The MoPOP (Museum of Popular Culture) where Sci-Fi meets Fantasy
I dreaded writing again today even though the creative Hazal was knocking on the walls of my brain. That is the girl with long wavy hair who wears a nice shade of pastel mint t-shirt and a violet pleated skirt. She is very bubbly and wants to play. She didn’t have any space at all to exist in this fairly large room in me, it’s been occupied with a load of black and white documents. It hasn’t been fun. But it feels great to have a little more space to be me, again. Let’s welcome the creative girl, and let her tell you why she has been so happy and excited the past few days…
I found myself sitting in a car, being driven to Seattle, WA, for no reason that involves me directly. I will not get into any detail on that. However, because of this trip, I was looking for Christmassy things to do while we were there and came across the annual Seattle Winterfest. Set the GPS, and here we went. The Winterfest as a whole was nothing fancy, all I saw was—a very talented orchestra of high school students playing festive songs and a small indoor skating facility. I was not impressed by what they called a festival as a whole, but the building right across this festival was the MoPOP, meaning the Museum of Popular Culture.
Let me tell you how excited I felt purchasing my ticket (with an additional charge of $5 to see the Marvel Exhibition), and what a treasure this place was for a Media and Communications student to spend not only 3 hours (as I did), but a whole day (as I wished I did).
Looking from the outside, the maroon-purple building is compelling and makes you wonder what could actually be inside. Is it a circus? A venue? That is practically how I ended up walking in without reading any signs at all. Later, I found out that the riveting building was designed by the one and only Frank O. Gehry. Entering in, I quickly realize I was meant to be here. The 80s pop music, the minimalistic black/brown décor (if I recall it right still), and the kind staff who seem to like their job, pull you in fairly quickly.
Giving my ticket to the attendant, I enter the main lobby: A gigantic screen that covers the whole width of the main wall, and I watch Michael Jackson trying to convince this chick next to him that the movie they are watching is actually not that scary. Ahh… Thriller is about to play. A classic. I place myself on a comfy red-round seat and relax, watching the whole music video since I spent the whole day walking. Feeling content, I walk towards my right, see a set of stairs, and walk down the stairs instead of seeing the first floor first. By the time I finish the first half of the stairs, I read the words “to those who have looked to the stars, and wondered” … I keep walking, then read, “your journey begins here”.
Ah… Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction, the other side of the door looks very dark. Here we go!…? I walk around in an atmosphere that is similar to the inside of a spaceship that is in power saving mode, of course (meaning, there were very minimal lighting across all platforms). The exhibit is home to illustrations and texts written by the authors of Sci-Fi legends as well as iconic pieces from their on-screen adaptations. The pieces are from many stories we are familiar with, such as the Star Wars series, Star Trek series, the Fifth Element (1997), Dune (1965), H.G. Wells’ the War of the Worlds (2005) and the Blade Runner (1982-2017). One that stays with me the most is looking at the life-sized T-800 endoskeleton from the Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), it is definitely challenging to stare at the figure more than 20 seconds in the dark room even though I know there are a bunch of people walking around me. I am certain if I stared at it long enough, I would be able to see its red eyes moving, not to mention that the Terminator was a childhood nightmare as it was one of my parents’ favorite movie. I am surprisingly relieved as I take a couple more steps to my right to see Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leather jacket, right next to the T-800.
The exhibit revolves around the idea that the initial purpose of the Sci-Fi worlds is to let the author express himself bluntly through an outside world and its outsider-creatures. Through creating these worlds that seem so different than the earth, the author(s) is able to illustrate the negative aspects of humanity without offending the readers. So, all the disgusting aliens that we read about… actually, mirror us.
Although seeing the familiar pieces and being able to read the progression of the stories through the personal notes of the author’s had been more than enough for me, the interactive component of the exhibit is also valuable to the experience. I was able to choose any imaginary planet from the Sci-Fi world and examine a holographic vision of it 360 degrees all around, I also explored what it felt like to be sitting inside a spaceship, staring at the zillion buttons I would not know what to do with.
Wishing the Infinite Worlds exhibit had more pieces to observe, I walk away feeling content. I try to find my way around the building until I come across a gigantic wooden door. I read the text that has the very same font as a childhood book of Snow White I can easily recall: “What awaits you on the other side of the door? An enchanting forest. A sleeping dragon. A silver-scaled tree. A giant dragonfly. Unlikely heroes and dark forces.” Oh, that feels home! I realize that I make it to the exhibit, Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic.
Before seeing all the pieces from the movies, I adore, I read through the Archetypes of Fantasy. Later along the exhibit, I realize how useful knowing the archetypes is to deeply understand the components of a story of magic. The archetypes form the pieces of the puzzle that create the riveting story. The Unlikely Hero? Ronald Weasley? Yes, sounds about right! The atmosphere in the exhibit feels right in all the ways possible. A sound effect that reminds me of magic, almost like stars shining and birds chirping at the same time, and subtle lighting that reminds me of a thousand candles being lit, creating space for me to stare at a witches’ ball on a corner of the room.
Moreover, the exhibit contains props, costumes and figures from our silver screen favourites such as the Princess Bride (1987), Conan the Destroyer (1985), Harry Potter (1997-2017), the Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), Narnia, the Legend of Zelda (1986-2018) and a favourite of my best friends—an ancient copy (1974, to be exact) of the iconic game, Dungeons and Dragons!
A favorite moment is seeing Judy Garland’s iconic costume from the Wizard of Oz. Ah, and the black pointy hat that melted right after Garland poured a big bucket of water on the green lady… that was there too! The lady? She was the wicked witch. What a moment of joy seeing Garland beat her up (theoretically, with a bucket of water), and she was able to go back home, to Kansas. I remember watching the very same movie at the age of 5-6 at my grandmother’s house. It was the only movie that would play constantly in one of the channels. Wouldn’t matter the time you turn the TV on, the Wizard of Oz would always be airing. You see it was like Netflix without the choice click cancel, and I would watch it over and over and over again.
Another highlight of the exhibit, again, is seeing the creative process of the authors. A book series that I enjoyed as a 13-year-old middle schooler was the great story of Eragon. I’ve read about the author still being a teenager when he wrote the books, but I never imagined him being 15 years-old. The exhibit shows hand-written notes of Paolini as well as a selection of edits from his publisher. It was a privilege to be able to observe the text so clearly and closely and become a part of the artistic process.
I walk out of the same wooden door. I am sure there is a proper way to exit, but I really want to go through the door again, taking me back to the world without magic. I leave, with my heart feeling full.
I would recommend visiting the MoPOP to all ages (with a parent’s assistance for certain exhibitions) and support the museum financially if you are able to do so. My creative-self was so happy to be present in the moment surrounded by all the things that could possibly inspire me the most. I hope to go back for a longer visit and experience this all again. I was also able to see the Marvel Exhibit, that was extraordinary, and it would require me to write another blog post for such a well-presented exhibit. Let me know if you would like to read about it, and comment below if you have any questions about your upcoming MoPOP visit!
The MoPOP Guide
Address: 325 5th Ave N, Seattle, WA 98105
Hours: 10AM – 5PM Daily
Tip: Save $2 if you buy your tickets online!