In case anyone hasn’t already picked this up from my raccoon-filled computer background and general ethos, I will clarify that I am in fact an anarchist. Anarchy gets a bad name from things like The Purge or Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises (though I have very nuanced and extensive thoughts about the ladder for another time). However, as we can see from Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums, anarchy isn’t all about destruction. Of course, by nature anarchy isn’t really about anything, or rather, it’s about a vast and varied number of things depending on the practitioner. For me, anarchy is about acknowledging that systems are enacted—something we affirm or deny in every interaction. For this reason, I see the structures we live in as inherently chaotic and only made systematic through our perception and enaction of that systematicity. This is not just a vibe I get, there is political, economic, behavioral, and linguistic data that show this. So if you grant that social structures are constructed and reconstructed on a case-by-case basis, anarchy then is about radical trust, intimacy, and responsibility between people constructing this thing together.
But my pontification aside, I was both enamored and skeptical of The Anarchist’s Guide. For many of the points—like making HHM’s voyeuristic, tactile, well-staffed and explained, and engaged in the surrounding intersectional community (rather than condescendingly “engaging the community”)—I couldn’t agree more. However, there were a couple moments where I thought perhaps the utopic ideology of radical change and anarchy prevented the author from articulating a nuanced perspective. First, I found the rather uncritical championing of social media engagement and subsequent tailoring of museum content to the brief forms available pretty eye-rolly. From the perspective of being engaged in the community, hell yes, Snapchat the shit out of your historic dentures. However, in our current political climate where tweets are authoritative and the news is fake, I wish there had been a more nuanced analysis of using social media to convey “facts.”
Secondly, in the argument about making museums exciting places to be, the author references the Futurist Movement and Marinetti’s descriptions of a bright, pulsing modernity. This may be the picky art historian in me, but Marinetti and the Futurists were fascists! Find someone better to prove your anarchist point please, there have to be plenty. Otherwise, great read, so important for all of us. Don’t be stuffy and boring and impersonal and restrictive! Go forth and do anarchy!