New Smithsonian wing shows how pop culture tells America’s history

A new exhibit inside the Smithsonian’s American History museum aims to show how pop culture tells American history and how American history is seen in pop culture.

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

The National Museum of American History’s “Entertainment Nation” exhibit shows how entertainment plays a role in shaping the national conversation. (WTOP/John Domen)

WTOP/John Domen

A new exhibit inside the Smithsonian’s American History museum aims to show how pop culture tells American history and how American history is seen in pop culture.

The exhibit, titled “Entertainment Nation,” features over 200 exhibits spanning more than a century, from recognizable blockbuster costumes to legendary sports jerseys and memorabilia. You also have one of Prince’s iconic guitars, one of Mr. Rogers’ sweaters and even Kermit the Frog and Elmo.

It is impossible not to travel back in time to memorable experiences and events.



“Everybody wants to see at least some objects that will blow their minds,” said John Troutman, a music curator and director of the new wing. “It is from the forms of entertainment on the theater stage, in radio, TV, film (and) in the sports arenas, where a lot of big conversations take place. They serve as arenas for discussion, not just about the best plays or the best music, but also about larger conversations about society and politics and what it means to be American.”

While there is a Michael Jordan jersey on display, there is also a Jason Collins jersey from his time with the Wizards. We later found out that Collins wore the number 98 in honor of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in 1998 because he was gay. Collins later also came out as gay and was the first openly gay player to play in the NBA.

The museum’s director, Anthea Hartig, said the new wing uses “popular culture as a way … to get at some of the really complicated questions that surrounded us 150 years ago and today.”

Think of nostalgia as an invitation to learning,” she said. “So the story that’s being told next is really how entertainment in all its forms has been a forum for national conversations about our democracy, including who becomes an American.”

Another curator involved in the creation of this new wing was Krystal Klingenberg, who grew up in the District.

“It’s a dream to be a part of this,” she admitted. “To see this kind of exhibit on the floor of entertainment history would have been absolutely exciting,” seeing as someone who grew up coming to these museums.

Because the exhibit is able to reveal how our nation’s politics revealed itself in our popular culture, she said this is something that residents of the DC region in particular will be able to absorb.

“One thing that’s fascinating about this exhibit is that the connection between entertainment and politics is really clear,” Klingenberg said. “Looking at 150 years of entertainment history also allows us to look into the historical political moment of the last 150 years, and I think people from the area are really keen on these ideas and will really dig it.”

The opening of the new wing was celebrated with honors for musicians Dave Grohl, Susan Tedeschi, and Emilio and Gloria Estefan, who donated items to the exhibit and found it inspiring to see so many voices from different cultures represented there.

“It’s important to celebrate everyone who is part of this amazing tapestry that is the United States,” Gloria Estefan said.

“I hope this isn’t about me and Gloria,” Emilio added. “This will inspire minorities. “God bless America. We are blessed to live in a free country.”

To celebrate the new exhibition, there are a number of events taking place throughout the weekend, including special talks and film screenings.

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