King Tut Goes Home

Remember this?


That was from the time of the first big Tut tour. Well, Steve Martin’s silly rendition was not part of the tour, but one of the many fine cultural sidebars.

This is not a cultural sidebar resulting from The Treasures of Tutankhamun:

That comes from the observation of people trying to not fall down while walking on the ferry. Someone thought they looked like the figures in Ancient Egyptian paintings.

It’s all fairly culturally insensitive yet demonstrative of talent and highly entertaining for most people. I’ve not decided if making fun of Ancient Egyptians is OK or not. For one thing, it is all about upper class privileged culture anyway, and I’m not a purist about making fun of people. And they are Ancient, so they don’t know. On the other hand, a phrase like “Walk like an Egyptian” says nothing about Ancient Egyptians specifically, and it is not nice to say that Egyptians walk funny. On the third hand, Egypt is underscored by all this as a fairly amazing place, having a civilization that is not only the longest running example in Africa, but in the whole world. If your culture is going to get iconographically splashed all over the place, some of that splash is going to fall on the realms of comedy and silly music.

Besides, the Bangles’ song is really making fun of people from Staten Island (which is itself a fairly Ancient Tradition).

The reason I mention all this is that the current tour of King Tut’s material, which has had much less fanfare than the 1970s tour, is about to end. What struck me is this quote from an NPR piece:

“I wanted to come see the real thing,” said New Yorker Michael Gold, as he wandered around the exhibit. “Thank goodness I came to see it before it disappeared. I couldn’t wait another 40 years.”

Michael, imma let you enjoy the exhibit without getting all anthropological on you and stuff, and I’m glad you wanted to see it and learned from it, but I’ve got to say that the earthly possessions of the immortal king are not “disappearing.” They are becoming part of a permanent exhibit in Egypt. And you are not going to have a shot in 40 years, because the Giza exhibit is permanent. King Tut’s Stuff will not be touring again. Consider this sentiment under different conditions: imagine the Mona Lisa is on tour, and is being shown in its last traveling installation in New York, before going back to its spot on the wall in the Louvre in Paris, and some guy (from Staten Island) goes to the exhibit and is grabbed by a reporter for his “man on the street” opinion and he says, “I’m so glad to see the Mona Lisa before the painting disappears.”

The reporter writing that up, or the editor editing the writeup, would not use that quote because it is dumb. But somehow, nobody notices that saying that something going to Egypt is disappearing forever is … well odd, subtly racist, anti-African, anti-Middle eastern, and clearly against NPR editorial policy.

I should point out that things are better this time for the King and his people. The 1970s exhibit was, it turns out, a matter of base cultural rip-off: Egypt got almost nothing out of the deal. This time around, Egypt is getting the majority of the funds raised by the touring exhibit, and a good portion of the 80 million dollars they will bank will be used to pay for The Grand Egyptian Museum, where King Tut’s Stuff will ultimately be housed.

The exhibit actually does not go to Egypt after its New York showing; Next top, Melbourne.

Comments

  1. #1 Nankay
    January 13, 2011

    Ok, it may be ‘odd”, but anti-Middle Eastern? Really? For someone like me, the Mona Lisa going back to Europe or King Tut going back to Egypt is , for all intents and purposes, ‘disappearing’. I, like many others, do not, and probably will not ever have the opportunity (or finances!) to travel to either of those places to see those treasures.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    January 13, 2011

    Nankay: A more appropriate statement would be “You’ll have to go to Giza/Paris to see the treasures/painting” then “it will cease to exist because it is in Egypt.”

    Perhaps I’m being oversensitive, but we all have our thing we’re oversensitive about (admit it, you do) and mine is the way Africa is addressed in popular culture (and elsewhere).

  3. #3 MadScientist
    January 13, 2011

    Oooh, ooh, when’s it going to Melbourne? Maybe I can fly there. Is that the one in Florida or Australia?

  4. #4 SimonG
    January 13, 2011

    I remember seeing the treasures at the British Museum in the 70s and there’s some amazing stuff there, even disregarding the archaelogical and anthrophological significance. Anybody holidaying in the Middle East would be poorer if they didn’t make the effort to see it. I expect the permenant exhibition will do very well.
    Mind you, there’s an awful lot of other stuff worth seeing.