On the theme-park-isation of history

Over in Slate, Timothy Noah writes about "Visitor Center Fever", i.e. how major Washington D.C. sites such as the Capitol are getting funding to build visitor centres and other informative exhibits. And I'm going to say, bravo for his Grinchy tone. Places such as the Capitol and the Washington Monument have functions, whether for the business of government or simply as a memorial; the construction of a visitor centre and the concomitant hawking of geegaws seems to say that being seen by tourists is their primary function.

I guess after a while on the road travelling, I got really tired of these mediating structures - call them visitor centres or whatever you want - that tell you what to think of the sight that you're seeing, instead of letting you experience a place directly. It's almost as though they're embarrassed by the stark nature of the original destination, and need the fig leaf to protect the nakedness. Well, that, and cafes and gift shops make a hell of a lot of money.


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