Museums: Educational Institutions or Photo Ops?Rebekah Kuschmider
A couple of weeks ago we went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Downtown DC. Not a major trek for us but still, a trip unusual enough to feel special. There’s a great exhibit on transportation there, complete with lots of old vehicles to look over. As you might imagine, my 5 year old son was enchanted by getting to see boats, trains, buses, and cars up close. Most of the vehicles on display look like illustrations out of picture books and it brought a lot of treasured images to life.
My son was going a mile a minute through the exhibit, pointing out different things and talking about them in his signature rapid-fire way. Together, we walked up to a classic train engine and paused to examine it. It’s a big shiny engine, refurbished and restored until it gleams and it looks like it would be perfectly at home on the Island of Sodor. It’s set into a tableau complete with tracks and a station platform. In short? It was super cool.
The two of us paused to look the train over closely and we were having a nice conversation about it. We were in the middle of discussing whether the cow catcher was for pushing snow or farm animals when a woman came up and asked if we would mind stepping aside. We politely complied and she posed while her companion took her picture in front of the train. Then she moved on.
Now here’s what I’m stewing over: was it out of line for her to interrupt a mother and child engaged in a discussion about the exhibit so that she could pose in front of it? Should she have waited until we were done before she got her photo? Does the educational value of the exhibit matter more than the picture-worthiness? Am I overreacting by thinking that we should have been allowed to finish what we were doing before she got her photo?
I’m sure she was thinking that she just wanted a quick picture and didn’t think it would be a big deal for us to move two steps to the left so she could have an unobstructed shot. And it wasn’t really. Except that she interrupted us. Maybe she couldn’t have known that I was savoring a shared moment with my little boy but she surely could see that we were having a conversation about the train. We hadn’t been standing there long so it’s not like we were clogging up the exhibit for everyone else. There was plenty of train to stand in front of. It jut happened that we were in the exact spot that she had chosen for her photo.
A photo that she got. And will last forever. Unlike the moment she interrupted. That is gone forever, cut short before I was ready for it to end.
I guess what I’m asking you all to arbitrate is my outrage. I feel like that woman could have waited her turn, like her photo op could have happened after we finished talking about the train. And at the root of that is my feeling that a child’s excitement over a piece of history trumps an adult’s desire to commemorate a museum visit. Am I wrong? Am I being one of those parents who thinks her kid comes before everyone else in the world? Or would you all be irked by this situation too?
Photo credit: photo stock