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The Smithsonian’s dreary 'Futures' exhibition is stuck in the eco-pessimist 1970s


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Faster Please!

James Pethokoukis

Jan 7 2022

I understand why the designers of the Smithsonian Institute’s new 32,000 square-foot Futures exhibition — billed as a “guide to a vast array of interactives, artworks, technologies, and ideas that are glimpses into humanity’s next chapter” — would cover the walls inside the reopened Arts and Industries building on the National Mall with dozens of future-themed quotes. That’s not what perplexed me when I toured Futures with my family over the holidays. The quotes themselves are a fun, if a bit predictable, design choice. 


No, what left me confused was the Smithsonian’s selection of authors. If I were the Futures project manager, I would have included a quote or two from space entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, CRISPR developers and Nobel laureates Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, mRNA vaccine pioneers Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, or the Apollo 11 crew — certainly before including quotes from Dolly Parton and Audrey Hepburn. Or from León “Argentina’s Bob Dylan” Gieco. Or, appallingly, from Angela Davis, the notorious 1970s radical and communist. (Indeed, Davis was such an apologist for repressive communist regimes that she was a recipient of the Soviet Union's Lenin Peace Prize.) Including a Bill Gates quote doesn’t offset Davis.


If only the poor judgment demonstrated by the selection of quotes were the exhibition’s low point. There’s a much bigger problem with Futures: The Smithsonian is actually attempting to present an optimistic vision of the future. No dystopian exhibits showing a shattered Earth beset by overpopulation, growing poverty, resource scarcity, or a runaway climate. Although 2022 is the year in which the 1973 dystopian film “Soylent Green” is set (I wrote about it in the previous issue of Faster, Please!), Futures doesn’t explicitly warn of such scenarios of impending doom.

But Futures is too influenced by the 1970s “limits to growth,” Spaceship Earth, anti-capitalist, environmentalist futurism that emerged in response to such fears. That vision is neatly captured in a display of buttons from that era with messages such as “Recycle or Die,” “Consume Less,” and “Solar Employs, Nuclear Destroys.”




Smithsonian Institute, one more major institution I no longer have any faith/trust in.

"Everything The Left touches, it ruins."

Dennis Prager

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