June 9, 2008

Dinosaurs of Bronto

P.J. O'Rourke visits the Field Museum in Chicago (via Five Feet of Fury):

"The sculpture of a Masai spearman facing off against a crouching lioness has been shunted to a lonely corner, lest someone somehow take offense. Nowadays offense is taken--snatched and grabbed--as if offense were something valuable to own."

I believe he's referring to Malvina Hoffman's spectacular lifesize 6'-8" tall sculpture of a naked Nuer tribesman. The Nuers are elongated Sudanese Nilotics, like their cousins the Dinka, famous for 7'-6" basketball player Manute Bol. Barack Obama Sr.'s Luo tribe are more distant cousins.

It's a natural mistake to make since you are supposed to be ignorant these days about what people look like. You're supposed to celebrate diversity, but not know about it. Institutions like the Field Museum have gone to a lot of trouble to de-educate the populace. As I wrote in VDARE.com in 2002:

Malvina Hoffman has been called "the greatest American artist you've never heard of" and "the American Rodin." She studied under Auguste Rodin, the greatest sculptor since Bernini, and Gutzon Borglum, creator of Mt. Rushmore. Her style was more realistic than Rodin's, which helped drive her out of fashion in a 20th Century art world obsessed with abstraction.

In 1930, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago commissioned her to create 91 full size bronzes and 13 marbles depicting in exquisite detail the "The Races of Mankind." She traveled the world to complete this most titanic sculptural project undertaken by any American woman ever. (Here's her Bushman woman and baby.)

In 1933, the Hoffman exhibit opened in the Field Museum's spectacular custom-built "Hall of Man." It was a major part of the Chicago World's Fair and remained a popular institution for decades afterwards. But it was shut down in 1968 because, well, because it was 1968.

Hoffman’s collection was broken up. A quarter of it is now in Cedar Rapids. When I last visited the Field Museum in 1999, only about half the statues were on display, and many of those were pushed into dark corners, often without labels. The magnificent 6'8" Nilotic Nuer warrior, with proportional masculine endowment, was down in the basement next to the dusty souvenir-making Mold-o-Vac and Penny Squeezer machines.

Last time I was at the Field Museum a decade ago, the Nuer and the two stuffed man-eating lions who killed 130 Indian construction workers in East African in 1898 (as shown in the 1996 Michael Douglas-Val Kilmer movie "The Ghost and the Darkness") were stowed away in the basement with each other.

O'Rourke goes on:

The brontosaurus has been pushed to the back (that is to say the front) of the main hall and isn't called a brontosaurus anymore. (Doubtless offense was taken by Chicago's Bronto-American community.)

Damn, I was sure I'd published something with "Bronto-American" in it, but the closest I can come up with is from my 2001 review of "Jurassic Park III."

Before you rush out to see "Jurassic Park III" based on my stirring endorsement - "It's a lot less annoying than the last one!" - please note that I can't seem to recall anything that happened in either of the first two dinostravaganzas after that first glorious scene of a sunlit grassland with brontosauruses peacefully munching away. All I can remember after that is a lot of gnashing of really big teeth. …

Still, there are some cool new flying pterodactyls in "JP III" that try to turn the cast into birdfeed.

Yeah, okay, I know a lot of you out there are right now firing up your email clients to inform me that they aren't "pterodactyls," they are "pteranodons," and those big galoot herbivores aren't "brontosauruses," they are "brachiosauruses."

Sorry, but that's what I called them when I was a kid and I see no reason to change now. I mean, what did I miss that would change the name of creatures that haven't been around for 65 million years? Did some brontosaurus Jesse Jackson call a press conference to announce that from now on he wanted to be called a "brachiosaurus" and that anybody who forgot and referred to "brontosauruses" was terminally unhip? I bet that when even dinosaurs like me finally start calling them "brachiosauruses," they are going to pull another switcheroo and announce that we are aren't supposed to call them "brachiosauruses" anymore, but now instead they'll be "dinosaurs of bronto."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


J said...

What sense would it make to have statues of exotic human beings in a museum today, when you are can see them in vivo on the street?

Steve Sailer said...

Have you ever seen a Dinka or a Nuer on the street? A Bushman? An Australian Aborigine? A Pygmy? A Pygmy Negrito?

Anonymous said...

My memory is that a brachiosaurus, not a brontosaurus, was on display in the Field Museum Hall. I know this was true during the early 1990s, when I was volunteering there.

The term used nowadays (and since at least the mid-1980s) instead of brontosaurus is apatosaurus. The abandonment of "brontosaurus" has to do with the priority of the name, not political correctness.

Isaac Asimov wrote an essay arguing for an exception to be made to the rule in this one case, as he thought brontosaurus was too entrenched in the public mind to be replaced.

Plantary Archon Mouse

Anonymous said...

the name brontosaurus was changed because it was revealed to be a fraud. the body was discovered but not a head so they added a head from a different dinosaur and called it brontosaurus. so now it's name has been changed.

Anonymous said...

Great article, great point about diversity....Next time you talk to a liberal, let slip that you "love studying about racial differences in IQ because it's such a celebration of diversity." Or, less blatantly, that you love studying crime statistics for the same reason.

Anonymous said...

It's vexing, the way names get changed Boadicea was good enough for many a generation, but now it's Boudicca.
P.S Do you think we voted for Mrs Thatcher and you didn't vote for Mrs Clinton because we were brought up on tales of Heroine Queens and you weren't? No, me neither.

Anonymous said...

The statues not only represent the races of man, they also represent the cultures that existed at the time. Many of the places that the artist found the people to portray in these statues have become modernized and the traditional cultures only exist in historical depictions such as these statues. Do the politically correct drowd want to sweep these last connections we have to these cultures under a rug because some "Stuff White People Like" person will be offended? What is "diverse" about that? The Field Museum used to be a great organization that carried out great expeditions in the scientific, archealogical, and paleontological areas. I hope that this does not mean that all of this is over and that they have become just another PC shill.

Anonymous said...

Your first indication should have been the name of the museum.

Anonymous said...

I sent Steve an e-mail a couple years ago, but I never heard back. The Goodman statues are not pushed into the corners anymore. They now line the walkway around the main hall atrium on the second floor of the museum. They have even been provided with full explanatory plaques about the artist and subjects. There is also a full background treatment (with pictures and questions) displayed at the top of the stairs you take to the second level - you cannot miss it. The statues are now seen by the museum to celebrate "diversity" - and are presented in that context. Statues are present at the entrances to the dinosaur hall, the gem hall, and near the skull of the T-rex "Sue" - the museum wants them to be seen.

I'm not sure what museum O'Rouke visited, the situation wasn't any different two weeks ago, and I doubt they stowed them away again since.

As for the branchiosaur, it is outside in order to make space for "Sue". When you spend 8 million dollars buying something that was illegally seized and auctioned off, you better put it front and center.

Anonymous said...

We're all so impressed that you remain willfully ignorant of dinosaur nomenclature, Steve.

Take that, paleontologists!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous beat me to it, but yeah the name change from Brontosaurus to Apatosaurus wasn't politically correct, it was just a lunkheaded decision by a bunch of tone deaf scientific pencil pushers. After all, there is no historical basis for any name for these creatures, humans have only known about them for 150 years. We got used to calling the thing "Brontosaurus" and no one was hurt by that, why force us to change the name?

Anonymous said...

Do dinosaurs of bronto shop at Brontos - R - Us?

Or has that store been bankrupted for being intolerably intolerant, like the old Sambo's restaurants?

Anonymous said...

Isaac Asimov wrote an essay arguing for an exception to be made to the rule in this one case, as he thought brontosaurus was too entrenched in the public mind to be replaced.

The fact that I know what a brontosaurus is (or thought I did) and had no idea there was such a thing as a apatosaurus, suggests Asimov was correct in this regard.

Anonymous said...

The Sam Neill character in Jurassic Park is based loosely on Robert Bakker and Jack Horner. Horner is nowadays on TV more but Bakker was a more important figure in paleontology.

Bakker objects to the renaming of the Brotosurus to Apatosaurus. He explains the mix up of the skulls but argues for the preservation of the common name.

Actually the Brontosaurus and the Briachiosaurus don't look that much alike. Brontos have longer rear legs than front legs whereas Brachios have longer front legs.

The other major sauropod is the Dilodocus. This is the very long thin sauropod. Andrew Carnegie made a lot of casts of his Diplodocus so it is well represented in museums.

Anonymous said...

Let me second the last two anonymouses. The dinosaur books I read as a kid discussed the Brontosaurus, Brachisaurus, and Diplodocus. No mention of the Apatosaurus. Apparently it was demonstrated that the original "Brontosaurus" was really an Apatosaurus skeleton with a different head that had been found several miles away.

I agree with the Asimov essay that the name Brontosaurus should have been grandfathered due to popular awareness. Of course I also thought that Pluto should have been grandfathered in as a planet despite the technical objections of the IAU.

Anonymous said...

Steve Sailer: Have you ever seen a Dinka or a Nuer on the street? A Bushman? An Australian Aborigine? A Pygmy? A Pygmy Negrito?

No, but unlike our grandparents and great-grandparents, many of us have seen e.g. a NĂ¡hua, a Mayan, a Zapotecan, etc:

The Indigenous Languages of Mexico

Languages of Mexico

Language Maps of Mexico

BTW, according to that first link, Mexico has the second highest number of living languages in the world [narrowly edged out only by India].

Oh, and we're about to get a Luo Mugabeist as our next president, and we see him on TV 24x7.

togo said...

I've seen a couple very tall, very dark Dinka-types on the streets of Uptown/Ravenswood in Chicago.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever seen a Dinka or a Nuer on the street? A Bushman? An Australian Aborigine? A Pygmy? A Pygmy Negrito?

No, because after immigrating to America and a few years of education, they assimilate perfectly to act, think and look just like us. Duh.

Look at Australia: within a few years after arriving the Anglo-Celtic immigrants began to look so much like the native aborigines that you can no longer tell the two apart.

Anonymous said...

Nigerian immigrants are popping up everywhere here in the Southeast USA.

What is their predominant ethnicity?

Anonymous said...

I've seen Dinkas(a Dinka seminarian gave a talk about South Sudan at my church, and there were one or two "Lost Boys" from Sudan at my college.)
I have seen Mexican or Guatemalan Indians (didn't know what ethnic group though). They look quite a bit different from the Mestizo Mexican-Americans I work with.

Ron Guhname said...

I'm surprised no one has commented on the beauty of those statues. The classical Greeks loved the natural human form--their models happened to be Greek. In this age of diversity, it makes perfect sense to celebrate other forms. I'll take the Nilotic Nuer warrior over modern stuff any day.

Anonymous said...

So it's another story of a perfectly great artist's career being marginalized by the "curators" and the "critics", the "tastemakers" and the "agents". All of whom, by 1968, undoubtedly declared this woman's highly artistic work to be reactionary and insufficiently revolutionary.

Steve, what would the tastemakers do with Mount Rushmore today if they could have their way? I envision someone who looks like Dick Morris or Phil Spector or Steve Jobs blowing the famous faces to bits with heavy cannon.

No doubt these same artistic geniuses would preserve the Statue of Liberty as long as she was posed anew with her legs spread.

By the way, is it just me or are you losing your appetite for Hollywood "product". I sense a going-through-the-motions tone to your film reviews lately. Maybe you are finally waking up to your own programming and are becoming increasingly ill after viewing the "product".

Anonymous said...

I remember my first plastic dinosaurs fifty years ago, and staging "fights" between them in second grade on our classroom desktops.(actual desktops then.)
Most boys wanted to be T-Rex but I liked the sheer bulk of the Brontosaurus.
I'm 57, and I bought my latest plastic Brontosaurus last week at the Dollar Store simply because he was well-made, cheap and LOOKED COOL!
Ernest Becker wrote that kids love dinosaurs so much because they went about gleefully killing and chomping all day long and and trampled the bones of their victims into the mud.
Now that's a Will To Power any 4 year old can relate to!

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Little white boys soak up every little fact they can about dinosaurs. And they can read and pronounce the polysyllabic Greek names with gusto, too.

A cross-culture look at this would be good. What about little black boys? Little Asian boys?

It looks like a hunter instinct in whites. Wonder if it's present in southern Europeans, who seem to have less interest in nature qua nature. Stories anyone?