MoPop and the tension between pop culture and books

One of the delights of being in Seattle is the plethora of cultural events and museums there are to experience. One of these is the Museum of Pop Culture, which I heartily recommend for any genre lover, fan of indie game, or music lover. At the time when I attended, I was able to see exhibits about the history of the LGBTQ+ movement, guitars from numerous famous artists throughout history, great video essays on the nature of video games and game design, and artifacts of movies and movie adaptations including Star Wars, Dune, Dawn of the Dead, and the Predator. I also got to see the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, holding possessions and pictures of greats including Vonda McIntyre, Ray Bradbury, and many other formative writers. It was, in short, a whole lot of fun.

But there was one part of the museum where I noticed an absence, a lack of completion. It was the Fantasy exhibit.

There’s a tension in pop culture that I often see, and one that was glaringly obvious in the Fantasy exhibit of the MoPop. It is simple: books drive pop culture. This has become very apparent in recent years with the rise of phenomenal movie and television adaptations, such as Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Shadow and Bone, and the Witcher, but it’s not new. Take, for example, Dracula, which had a literal altar in the horror exhibit. Bram Stoker’s novel has inspired so many creators, both with direct adaptations of his work by the same name and iconic shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

A bust of Bram Stoker in the Horror exhibit.

Yet books are inaccessible to a lot of folks, and hard to adapt to museum settings. What percolates into film and television is more likely to be remembered by the general masses. This was reflected in the museum exhibits, which relied heavily on props and designs from film sets, and included very few examples of the source material itself. Perhaps this was why the Fantasy exhibit didn’t quite manage to capture my attention. Beyond video essays which I thought were timely and informative, the majority of the Fantasy exhibit included items from the Lord of the Rings movies, Harry Potter, and Highlander. There was a lack of breadth to what was displayed, and it raised questions for me about how one successfully captures the importance of books at a driver of pop culture ideas, especially for folks who may not be aware of just what wonders books have to offer.

Luckily as a frequenter of museums I have some theories. For example, when visiting New York City a few years ago we stopped in the Main Branch of the New York City Library system just in time to see a lovely exhibit around the works of Walt Whitman. I was impressed by the clever use of copies of books and book covers, including excerpts from famous texts and poems. Some of that same methodology was included in the Dracula part of the Horror Exhibit of the MoPop, which contained a computer screen with excerpts of Dracula and links back to works that had been inspired by that text.

Despite my disconnect from the Fantasy exhibit overall, I want to emphasize that the MoPop is worth a visit, especially if you’re a horror movie fan. It’s impossible to do a Fantasy exhibit and not really appreciate the joys of Fantasy books. Whenever MoPop updates their exhibits next, I hope that they keep the source material in mind and make a space that truly feels welcoming and innovative to adult fantasy fans.

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