In 2010 I entered the United States without all the visas required of me. This wasn’t premeditated act of illegal migration: I was just an idiot and forgot half of the temporary work visa I needed to satisfy the insane levels of bureaucracy one has to tear through to prove you aren’t a terrorist/cartel boss/Former member of the SS/Sex Trafficker/Mexican/etc. The consequence of this very stupid lack of papers was being taken to a side room where anyone possibly fitting into the above list of undesirables sat and waited whilst an annoyed looking border agent sifted through paperwork and called out names. Long story short: I left Newark Airport inside half an hour due to a combination of the relative unimportance of a student leaving some paperwork behind, and my constant over articulation of the words “Terribly” and “Awfully” do describe the level of mortification I felt at having inconvenienced the lovely man from Homeland Security.
Though this wasn’t the first time I’ve used the fact that I don’t use hard “R”s in my day-to-day speech manipulate Americans, (the first was getting served alcohol aged 20 by telling the bartender I’d been mugged for my passport), it was the first time I consciously used my powers of accent for my own ends. At the time this felt like a minor superpower as by virtue of opening my mouth people automatically assumed that what I was saying was important, clever, funny or all three at once. If you’re an English (specifically South East) this makes visiting America really fun as your relative attractiveness at least doubles – quadrupling if there are Hipsters nearby. However when you live here it’s somewhat of a different story. Now don’t get me wrong, I love living on the East coast of the United states; as a relatively healthy white person in my early 20s, this place is awesome. You can smoke in bars till 2am whilst drinking insanely cheap liquor chased with super cheap beer (the combination of which is a drink here).
The only thing that irks me is that around one in five people I come into contact with seem to think that my accent entitles them to enjoy me as a novelty. This 20% almost exclusively consists of complete strangers and friends of friends because people I actually like are clearly welcome to ask me any question about my life they can think of. The reason this constant interest in the fact that I was born on a different side of the Atlantic grinds on me so much I’ve decided to come up with a list in case you a) see or hear and English person in a public place b) want to know something that might interest you c) you want to make sure you don’t come off as an inane shithead.
1) “I love your accent.”
This is by far the most common which is why it’s the most irritating. On the surface this statement is incredibly benign, even polite, which it might be if I had anything to do with the way I say “aluminium.” Compliments are for things people have achieved: their hairstyle, their dress sense, how their apartment looks, a really cool drawing, anything really. You know how it’s weird to congratulate someone’s height? That’s why it’s weird to tell someone how much you love their accent. I’m not going to pretend that this is equivalent to someone saying this to someone from a South Asian or Middle Eastern country because the fetishism over my accent doesn’t’ come with the same level of Colonialist Orientalism that lead up to westerners deciding those accents where cool; it’s just fucking irritating. Common variants on this is “Everything you’re saying sounds so important” or “You just sound more intelligent than everyone else,” which is irritating because it means I’ve suddenly become an avatar through which someone is re-enforcing tired racist, classist and Imperialist stereotypes themselves by making me feel weird.
2) “I went to (Insert stupid town I’ve never heard of/region i have no interest in) last year/when I studied abroad”
Okay The UK is 96,060 square miles and is about as interesting as everywhere else in the world. It’s not that the UK is terrible, it’s just that I haven’t been to every part of it and have a desire to go to about a quarter of the whole country. I don’t care that you were temporally in Birmingham, I’ve never been to Birmingham, the closest I’ve been to Birmingham is Warwick Castle and that’s as far as I intend to go. I have nothing against Birmingham per say, I just have nothing for it either, and I don’t care about this one pub you went to and got to drink even though you were only nineteen. I don’t care that you stayed at a really nice hotel in the Cotswold and I very much don’t know every single bar and restaurant the country in the same way living in the Delaware Valley doesn’t qualify you to recommend me a night spot in Sharon.
3) “I know an English guy, I should Introduce you.”
The fact that I was raised to be polite to everyone for as long as humanly possible has prevented my mouth from answering they way my heart does which is “Shit really? There are more of us? I thought I was the only one left! Take me to them so we might breed and continue our noble race!” There are about 70 Million British people and we live in an English-speaking country, chances are you’ve met a British person before me, and the fact this other person and myself were born on the same set of islands will tell you precisely nothing about whether we will get along. There are millions of pricks in the U.K.; the collective personalities of the country of my birth was clearly not enough to keep me there. So why would you assume I’m desperate to hear some rando drop all the T’s out of “Water Bottle” or that I will go out of my way to meet a friend of an acquaintance who has already annoyed me by assuming my personality is determined by me nationality?
4) “So I’m really into Doctor Who”
This also applies to Misfits, Skins, Sherlock, Downton Abbey, really any British T.V. show made in Britain and now popular with Americans. The use of Doctor Who is useful because it’s both the most extreme and common example. The problem with this is that the previously mentioned TV shows are very popular with a small percentage of the American population who are really quite into them, whilst the same TV show In the UK is just a TV show; I’m almost certain the term Whovian didn’t exist until Americans started getting in on the action. I hate this because I sort of know stuff about Dr Who in the way most Americans sort of know about Sex in the City; I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, I’ve maybe watched a few episodes of a few seasons and I couldn’t pass a test about it. However, because most Whovians live in a world where to know stuff about The Doctor is to love the Doctor, I end up having conversations with people who not only assume all British people love Doctor Who, but also that we appreciate Americans who appreciate Doctor who. Stop asking me for approval; I think David Tennant was kind of annoying. Sorry, not sorry.
6) “You sound like that guy in that movie. Which one is that?”
This is an actual quote from an actual person who yelled this at me from across a bar. No, “Hello my name is rude-ignorant-fuckhead, nice too meet you. Did you know you remind me of someone,” no calling out to me to tell me this. The above statement was her opening line to me, interrupting my friend telling me something I actually give a shit about. After about 3 minutes of bothering me during a night out, it turned out the Actor I reminded them of was Gerard Butler in “P.S. I love you.” I don’t care how unfamiliar you are with the British Isles, I don’t sound like an Scottish dude pretending to be Irish, and if you think I do, you can’t hear.
7) “Something something something Royal Family something something.”
People fought and died so we could live in a country that didn’t have to give a shit or acknowledge the faded husk of a family that is the house of Saxe Coburg Gotha’s rule over my homeland. By asking me about them, you’re essentially pissing on Tom Paine’s Grave
8) Any statement that uses the term “Europe” like it’s a country and not a series of diverse states with a wide variety of cultural practices.
Okay, so I have nothing against Europe. In a way, I’m down with the probably necessary integration of certain governmental functions that the European Union is making happen. That being said: Europe is not a country, it’s a continent with over 40 nation-states and 200 hundred different languages and dialects almost all of which have nothing to do with the way I lived my life up until moving to the United States. This was something that pissed me off a lot during the 2012 Election when every single republican candidate kept saying that America was going to become like Europe if Obama got another term. I don’t know what this paranoid assertion might mean as European countries are very much different to each other in cultural practices, economic development, foodstuffs, language. Indeed, some are much more like America than others, some less so, some are similar in different ways. We’re all different and we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about each other, particularly not the British who try to forget the fact that it’s a small amount of brine between Dover and Calais.
9) Saying anything whilst attempting to imitate my accent.
If you’re an American and read that statement and think even a little bit that this doesn’t apply to you because your English accent is flawless: I hate you. I hate you firstly because it’s incredibly frustrating to have whatever I’m saying flow through a filter of patronizing enjoyment enter separate from the content of my sentences (See No 1 on this list). Secondly, I hate you because you are wrong: you cannot convincingly imitate an English person, almost no American can flawlessly pull of an English accent. Actors like Johnny Depp can because he’s a talented character actor with a lot of training while watching Monty Python reruns though a haze of Marijuana smoke simply isn’t equal to.
10) “What are you doing here?”
This is almost always the first or second thing strangers ask me and I usually get asked it around twice a week. If I was travelling or an exchange student I would be less annoyed, but I’m neither of these things , I’m a tax paying resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania trying to enjoy a drink with my friend, hang out at a party with my wife, or get through a shift at work, which are activities idiots continually interrupt by demanding my life story. Fuck off.
I would Like to make it clear that if you’re actually friends with a person originally from the British Isles, all these questions are probably fine as they know and like you. All except number nine, number nine is always a dick move. Also remember that we’re raised to be polite well past the point people deserve it so if you tell someone inflicting themselves on us with anything on this list, tell that person to shut the fuck up and we will love you forever.
Okay so this is the continuation of an email based interview my friend is having with me about my experiences and feelings about watching the HBO show “Game of Thrones”
Q: You mentioned that you streamed the show online. Could you tell me about your experience of doing that and why you chose this method?
A: Well firstly I don’t have a TV, this makes watching anything at time of broadcast difficult, I’ve also spent the last few years with shaky job security, so paying the monthly fee to have HBO on demand would be impractical as well as irresponsibly decadent. Weirdly in a lot of cases free streaming is a lot more efficient than the kind of streaming you pay for. Not that is directly related to Game of Thrones, but at the moment I’m Downloading episodes of Star Trek; The Next Generation, because Netflix is actually slower than getting it from an illegal sight. But yeah I think it’s interesting that even though it’s been nearly a decade since corporate entities first started monetizing downloading it’s still less efficient than some teenagers in a basement.
Q: What did you think of the production of the show (things like music, sets, costumes, hair and makeup etc)?
A: As I said before my expectations of the show were relatively low, coloured as they were by the pretty bad stuff I’d enjoyed earlier in the decade. My assumptions therefore were that this was going to be lazily cobbled together medievalish stuff…. Like dudes in “tunics” made of nylon on cardboard sets. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the real life cities they used for settings and the actual chainmail etc etc. I weirdly liked that they chose some of the darkest people to play the three blondest characters in the series, this feels like the producers were almost daring to see how well they could conceal hair and eye colour. A thing I feel pedantic about is the hand of the king’s Broach which isn’t supposed to be a broach; it’s supposed to be a necklace. On the surface there is no difference that matters but there are several points during the books where the fact that it’s a necklace is a really meaningful motif. It’s a thing that annoys me because there isn’t any reason other than cutting out some fun layers to the plot. I do however appreciate that the vibrant colours that all the soldiers are supposed to wear crossed over into the T.V. show. I like the Iron throne even though it is actually a lot smaller than it is in the books. (It’s supposed to about as half as tall as the hall, requiring steps to get to the actual seat) The CGI is pretty spot on which I guess in 2013 says more about the amount of money HBO was prepared to spend on it than anything else but it’s still nice to see some Fantasy having some well-done graphics for a change.
I also enjoy that there seems to have been an effort to make Westeros seem, not just large, but also epic; it’s really just the amount of people they use as extras and the fact that they use places like Moroccan Castles as locations that makes the whole thing seem awesome.
Q: You discussed the actress who plays Shae. I wondered if you had any thoughts about the other actors in the show?
A: Okay off the bat It’s necessary to talk about accents of Westeros; I think it’s interesting that despite being feudal aristocracy the Starks use a northern accent even though It’s unlikely that the lords of the manor would talk anything like the working classes they ruled over. I get that it can be argued that it’s a motif separating the Starks out from the rest of the national elite, but that only really makes sense if it’s consistent; Why do only the two eldest children share Ned’s accent, whilst the four youngest talk like southeren lordlings? Surely it would make more sense to have all the Starks using an aristocratic accent – we know Sean can pull one off – as one of the themes I feel are really prevalent in A song of ice and fire is the pointlessness of poor men dying for the ambitions of the rich. This is something which is insanely undermined by making the new king in the north use a working class accent which isn’t even what Richard Madden actually sounds like.
Whilst I’m on the mismatching of Accents it makes literally no sense that Robert and Stannis Baratheon have Northern Accents firstly they come from the Stormlands which are well to the south of Kings landing so having the same accent as Northmen seems kind of silly. It also doesn’t make sense because their youngest brother, Renly, has a southern accent. I’m not sure what this is supposed to convey, the only explanation i can come up with is that a northern accent would be too manly for the gay character; something which is alluded too in the books in a really satisfyingly squeamish way on the part of the characters (you know like medieval Europeans would be about queer people) and ruined in the Show by first just showing you that Renly is sleeping with Ser Loras and then presenting us with a lot of heavy handed discusstions about the ways in which Renly was a “Degenerate“.
More specifically; Peter Dinklage is far too good looking to play Tyrion. The point of Tyrion is that he’s supposed to be super ugly, by being just a normal looking person who happens to have Achondroplasia, makes all the comments about him being grotesque and malformed just seem like people have a problem with short people. As an extra weird thing Tyrion’s “Scar” is supposed to tear half his nose off making him even uglier and an even more terrible prospect for Sansa; The fact that they don’t do this to Tryion’s face just makes the whole thing confusing which is irritating because other than how he looks Dinklage is really good at playing Tryion. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is really good at playing Jamie Lannister as he’s really got the whole teasing out of the inherent sincerity and goodness of Jamie slowly over three series. He’s also exactly the kind of far too good looking Nordic type who should play Jamie; I actually think he’s tied with Gwendoline Christie for the most appropriately cast actor in the series.
The Show has a weird relationship with people of colour with very few – If any – positive aspects. Firstly all the black people in the books are either taken out completely or replaced by a white character; probably the most glaring example of this is Jalabhar Xho, who is part of the court at King’s Landing and plays various minor rolls throughout the story. It’s glaring because it would be incredibly be easy to have him in the Show and would require maybe two minutes of dialogue explaining his status as an exile prince. The worst example of this is the fact that the character of Alayaya is replaced by that of Ros; a character I – as previously mentioned – genuinely hate; she only really serves to show some pubes, have some girl-on-girl action so we don’t get bored when Petyr Baelish is explaining his motivations and replace one of the few black characters in this series by being mistaken for Shae and held hostage. I think the whitewashing of Alayaya is particularly terrible because she’s one of the early vehicles for us learning about the Summer Islands and it’s culture – Which is a society made up of black people to the south of Westeros. In a genre so devoid of characters who aren’t northern European looking men, it’s a pretty unpleasant thing to effectively cut out almost all mention to the one group of non-white people in this world who aren’t slavers or primitive. Also the two black actors in the T.V. show (Lucian Msamati and Nonso Anozie) portray men who are actually supposed to have an eastern Mediterranean look, not that that annoys me a lot, it’s just that it contributes to the irritating trend in fantasy that all non-white skin is more or less interchangeable.
Casting is messed up is all I’m sayin’
Q: What impact do you think Game of Thrones being made by HBO had on the show?
A: I’m in two minds. There is the obvious fact that the earthy language, sex and violence wouldn’t fly on channels that aren’t pay per view, lending the producers a level of creative freedom that doesn’t exist on network channels. However HBO is an irritatingly hard thing to legally access which has contributed to Game of Thrones being the most pirated show in 2013. I also think the format of HBO is somewhat constricting as each book in A Song of Ice and Fire is around a thousand pages long whereas HBO generally produces thirteen episodes a season at one hour each, this means that not only is the plot simplified it’s also badly organised as sometimes it’s necessary to focus on a small cluster of characters verses some others; something that doesn’t lend itself to one hour units. Since watching the fourth series of “Arrested Development” I think the show would have been significantly improved if it had been made for Netflix or something similar, as the format allows for things like episodes that wouldn’t be enslaved to schedules and could be as long or short as they need, diving into a lot more back stories etc etc, something I sort of hope is the future for TV.
Philadelphia is a city of Museums. The subjects vary from the obvious war of independence places of interest to colonial history, as well as Art and science museums with a really cool medical interest menagerie and a crumbling jail thrown in for good measure. General museums (places based around learning about dead W.A.S.P.s) are definitely interesting and if you have a week or so to kill (and the money to spend). I would recommend floating easily around the Center of America’s first capitol enjoying America’s hallowed sights.
If however you are overly familiar or uninterested in dead white men, Philadelphia has you covered; my new hometown has – at least – three museums dedicated to specific ethnicities that have passed through and helped build it. I find these museums novel because “Heritage” is a big thing in America in a way I’ve never experienced in the UK. I’m not saying the British are blind to ethnic differences at all, but I remember people’s backgrounds at school being as fascinating being double jointed or the ability to spit really far: it was cool if you were half Jamaican and half Irish, but that wasn’t really part of your Identity in the grand scheme of things. Contrast this with America where most people can tell you the old world province their great grandparents left to build some form of Victorian infrastructure. The three museums below are all created and maintained by members of the community they document and as a result offer an interesting insight into that community and its place in modern day America.
The A.A.M.P. is the smallest of the three museums at 4 stories of which only two are reserved for regular exhibits. It’s also the ugliest, – It was built in 1976 and looks it – and least well placed museum I think I’ve ever seen. Firstly, it’s more out of the way than a teaching space about something as fundamental as the history of black people in America’s first capitol should be. It is also across the street from Philadelphia’s Federal prison. I’m not sure which one was built first but considering the disparity in incarceration rates between African Americans and other groups, but whoever decided to build the second one next to the first is either kind of unthinking, or very, very dickish. The museum makes up for its size by being very audio visual; the first floor’s main attraction is a pretty cool, comprehensive history of African Americans in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania told through static visuals, lights and voice overs. Philadelphia was somewhat of a hub for abolitionism and civil rights as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was one of the rare states in the union that both banned slavery and allowed black people to live there.
Despite the lack of space, the sheer amount of information is impressive and definitely worth spending an afternoon in. The second floor is where I stop taking the museum wholly seriously; I have a long standing bias against historical reeanactor dating back to being disappointed by a ‘medieval pilgrim’ who showed me some ‘bones of a saint’. My eight year old face widened with wonder as I asked him if they were real; this wonder left me when he broke character, laughed and told me that they were real chicken bones. The A.A.M.P. spares me the awkwardness of interacting with live people pretending to be from the eighteenth and ninetieth centuries, opting instead to litter the second floor with large stand alone screens that show you various notable African Americans from Philadelphia’s history who answer specific questions you can ask by pressing buttons. The screen’s downtime shows the actors interacting with the room; this involves them pacing around the screen, nodding at theoretical passers by, and, in the case of two Methodists priests, sharing a joke about someone in the room with each other before catching themselves and looking stoic again. This is probably supposed to make the screens more approachable and the gallery as a whole, warmer; it instead makes the museum feel like a sorting house for the paintings Hogwarts deemed too unnerving to expose its pupils to. The last top two floors are subject to a rolling exhibit which when I was there focused on The Supremes and their impact on society with a particular focus on their fashion. This was kind of interesting as it puts the band into the context of the Civil Rights era they became famous in, but not being interested much in fashion and only mildly diverted by 1960s R&B, i’m not super qualified to pass judgment on whether that particular traveling exhibition is good or not. Sadly, the gift shop is not much to write home about, taking up about a quarter of the lobby and selling very little variety, mainly prints of famous African Americans and – weirdly – tribal masks. The shop also doesn’t sell pencils; something I was raised by my father to collect from every museum as a compact souvenir that every museum should have.
Overall I really like the A.A.M.P, and despite the gift shop, my only real criticism is its lack of space to display the apparent thousands of artifacts and papers kept in it’s vaults. However the only real way to overcome this problem is for more people to go and give them money to expand. So do that. It’s $14.00 to get in and well worth it.
My partner and I came across this museum by accident; we had been invited to enjoy the sunset at FDR park last March and enjoyed the Versailles-esque building sitting in deepest darkest South Philly. However, we only actually went inside when the museum had a free entry day through the Smithsonian. For those of who are unfamiliar with the Nordic people’s contribution to this particular part of the world, the Swedish built trading posts on the west coast of the Delaware river on the present day sights of Wilmington DE, and Center city Philadelphia. They did this in the hopes of establishing a permanent colony like New Amsterdam to the North of them and Virginia to the South, but lack of resources and rival colonists eventually lead the Swedes to abandon Philadelphia within 30 years of founding the place. There is a more extensive Swedish American museum in Chicago which is around where most Scandinavians emigrated to during the late 1800s.
This museum differs from its Midwestern counterpart by focusing the majority of its energy on a very specific time and place: that being the rise and fall of New Sweden. The Museum doesn’t start off promisingly. The first exhibition actually has nothing to do with North America and was a travelling exhibition about a (non-native) Swedish designer – I forget which one – and his various designs across the middle of the twentieth century. The museum has its high point with the so called ‘Golden Map Room,’ which shows the Swedish empire at the dawn of the kingdom’s colonial ambitions wrapped around a room in gilt paint. This is a very ornate map created specifically for the museum by Swedish artists at the museum’s inception at the end of the 1920s and is worth at least an hour’s study for all the detail shown, from the presence of pro danish partisans in the south to Sápmi campsites to the north. The room also provides some nice insights into life in renaissance Sweden by showing swords, cannonballs and books from the era the map depicts. The map room leads onto an informative, brief history of New Sweden and the Swedes who remained in Philadelphia when William Penn took over. This is interesting enough if, like me, you find non-English speaking colonization of north America intriguing or you’re of Swedish decent, something I suspect at least 90% everyone else who visits this museum is, given the fact that I saw at least three separate groups of people moving from American accented English to equally American accented Swedish.
The rest of the museum is a mix of individual rooms dedicated to specific Swedes who contributed to American history and Swedish Design; the most fun individual Swede room is dedicated to John Ericsson, which is designed to look like the inside of an Art-Deco Ocean Liner and contains a large painting showing Ericsson convincing Abraham Lincoln to use Ironclads. The Swedish design rooms are quite Ikea heavy as the museum unsurprisingly revives a large from that particular Swedish company. Another room in the corner of the Museum is dedicated to the Nobel prize; since this has actually nothing to do with the Swedish American experience this feels more like filler than a relevant part of a heritage museum. The room brings up images of curators deciding that placing filling two walls with pictures of Albert Einstein and Ernest Hemingway will make up for the lack of stuff they have to show.
My lasting impression of this museum however is very much colored by the glaring fact of the Lobby’s ceiling. The ceiling is painted with a very elaborate mural depicting incredibly blond colonialists shaking hands with smiling, befeathered Native Americans in an idyllic and falsified scene entitled;
“The Swedes bring Civilization to the Delaware Valley”.
I could excuse this painting if it came with any disclaimer that was painted in 1927 and clearly the attitudes at the time were a lot less willing to cast the native population of North America as anything other than savages – noble or otherwise. However, the Museum does nothing to account for the fact that this painting is nearly ninety years old. I can’t imagine a museum keeping a wall painting showing contented slaves under benevolent masters no matter how old or well painted it was and if it was it wouldn’t be shown without at least a long disclaimer distancing the institution from the sentiment of the subject. For the American Swedish Historical museum to have not done that with this painting makes it feels like the Institution is comfortable with describing pre-Colombian Americans as fundamentally uncivilized, and lucky that white people came to liberate them with smallpox and property deeds. The gift shop doesn’t help this vibe as the most prominent display pieces for sale are two fake parking signs for Swedes and Finns only. I’m assuming the curators thought these signs would be cute but placed next to each other the signs look like the museum is encouraging me to reintroduce segregation. There were however pencils for sale even if they only said “Sweden” on them in Swedish.
I managed to visit this museum for free as part of a promotion and honestly I’m glad I did because the cool parts of this museum are overshadowed by the tedious parts, If you have a chance to get in for free or extremely cheep, the building, along with it’s lovely settings in FDR park, is worth spending a Saturday afternoon wondering around, but don’t go out of your way unless you have a burning desire to learn about the hardships of living in New Sweden.
The National Museum of Jewish History sits – as a nice marker of how far western society has come regarding antisemitism – in prime position on Independence Mall looming over the building where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and signed. I’ve mentioned the location of this museum to a lot of people who have been shocked that it’s there; this is probably because the building is quite hard to see. It’s not built to be hidden; It’s a large shiny building, it is however, a large shiny building in the center of Philadelphia, making it one among many. This is not to say it’s a bad looking building; the five story Glass facade facing independence Mall is pretty cool would be easy to confuse with a tech company’s Philadelphia office if you aren’t paying to much attention.
I visited the museum with my partner in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which meant we where greeted with a table of unleavened bread and grape juice, always a plus. You also get a paper wristband to show you’ve paid to get in; as a hairy person I have a general bias against, though if you like your museum visits to feel like a music festival or cheap amusement park, this is the ticket system for you. The staff recommend you take the lift to the top of the building and walk your way back down. The fifth floor is for temporary exhibits and when I went it was showing the artwork of a children’s author I have never heard of so I really can’t comment if it was worth a look, but I’m sure by now it’s probably something really cool that I would be interested in so I won’t hold that against the museum.
The general tone of the exhibits comes across as “American History! Did you know Jews where there, too?”. The museum is broken down into three time periods; 1645 – 1880 (Jews where totally involved in Colonial America, the Revolution, going west AND the Civil war!), 1880-1945 (Guess who also Immigrated to America and assimilated into mainstream society? Jews!) 1945 – present (The economic and social changes that rippled from the end of the second world war also happened to Jews!). An enduring theme of the exhibits is the number of Jewish people relative to the Gentile population of any given time or social movement; there where around 2,000 Jewish people in colonial America in 1776, about half of which Joined the revolution, about 10% of the immigrants coming through Ellis Island were Jewish, etc etc. This is not to downplay this museum as it is well worth visiting and the content is genuinely interesting and well presented. There are nooks all over the exhibit dedicated to individuals from Judah P. Benjamin to Emma Goldman as well as impressive audio visual presentations showing – among other things – the migration of Jews across the west and the integration of Jewish Actors into Hollywood.
The museum is also attempting to create a broad personal story of Jewish Americans, providing a booth, inviting people to tell their family histories, which various Jewish holidays means the most to them and why, and how they feel about being Jewish in the Twenty-first century. The one glaring problematic part of this museum is its treatment of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, which begins at the entrance wall showing the history of Jewish people by Geography showing Jewish history ending in 1948 with what the museum refers to as “The Israeli deceleration of Independence” and then stops, sort of implying that everything was fine afterwards. Later on during the third section of the museum in which the phrase “A land without a people for a people without a land” is repeated numerous times as though that sentence isn’t one designed to write off and ignore the people who lived and live in the areas currently administered by the Israeli state. My partner did point out that if I wanted an objective take on the Israeli/Palestine conflict, I should not have looked to the Jewish American museum, not so much that the perspective was Jewish, but that it was American. Still, it left an unpleasant taste.
The gift shop was expansive, selling everything from Torah pointers with every conceivable design to Jewish specific Apples to Apples to small plastic Shofars for kids. The pencil I bought was the best of the three as not only did it have the name of the museum on it, but also the logo.
The National Museum of Jewish History sort of outclasses the other two; it’s affiliated with the Smithsonian, and is the premier Jewish Museum for America so it would be unfair to call this the best one as it has much more resources, but it is certainly the most time consuming of the three museums – in a good way. It’s also a very awesome resource for anyone who wants to find out about the evolution of modern America through the Jewish experience.
All in all these are an interesting trio of museums; valuable not just for the narratives they tell, but for what they say about the people telling those narratives. So, yeah, diverse cultural capital!