Did anyone else flash back to the last time Republicans won big in the midterms under a Democratic president last week? I sure did when I heard the news that the Republicans once again were targeting a Smithsonian museum exhibition for being offensive to right-wing Republicans. This article at Inside Higher Ed suggests parallels to the big Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition crisis of 1989, but I was thinking about the manufactured controversy of the planned Enola Gay exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum of 1994-95. We were just talking about the Enola Gay controversy in my graduate seminar. Our current graduate students know about this because it’s an important case study in public history, not because they remember it. After all, most of them were in grade school in 1994-95. Then, lo! Another flashback to the culture wars of the late 1980s and 1990s announced itself when that very evening I learned about the new stink over “Hide/Seek” at the National Portrait Gallery, and the rather craven response by the museum immediately to pull the offending video.
Good times with bad history and bad art criticism! If it’s kulturkampf they want, it’s kulturkrieg they’ll make. And with Newt Gingrich threatening to run for President in 2012, it’s looking like we’re going to party like it’s 1995.