Objects of a Certain Value

Like the fourth-richest man in the universe, I love sci-fi and think that Blade Runner is the greatest movie ever made. But I am ambivalent about the Science Fiction Experience, the new sci-fi museum that is to fill the void made by the January departure of EMP's much-loved Funk Blast. A friend of mine, who was visiting from Sydney, Australia, two years ago--and who was then completing a doctorate on the semiotics or something-or-other of James Brown's music--raved and raved about the Funk Blast for an entire night after experiencing the multimedia ride into the heart of the groove thing.

My ambivalence toward the SFX project stems from a belief that EMP is supposed to be dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the world of American popular music. And the relationship between pop music and sci-fi is, outside the broad fact that both are mass forms of entertainment, thin. If SFX were to be dedicated to what British music critic Kodwo Eshun described in his 1998 book, More Brilliant Than the Sun, as sonic fiction--sci-fi in its sonic or musical form--everything would be perfect. An exhibit displaying images of or playing music by Sun Ra, Keymatic, Mantronix; the space-invader dub by the Scientist; Herbie Hancock's Future Shock; the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell to Earth or to Gattaca--these would also fit the general meaning and purpose of EMP. (I understand that in order to make a connection between SFX and EMP, an image of Jimi Hendrix reading a sci-fi book was projected above the crowd during the Paul Allen press conference--now, that's stretching matters.)

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At the same time, countless artifacts from the ancient past were emptied from museums in Baghdad. Archaeologists, curators, and art historians all over the Western world were appalled not so much by the thefts but by the Bush admistration's indifference to it all. Though not said directly in news reports, the tone that prominent European and American scholars took was this: The "uncultured swine" George W. Bush does not give a fly-fuck about the heritage of a bunch of "dune coons."

However, it seems that what the looters really wanted were not royal vases and noble statues from 7500 B.C., but practical modern things like filing cabinets, office furniture, boxes, radios, rifles. For most, a folding chair had more value than a statue of a Sumerian king.