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Freedom Museum Rocks Acceptably

It would be all too easy to make fun of the "Freedom Museum" now housed in the former Hammacher Schlemmer space, in the Tribune Tower complex on North Michigan Avenue. Ironies abound, many of which inform our very own "Freedom Museum Exhibits We'd Like To See."

But if you are any sort of freedom geek like those of us here at Beachwood HQ, you have to admit the museum is kind of inspiring. After all, it's about freedom.

So hop aboard the freedom train, McCormick Tribune Foundation-style.

At each stop we'll present the exhibit title, the Visitor's Guide description, our commentary, and a Freedom Meter rating between 1 (Wham!) and 10 (Neil Young). Because it's not really freedom if it doesn't rock.

1. 12151791. "This two-story sculpture features 800 cascading steel plates, each inscribed with quotes about freedom from everyday people over the course of 215 years."

The sculpture, whose title references the date the First Amendment was ratified, looks good from a distance, but why put quotes on steel plates if you can't get close enough to read them? I was assured there was a list nearby for reading, but then again, the Internet is close by as well. I wanted to read the steel plates.

Freedom Meter: 5. Freedom is just a tease, out of reach for most of us. The museum is toying with us from the start.

freedom_photo.jpg

2. The Freedom Theater. "A short film, So It's A Free Country, presents three real life case studies in which our freedoms intersect and conflict with one another."

This kind of thing may be hokey, but I get chills. I'm just a free speech kind of guy. Plus, I get to issue an Ann Coulter Alert: One of the film's heroes is 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser, whom Coulter accuses, in perhaps the worst best-selling book ever, of enjoying the tragic death of her husband, who worked at the World Trade Center. Coulter, of course, has never had a husband, so maybe she doesn't know just how great it feels to lose one.

Breitweiser and other 9/11 widows are celebrated for doing what democracy but not Coulter demands: Questioning the government and demanding truth and accountability. In this case, that meant an independent inquiry that became the 9/11 Commission.

Another of the film's case studies comes straight outta Homewood-Flossmoor, packed with the eternal adolescent concern, "Does freedom mean I can wear whatever I want?" Sadly, no one wants to tell these kids the answer is "Yes, until you sell your soul to some company to sell plasticware."

In this case, the immediate issue was the "gay T-shirt showdown" pitting "Gay? Fine By Me" against "Crimes Committed Against God."

The T-shirt companies won, proving commerce always wins, unless you are Hammacher Schlemmer and the Tribune Company wants your space for a freedom museum.

The film's other case study is the case of Kelo v. New London. There do not appear to be T-shirts.

Freedom Meter: 10. Kristen Breitweiser is an American hero. Ann Coulter isn't.

3. What Does Freedom Mean? "Be a part of the exhibit by recording your own thoughts on freedom for all to see and hear."

I did not participate.

Freedom Meter: 10. The freedom to do nothing is sometimes the greatest freedom of all.

4. Clayton Kirkpatrick Gallery. "The home for temporary and traveling exhibit displays."

On my visit, Wearing The Flag was up. I learned that Abbie Hoffman was arrested for wearing a stars-and-stripes shirt in 1968 during a protest against the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In a more perfect world, the House Committee on Un-American Activities would have then been sent before the Senate Committee on Un-American House Activities, but we America is not yet that meta.

Charged with desecrating the flag, Hoffman proclaimed, "I regret that I have but one shirt to give to my country." His conviction was later overturned, sparking unintended fashion consequences which may have contributed to Hoffman's depression.

Freedom Meter: 9.5. Hoffman wore it well. Not so much the others.

5. Roots of Freedom. "Discover the ancient roots of democracy and trace its path to influencing American's Founding Generation. Understand the impact of our founding documents."

On display: copies of the Declaration of Independence, one of 24 signed by John Hancock; the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Freedom Meter: 5. The Founding Fathers are overrated.

6. First Amendment Freedoms. "Learn your First Amendment rights and realize the importance of safeguarding these liberties through inspiring stories of ordinary individuals."

Case study: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which defined the constitutional rights of public high school students. See the hate mail 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker received for wearing a black armband to school to protest the Vietnam War. Wonder how a 13-year-old could understand America better than the hate-mongers who addressed her mail to Moscow and Beijing. Feel the sorrow and shame they never felt.

Freedom Meter: 7. Mary Beth Tinker is an American hero. But the haters are still with us, and they've made Ann Coulter a best-selling author.

7. Freedom For All? "Examine how individuals have used First Amendment rights to gain greater equality for themselves and others."

See "Certificates of Freedom" granted to slaves in 1844. Read up on rights movements for Native Americans, women, African-Americans, workers, and gays, under which the museum states "the story continues . . . " Coming soon: Animatronic display of Ozzie Guillen taking sensitivity lessons.

Freedom Meter: 5. The story continues.

IRONY INTERLUDE:

* A guide approaches me asking "Why are you taking notes?"

* Crispyterikayi says "You're not allowed to take photos while on the second floor of the freedom museum."

* A letter from the first President Bush approving restitution for the Japanese internment during the Second World War is displayed here. Perhaps the recent Supreme Court ruling on Guantanamo is on the way.

Freedom Meter: 2. Are we going backwards?

8. Marketplace of Ideas. "What is the role of the free press and free expression in a democracy? Learn about reporters who were jailed for disagreeing with policies, discover symbols and colors censored by governments, and listen to songs once banned.

This exhibit includes the classic Bush-Kerry JibJab; Katie Couric interviewing Michael Moore, and video of anti-war debates. A displayed of banned songs over the years is fairly representative. But not as good as this.

Freedom Meter: 1. Whatever energy JibJab infuses in me, Katie Couric takes away. And country radio won't play the Dixie chicks. Is the point of this museum to show that we never learn?

9. Close To Home. "Where would you 'draw the line?' Immerse yourself in debates involving First Amendment rights, listen to a spectrum of opinions and decide your verdict."

So, for example, did Lincoln cross the line suspending Habeas Corpus during the Civil War? Should The New York Times have published the Pentagon Papers? Should the Chicago Tribune hire an editorial cartoonist? One of those might have just been in my notes, not on display.

Freedom Meter: 2. Drawing the line at corporate media is not addressed.

10. Freedom's Future. "Test your knowledge of your rights. Play fun games and learn how to take action."

I did not test my knowledge, but according to my notes, somewhere along the way I learned that Finland is Number One in terms of press freedom, though according to Reporters Without Borders, Finland is merely tied for first. More remarkably, the United States ranks . . . 44th. Among those countries with more press freedom than the United States: the Czech Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and El Salvador.

One thing all observers seem to agree on is that North Korea is the worst stinking hellhole on the planet.

Freedom Meter: 8. Because Finland rocks.

11. The Freedom Museum Website. It's highly annoying. It's technically ambitious, but mucho user-unfriendly. Simplify, people. Freedom isn't really freedom if it isn't accessible to us all. And that's really the point of all this.

Freedom Meter: 0. You are sapping my freedom every time I go to you.

12. Naming Names Part 1. The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum is a cumbersome appellation that puts ego before freedom.

Freedom Meter: 0. Feel free to change the name.

13. Naming Names Part 2. "12151791" is the name of an artistic centerpiece that might as well not have a name, because who is going to call it that? And unlike Cloud Gate, which easily morphed into The Bean, 12151791 has no natural nickname aside from Those Hanging Metal Things That Kind Of Look Like They're Floating In Air Though It's Pretty Clear They Aren't.

Freedom Meter: 0. See #12.



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Posted on July 1, 2006


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