Monday, October 6, 2008

More Punishment Than Crime, New Museum is Expansive

Friends and I made a recent trip to the new museum on the DC block, the National Museum of Crime & Punishment. It's in Penn Quarter, 575 7th Street NW, about three blocks from the southern end if the 42 bus route. It was quite an experience. Quite a long and somewhat taxing experience.

We weren't sure if we left with a positive disposition on current law enforcement, a depressing outlook on the darkness of human nature, or a sick feeling about the brutality perpetrated by both law breakers and law makers. In the first gallery, A Notorious History of American Crime, the Museum employs a sensory-stimulating and somewhat assaulting style of in your face presentation regarding the history of crime and punishment. Some of the early history telling didn't focus on why punishments were enacted, but just on the often gruesome punishments themselves. That's fine, it's history, and the story needs to be told. But the shock value factor trumped everything else.

The Museum is better a entertaining than informing, which seems to be one of the goals. They compensate for that by occasionally listing dense, sometimes useless and inexplicably small text captions for objects. Often, it was difficult to tell which artifacts in the collection were authentic to a period, which were actually involved in a crime event or which were just replicas. Even some of the highlighted items were replicas, such as a car that was used in a movie about Bonnie and Clyde. To me, that's not really exciting to look at. Give me the real car they rode around in and that's sort of exciting, but the car Warren Beatty drove in, eh.

However, the Museum was not all bad. There is a lot to see for the $17.95 adult admission. There are five galleries and each is fairly extensive. The fifth is literally a television studio, devoted to America's Most Wanted, which is now filmed on site. The museum is labyrinth like, seemingly going on and on, and on, defying the limits placed on it by outward appearances. Remember to not make our mistake by pacing yourself. We tried to read each and every panel, and tried most of the interactives. That left is wanting to rush exhibits at the end of the Museum since we were slightly fatigued. Sadly, I think we missed some cool stuff on prisons near the end.

One exhibit that is hard to miss however, is the simulated DEAD BODY in the CSI Gallery. I was a little taken aback. There were simulated gunshot, stab and other wounds on the body, which was supposed to a part of an autopsy interactive. Yeah, I'll leave that for the pre-med students. If there is an activity I'd least like to simulate, it's trolling around in a morgue looking at dead bodies. This museum is not for the young! Not the young I know anyway. I'd give it a strong PG-13 rating, bordering on an R rating.

The National Museum of Crime & Punishment is not for everyone, but I see the appeal to information hungry 8th graders and curious, entertainment seeking visitors to DC alike. There aren't any clear local connections or shout outs, it is after all a national museum, but locals could have a little fun with this place if they head in with the right expectations.