INDIANAPOLIS — The Greatest Generation. Baby Boomers. Generation X. Generation Y. And even the Millennials. What could they possibly have in common? Nostalgia.
Nostalgia is the prevailing theme of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ latest permanent exhibit, “American Pop,” which opened in June.
Emblematic of today’s popular culture, comic book covers from across the generations line the vibrant purple archway into the exhibit; all your favorites – the Flash, X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Green Lantern – are accounted for.
A small portion of Kevin Silva’s 3,250-piece Batman collection — purchased by the museum in March — fills a glass display case nearby.
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But American Pop doesn’t limit itself to comic book culture. The exhibit’s varied displays illustrate the toys, books, performing arts, TV, music, and clothing of popular culture are all ingredients that help create our individual personalities — from the clothes we wear to the cases we choose for our cellphones.
A clothing exhibit features a letter sweater from the 1950s and a paper dress from 1967 adorned with artist Andy Warhol’s repeated Campbell’s soup can logo. A display of shoes spans the decades from Lucite heeled high-heels and saddle shoes of the 1950s to 1970s earth shoes, 1980s Jordan’s sneakers and Uggs boots.
A collection of literature includes a Dick and Jane school reader, Eric Carle’s bright, award-winning artwork from “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” and, of course, “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first book in the Harry Potter series.
A display case focused on music makes a strong statement about the speed of technology with devices for delivering the music we enjoy: a standing console record player from the 1960s, an 8-track player from the 1970s, a boom box from the 1980s, a portable CD player from the 1990s and an iPod shuffle from 2006. How many do YOU remember?
The largest section, and honestly, the most enjoyable segment of the “American Pop” exhibit, dedicates itself to toys. Toys figure prominently in popular culture because so many of them are attached to current media: a lunchbox from “Julia”; a collection of My Little Pony; Beanie Babies; Tinkertoys and erector sets; Legos; Cabbage Patch Kids; Star Wars collectibles; and a Beanie and Cecil jack-in-the-box.
I had that — a Beanie and Cecil jack-in-the-box — I say to the two millennial children accompanying my tour. I told them about turning the crank very slowly and listening to the music to figure out the exact note when Cecil would pop out of the box — a memory I’d forgotten.
My companions roll their eyes, of course, and then immediately start in about which Star Wars toys they had owned, which character figures were their favorites and how cool they were.
And that is what this exhibit is about: a chance to connect. Any two (or more) people walking through this exhibit together — no matter what generation they’re from — can connect and share memories and stories from their childhoods: the older with the younger and vice versa.
“It’s multi-generational,” said Chris Carron, the museum’s director of collections. “and a catalyst for story-telling. Everyone will find something they immediately attach to share stories with each other.”
Nostalgia connects the generations — and when that happens, “American Pop” has done its job.