Archive for April 24th, 2009

Museums, Philosophy, and Gilligan

by Toby J. Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

Over time, bits and pieces of popular culture take on a life of their own. Comic books and television shows, designed to entertain briefly, work their way into the collective consciousness.

Phrases like “Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel!” may resonate with someone who has no earthly idea who Adam West is, or that the Batusi was a real dance created by choreographer and dance school entrepreneur, Arthur Murray.

Likewise, “Beam me up, Scotty.” has probably been uttered into the freshly flipped cell phones of a large number of people that would never identify themselves as “Trekkers.”

Then, there are people like me that recall obscure details like the full names of the characters on Gilligan’s Island.

Okay, you’re curious now, so we’ll start with the easy ones:

The Millionaire – Thurston Howell the Third

The Movie Star – Ginger Grant

Yes, they were mentioned several times throughout the series. How about the other characters?

Well, Mrs. Howell was often called “Lovey” by her millionaire husband. It turns out that wasn’t just a nickname that Thurston had bestowed upon her, as her full name is listed as Eunice “Lovey” Howell.

What about Mary Ann? The farm girl with the sunny disposition answered to the appropriate last name of Summers.

Two of the characters on the island were most often referred to simply by their job descriptions. The Professor, who was a high school science teacher with several advanced degrees, was named Roy Hinkley; and the Skipper was christened Jonas Grumby.

As far as the titular character goes, he was only ever identified as Gilligan throughout the three seasons that the show aired; however, according to the series creator Sherwood Schwartz, Gilligan’s first name was Willy.

Yes, even simple diversions can lead into deeper layers of information and minutia. They can also lead to deeper questions of a philosophic nature, for example the long standing debate that the characters trapped on the island represent the Seven Deadly Sins of mankind:

 Lust – Ginger (she did come on pretty strong in quite a few episodes)

Envy – Mary Ann (always in Ginger’s shadow)

Pride – The Professor (you don’t invent that many things using coconut shells without getting a little cocky.)

Sloth – Mrs. Howell (how often did you see her lift a finger on that island?)

Greed – Thurston Howell the III (who brings a trunk full of money on a three-hour cruise?)

Gluttony – the Skipper (he was a tad on the hefty side.)

Anger – the Skipper, again. (okay, he pulls double duty, but he did yell an awful lot.)

 Punishing all of these sinners was none other than Gilligan himself in the role of Satan. Let’s face it, it was his island, he constantly thwarted the others from escaping, and he did wear that red shirt all of the time.

If you’ve read this far, you’re most likely wondering what all of this has to do with the new museum? It stems from a conversation I had with a visitor about the idea of combining the two missions of the Fort Collins Museum and the Discovery Science Center into one. He was under the impression that science and history would be difficult to combine, and that one would have to take precedence over the other.

It reminded me of that great Gilligan’s Island debate, “Who do you prefer, Ginger or Mary Ann?” My answer was always the same, “Why do I have to choose?”

Perhaps not surprising, that’s the same way that I feel about the museum. The idea of being able to explore the history of science, and the science of history, is for me the best of both worlds. Instead of limiting myself to one area, the combination of information allows me to more fully explore a topic, moving from assorted facts towards knowledge and understanding.

It’s this approach that helps create those “Ah – Ha!” moments that make my job as a museum educator so rewarding. When I see the light bulbs going on over the heads of students on a field trip, I know that I’ve earned my pay. If I’ve challenged someone to look at an object in a whole new way – that’s a good day at the office. When I hear someone share information that I told them earlier, the circle is complete.

Teaching moments are all around us, in science, nature, history and even pop culture. Take the time to explore all of the possibilities.

Oh, and one more thing on the subject of late 60’s sit-coms. Did you know that you could sing the hymn “Amazing Grace” to the tune of the theme song from Gilligan’s Island?

Go on, try it.

You know you want to.

April 2009

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