My normal morning routine is starting back up again now that I'm back in the studio. 7 AM finds me at my favorite coffee shop downing a tall Americano accompanied by a sesame bagel with peanut butter. There's a familiar gang of locals sharing lively banter for about half and hour. Al, originally from Portugal, served in his native country's army as a cook in Mozambique, is currently a general contractor and, because of a fantastic voice, has a blossoming side career as a professional singer/songwriter. Powell is a Tiger Woods look-alike who co-owns a small venture capital firm focusing on emerging West African markets. Ted, a fellow Penn State graduate, is a retired military consultant and sports car enthusiast who can nearly always be found sporting jeans with ripped out knees, a baggy button-down shirt draped over his skinny frame and a well worn pair of cowboy boots. Jim, an independent insurance agent, is a frustrated political columnist, who with the simple addition of a cigarette holder, is a dead ringer for Hunter S. Thompson.

The coffee shop makes available, along with the free conversation, gratis copies of several daily newspapers. Our local paper, The Free-Lance Star, is a great small town rag with a big city feel. I always read it first. The Washington Post is also available and although free, there always seems to be a price to paid for reading it.

For years I swore by The Washington Post. Today, in large part due to the orgy of spin to be found in the World A section, I find it an embarrasment. In this morning's edition that misplaced rhetorical excess and sophmoric indulgence spilled over into my favorite Style C section. I would expect what I find in it's pages in an unsupervised college paper.......not in a national mouthpiece.

On today's page C-1 an article, "Next Exit Marine Land" , about the new National Musuem of the Marine Corps and written by Philip Kennicott, appeared center page. Though not exactly a laudatory article, it was largely well written and focused on analyzing the museum's architectural elements and overall concept in relationship to the physical site and current museum trends.

Like the actual War on Terrorism, I've been involved directly in the development of The National Museum of the Marine Corps. I know all the hard work, creativity, care and attention that has, and continues to be poured by dedicated folks into this worthy project. I know what the ultimate mission of this institution is, the celebration of individual Marines and the Corps they hold sacred. Reading the words of someone who's spent one day in an unfinished structure, like the press releases of journalists far from the fighting, is always more revealatory of both the writer and their publication than the actual item or event being reported on.

Here's the final paragraph, which starts out well enough and even manages to head down the center of the road.....until the now predictable and insulting swerve to the left into the guardrail at the very end.

This is a museum about volume, energy and speed, rather like the highway it overlooks. Some people look at superhighways and see excitement, mobility and freedom. Others see anxiety, restlessness and urgency. It is the last of these, urgency, that one feels most strongly in the architecture of the Marine museum. This is an expanding country, a diversifying country, and a country that is essentially failing in the project of teaching its citizens fundamental lessons of history, democracy and the vulnerabilities of democracy. This building is put together to bring people out of their private space, in huge numbers, to teach them a little, very quickly, about the cost of liberty (and maybe the dangers of empire).

"Danger of empire"? Where in God's name did that come from? Do the editors at this formerly great institution ever read and review the work of their writers? Apparently not. Stuff like this belongs on the editorial/opinion pages, not in articles.

So now I find myself seeing this paper, The Washington Ghost, permeated by poltergeists, and absent of authentic journalists. Sad.


Kristopher Battles said...

Isn't it surreal, the way some in the media think? There's such an ignorance and/or hubris on the part of these guys, that makes them assume that the filter through which they view the world is the same that the American people use, or even the same that journalists have always used?

What disconnect they have with history; what disconnect with their heritage; what disconnect with reality.

Beth* A. said...

"final paragraph, which starts out well enough and even manages to head down the center of the road.....until the now predictable and insulting swerve to the left into the guardrail at the very end."

- And that swerve generated one fatality - the last bastion of trust in the writers on the staff of the WaPo. They keep trying but resuscitation has proved impossible. Ghost indeed.

Donna, Los Osos, CA said...

He worded it carefully, don't you think? If called to the carpet, he can always say he was referring to the Hitler's of the world, not America!

What a fool. If I was all'd have my permission to give him a Marine-thrashing.

Semper gratus,

Jeannine said...

Hey Mike, glad to have you back in town. I too just got back and checked in to find your entries on the article in the Post. Intrigued, I pulled the entire article and found myself appalled on so many levels about this guy's take on architecture and musueology (2 things I just happen to know a few things about!). As a museum designer and architect, it was always incumbent upon us to marry the needs of museum display and presentation (sorry, nowadays that DOES just happen to be a black box for flexibility of installations and conservation requirements) with the zeitgeist of the institution we were working for. My head started to explode at the musing that the whole structure "would be a stronger space if not quite so cluttered with particular details meant to ensure the visitor that this isn't just any old modernist space, but very particularly a "Marine" space." Clearly the guy has the same erudite sense of architecture as we all faced in our architectural school project reviews, so often missing the point that architecture is a tool for realizing the needs of the client, not just a decontextualized object. Here, the "client" is architecturally represented in word, sculptural allegory and soaring ambition. I mean, the Marines are not just every day guys and gals that can be expressed by the generic classical museum/library of this fellow's supposed longing. Today's museology tries to reach the visitor on many levels, and that experience starts in some ways when you look at the building from any distance: why go there? Is it compelling enough to pull you in? Does it whisper in your ear throughout that you are in a space apart from others? Yes? Then it's a building that's done it's job. The rest is up to the museum exhibit designers, educators and curators to drive the point home within the author's abhored black box spaces. As for going back to the "library rather than renting a movie" I think he may have read only the Clif Notes on museology; next time check out the whole book to understand that museums are faced with the difficult reality of declining attendance and bigger expectations for "edutainment" from the public. Without going Disney on the exhibition end, it is still possible to educate in a broader populist and multi-faceted way (immersive he calls it) as opposed to an elitist detached observation of the object. Architecturally, our hope is that if you build it well, they will come. And if they come, maybe they'll learn something. Is that so different from the classical museum paradigm?