Museums, Memory, and the Logic of Coercive Institutions
National Public Radio has a new series on museums in the United States. People often think of Americans as sports fans or infatuated with pop culture entertainment, but it turns out that we quite the museum goers. Almost 900 million people visit museums annually.
Why are museums so popular?
Philippe de Montebello, former Metropolitan Museum of Art director, answers: "A museum is the memory of mankind."
But we know, too, from many psychological studies that human memory is a very fragile and confusing thing. It is often unreliable and susceptible to being framed and influenced by extraneous forces. We know too often that sometimes people remember things that did not actually happen or not in quite the same way according to different people's recollections.
That why The Pinky Show offers a very interesting take on the museum as a cultural institution. Instead of being neutral repositories of our collective memory, museums may in fact be coercive institutions, run by elite groups who take it upon themselves to disseminate "official" (that is, ideological) versions of history for the masses. Actually, that sounds too Marxist. Kim the kitten puts it better: