Stranger Days #39: The Mysteries of the Motel

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Book cover to David Macaulay's Motel of the Mysteries.Welcome to stranger days--my blog series exploring daily life, challenges in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and just sharing insights or thoughts about how to make it through these days.  

I was perusing my bookshelves the other day and David Macaulay's Motel of the Mysteries came into view and it had me thinking a lot about the world today.  Macaulay's book is a great and quick read that a colleague introduced me to years ago.  My colleague's enthusiasm was so strong for the book that I had to instantly acquire it and read it (and yes, I reviewed it here a while back).

The book's premise is that it was written by a future archaeologist who discovered a motel during an archaeological dig and shares his deep insights about all the different materials he encounters in the motel. It's a basic premise as far as sci-fi goes--the present drastically misunderstanding the past--but Macaulay brings his expertise lens to make a beautiful metaphor about how we create and often misunderstand the very history we tell.  It goes beyond that and how history is made for consumption and therefore, significantly simplified.  Below is an excerpt from the book itself--it sets the seen for the exhibit that follows for the reader.

A man wearing a toilet seat cover as a head piece and bowing to the toilet.
Sacred Collar and
Ceremonial Headband
"By the time of the opening, there were thousands of excited people lined up under the canopy walkway that surrounded the building -- each hoping for at least a glimpse of the treasures about which they had read and heard so much about.  Aware of the potential popularity of the exhibition and wishing to avoid congestion that had plagued so many of THE MUSEUM's earlier efforts, the particularly far-sighted Curator of Yankology had arranged the entire display on a specially constructed sloping floor. As the visitors entered the exhibition they were strapped into a pair of well-oiled roller skates.

Carson was so overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to the objects on display, that he spontaneously removed the Sacred Collar and Ceremonial Headband from their respective cases, put them on, and performed the ritual change of the ranking celebrant into the Sacred urn.  Those rolling by at the time went wild with excitement.  Swept up in the euphoria of the moment, Carson placed the collar over the delighted Harriet's head, moved in front of the largest spotlight in the gallery, and did what is still believed to be his very best shadow rabbit ever." 

It's funny to see how Macaulay reconstructs the typical items one might find in a motel room and how reframes it in increasingly ridiculous ways.  Of course, there's much to be said about his commentary in the ways that we might fetishize the past to the point of misrepresenting it for the sake of entertainment (as illustrated in the excerpt above).  In many ways, I feel like this book was made for the world that grew up with things like "The History Channel" and all the ridiculousness that the channel gives us.  

A sink plug with a metal chord displayed as if it was a necklace.
The Sacred Pendant
But the book drew my eyes and my thoughts because it also has me thinking about how this period in world history will not just be remembered but re-remembered from the ashes of our artifacts.  One on hand, we may believe that the future will have so much more information and research on us, but that's not something that's entirely certain. Innumerous things could happen that prevent folks from getting as much of the information and documentation that we currently create.  So it does offer up an interesting exercise in creative thinking to ponder what a society 500 years from now might make of this moment.  What evidence (or absence of evidence) do they have?  What societal shifts will have occurred that have cut them off from us?  
I mean, imagine 500 years from now, finding materials that talked about a major standstill throughout the world and the changes of all sorts of social practices like covering faces coupled with other materials that show other folks gathering together to fight against...something?  Meanwhile, there' all these recordings of people in their living quarters.  I feel like there could be so much to misunderstand in what has happened--heck, we see that already with the folks who are gathering in large numbers to demand that the country reopen (meanwhile, today, we passed the 1 million infected in the US alone).  

These are stranger days but I wonder how much stranger they will be when looked at from the future.  

Take care. Be careful. Be care-filled.  Welcome to stranger days.

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