What are zoos for?

That page of The Graphic from 1895 just keeps on giving. Looking across from the pheasants shocker is another piece of news that has echoes today.

Right now there is a half-hearted debate about what economists might call the moneytisation of cultural assets. As the first world (yes I know, we’ve discussed this phrase), falls into a deeper and deeper financial hole, the things that we, our parents and our grandparents, expected to receive from civilisation are beginning to disappear.

One by one, western societies will no longer be able to afford museums, libraries — publicly supported cultural and scientific institutions in general — if they have to choose between subsidising them or keeping the lights on. The tide of culture is beginning to drain back from its high water mark some time after the Second War.

King Canute showed his courtiers he could not hold back the tide, but those institutions, museums, art galleries and the like, are giving it a shot. Here in London you can rent out The British Museum for a cocktail party, Tower Bridge for a team building meeting, the Science Museum for a wedding. In New York you and 799 of your friends can take over the Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum for a banquet. You can rent the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower in Paris for your soirée or the Vatican for a breakfast buffet. The point is that virtually every cultural icon is swinging its handbag offering paying patrons a good time.. just to pay the bills.

The damage that a free run of the place  by, let’s face it, drunks, causes to statuary, paintings and the like is kept pretty quiet. However when some piss ant in a tux poured his beer over a tiger at London Zoo, the elephant dung hit the air conditioning in England. While disappointingly the tiger could not exact revenge, there was outrage — for about a day. That debate will rumble on till it subsides.

Which brings me to this apposite paragraph from The Graphic.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose:-



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1 Response to What are zoos for?

  1. The Metropolitan Museum in NYC was partially created with the intention of socially uplifting the riff-raff. People were true believers. Now everyone prefers to slum it. Uplift is seen as quaint, misguided and probably evil.


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