Children's Museum and Opinion and Barack Obama

KATTERJOHN: Tut-tut, looks like parochialism

July 6, 2009

On June 27, I attended the grand opening for The Children's Museum of Indianapolis' King Tut exhibit. The evening had a decidedly Egyptian flair to it.

Members of the live band performing in the main entry wore the Egyptian nemes headdress made famous by King Tut, hosts and hostesses wore traditional Egyptian garb, and the hors d'oeuvres were Egyptian.

Of course, the artifacts in the exhibit were awe-inspiring and evoked the mysterious aura of ancient Egypt—mummies, tombs and stories of the afterlife. The atmosphere was otherworldly.

It went from otherworldly to international during the dinner presentation. A WISH-TV Channel 8 video showed anchor Debby Knox being overwhelmed with emotion during her visit to see the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Giza.

Then, prominent Egyptologist Zahi Hawass took the microphone, delivering an animated speech about the Children's Museum and its CEO, Jeff Patchen.

As we reported last week, Patchen and his staff consulted on a new children's museum in Cairo, a pet project of Egypt's first lady, Suzanne Mubarak. Our museum's staff ended up designing the exhibits.

It was this relationship that paved the way for the Children's Museum to land the Tut exhibit. Hawass was so appreciative, he promised to bring the exhibit to Indianapolis, by far the smallest market to host this iteration of King Tut's traveling show.

As Hawass spoke, I realized the significance of this exhibit and the importance of the deep international relationship that Patchen, et al., had forged. It is major stuff, and Patchen and his crew get kudos for making it happen.

But as Hawass began to share stories about his personal meeting with President Obama, my pride was momentarily dashed by the behavior of the people sitting at the next table.

When Hawass noted how impressed he was with our new president, these people became incredulous. They started snickering like schoolchildren, even though I'd peg their ages between 30 and 45.

Their eyes darted back and forth among one another, as they shared knowing looks of indignation and whispered jokes and snide remarks, clearly disturbed by the very mention of the "O" word.

It was obvious that all 10 of them—comfortable and content in their little bubble of sameness—shared common political ideology and a healthy disdain for anything even the slightest bit contrary to it.

I was glad their table wasn't close to the stage.

I don't care whether you think Obama is an idiot or a genius. When a high-ranking official from a foreign country makes positive remarks about your president, you might feel just a little pride. Taking it a step further, you might even be open enough to re-examine your own beliefs.

It made me think that maybe we as a community haven't come as far as I hoped we had. It reflected a kind of parochialism I thought most of us had outgrown—especially people who apparently appreciate other cultures enough to show up at an event like that.

Thanks, kids

Speaking of parochialism, it played a major role in this year's General Assembly. It's what produced the extra torture we all had to endure by sitting through a special session.

As if the main session wasn't troubling enough.

But I'm thankful we now have a budget. I'd like to extend my appreciation and congratulations to all the children down at the Statehouse whose priority is always politics, not policy.

___

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.

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