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Tutankhamun And The Golden Age Of The Pharaohs: Reinforcing Preconceived Notions

2519 words - 10 pages

Ominous, monolithic wooden doors, slanted backwards to accentuate their apparent height, swing slowly and automatically outward, beckoning the carefully counted herd of visitors into a darkened room lit only with eerie blue light trickling out of hieroglyphic sconces. Doors close behind, the lights dim - so begins the visitor’s journey among the treasures of ancient Egypt. Each visitor’s Egyptian immersion, however, started long before entering the “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” exhibit at the San Francisco De Young museum. The ancient Egyptian “mega-myth” – of grandiose and opulent Pharaohs, majestic, mysterious pyramids, sphinxes, Cleopatra, Ramesses, and of course King Tut – is deeply ingrained through popular culture, glorified in countless films, novels, and even video games. So too is the mystique of the brave adventurous archaeologist fixed in every western mind, patterned after the fedora-donning and pistol-toting protagonists of “Indiana Jones” and “Tomb Raider.” The King Tutankhamun exhibit, instead of exploring historical facts and daring to counter these myths, embellishes and substantiates them, reinforcing the Egyptian “blockbuster” perception in an attempt to satisfy the preconceived notions of the average person in hopes of drawing masses to the museum.
The guiding force behind the Tut exhibit is profit, to attract and satisfy the most visitors as efficiently as possible. The exhibit's backers were clear in their profit-driven motives, and every aspect of the experience exudes this monetizing mindset, from the efficient entrance line to the finishing souvenir shop. The museum curators craftily target the exhibit to reinforce the simplified and majestic popular notions about ancient Egypt, favoring sensationalism over substance and cinema over clarity, and do so with an effective flair. The brief dramatized adventure through the land of the pharaohs, however, leaves the discerning visitor feeling slightly empty, and more than slightly swindled, as a dearth of practical, new, or particularly in-depth information makes for an exhibit bereft of any apparent scholarly rigor. Through its emphasis on theatrics, its textual descriptions, and its overall layout and tone, "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" presents the value of Egyptian archaeology as not in discovering and preserving local or global heritage, but in supporting the vaguer, more mystical myth of Egypt - a glorified and mysterious past of godlike Pharaohs and vast treasures, which, whether accurate or not, brings in a modern plunder of its own. Such a gross dramatization of Egyptian culture can and does occur, as its only stakeholders are those with moneyed interest in the exploitation of antiquities – modern society has very little direct attachments to ancient Egypt beyond its treasured artifacts. In the case of “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” this manipulation and romanticizing of Egyptian history is felt in...

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