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Cora visits the "living room" at MoPop. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Hunter

Mother-Daughter Review: MoPop’s Massive is Meta

'Power of Pop Culture' exhibit speaks to all ages

Dorothy Gale’s blue gingham dress greets you as you walk into the newest exhibition at the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop): “Massive: The Power of Pop Culture.” At seven years old, Cora wasn’t familiar with the original “Wizard of Oz.” But she knows the “Wicked” soundtrack by heart and saw a kids’ version at the Seattle Children’s Theatre just down the street, so Dorothy’s dress was a great jumping-off point for a discussion about pop culture with a young child. 

“As the leading pop culture museum, we have never had an exhibition that defined and engaged visitors about pop culture,” said Senior Curator Amalia Kozioff. “This unique design and curatorial approach makes Massive stand out among other exhibitions in our museum.”

Indeed “Massive: The Power of Pop Culture” isn’t your typical museum exhibition. There are artifacts on display, but you can’t just stroll through the show. Be ready for interactive exhibits, a thorough examination of pop culture—what it is, how it happens, why it matters—and a side dish of curatorial theory. In pop culture slang, this exhibition “is so meta.” 

Age isn’t just a number

I had two very different experiences at Massive, first with Cora and again with my 14-year-old niece, Claire. For me, Massive evoked powerful nostalgia, which is impressive when most pop culture memories can be quickly accessed on the Internet. Young children won’t experience nostalgia—most of this exhibition will be completely new. But as a parent, it’s an exciting way to talk to your child about the formative moments of your childhood. 

For example, an exhibit of Barbie dolls sparked a conversation about dolls versus stuffed animals, since Cora and her friends much prefer Squishmallows to dolls. As we debated the merits of each toy, I shared a memory of Christmas morning at my grandparents’ house, opening a box that turned out to be a ball-gowned Barbie doll.

‘My friends would love this’

With Claire, Massive was both nostalgic and illuminating. At fourteen, many of these pop culture moments were history to her. But as we stood in front of a wall of blinking light sticks, she turned to me incredulously when I asked her if she knew who BLACKPINK was. They are a K-Pop girl group, she explained. “I have two friends who are completely obsessed, they wear BLACKPINK clothes every day.” 

“I love how the light sticks blink according to the music,” she said. “My friends would love this.”

Associate Curator Adeerya Johnson understands that despite the historicity of the exhibits, age is a major factor in viewers’ experiences. 

“We hope that people of all ages can have fun, learn, and feel seen in the space. For children, this exhibition is a whole world to explore and learn from,” she says. “That may mean learning about the evolution of game controllers, identifying feelings about their favorite Barbie or learning what makes a museum so special in the way we care for our artifacts. It’s a great learning space for the young ones!”

Think of it like taking your child to the Burke, but instead of dinosaurs, it’s Darth Vader. 

Mother daughter review MoPop

Signage at MoPop

Interactive nostalgia

The Barbies are part of a larger interactive exhibit where viewers are asked to change the color of the lighting behind an artifact according to how the artifact makes them feel. In addition to Barbies, viewers can indicate feelings about Lizzo’s sequined bodysuit and Michael Jackson’s moonwalk jacket. This exhibition works on a quiet visit, but it’s hard to navigate in a crowd. 

All of us had the same favorite exhibit, what we’re calling the “living room.” Take a seat on the bench and wait your turn for the “remote control,” which will allow you to flip through clips from almost 100 years of pop culture. 

When it was our turn, I flipped to the year I was born—1984—and watched Vanessa Williams become the first African-American Miss America. I told Cora about her song “Save the Best for Last” and how, at eight years old, I thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.

Back in ancient time . . .

At one point, somewhere in the 90’s, Cora asked me earnestly:

“Was it hard to watch TV when it was so blurry?”

Claire was born in 2009, the year RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered, which we discovered to our delight. It was fascinating to see which clips elicited joy or commentary from fellow visitors. Feeling kinship with a dozen strangers at a busy museum exhibit is quite a feat. I asked the curators how they chose each clip.

“It was an intricate process and we considered a variety of questions. What new technologies were introduced? What popular event garnered millions of views? What moment changed our history/perspective/fashion/culture? Who was the first? The most impactful?”  

I wasn’t always familiar with the clips, even if I lived through them, which was a good reminder that even in the digital age, we see and internalize pop culture individually. 

Mother daughter review MoPop

The author with her niece, Claire. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Hunter

Pop culture heartbreaks

Massive is unafraid to spend time in the hard parts of pop culture. What happens when your favorite performer turns out to be, according to one visitor, “a real heel?” What does it say about you if you still love their music, or still laugh at their jokes? These are important and pertinent conversations to have as the personal details of pop stars’ lives become public knowledge.

When we talked about Kurt Cobain, whose sweater and beanie cap sits starkly against a black background, Cora asked me: “Did you ever cry when someone famous died?”

I had, twice. Whitney Houston and Anthony Bourdain were strange bedfellows but equally devastating. I told her that sometimes we cry when someone famous dies, even if we don’t know them, because of what they gave the world and what they meant to us. But we didn’t dwell. She’ll know the feeling someday.

Come for the costumes, stay for the culture

Above all else, Massive’s curators want their viewers to think. They want viewers to understand how much care is required to preserve, for example, a six-foot-tall Darth Vader costume, to which Cora exclaimed, “Oh my God, we have to bring Henry [her brother] to see this!”

The curators offer insight into the process of acquiring and deaccessioning (selling) items for theMoPop permanent collection, cultural appropriation, fandom, and more. 

These are big topics, and this exhibition asks a lot of its viewers, but it’s equally fun and entertaining.

Cora especially appreciated the “Don’t Touch!” exhibit, which entices viewers to touch a plain white square to show what happens when grubby fingers touch pristine artifacts. Since we went to the press preview, I think she took some pride in knowing hers were the first grubby fingers to touch. 

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About the Author

Elizabeth Hunter