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

A new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History aims to show how pop culture tells the American story and how the American story is perceived 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 Doman)

PTOP/John Doman

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

PTOP/John Doman

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

PTOP/John Doman

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

PTOP/John Doman

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

PTOP/John Doman

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

PTOP/John Doman

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

PTOP/John Doman

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

PTOP/John Doman

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

PTOP/John Doman

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

PTOP/John Doman

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

PTOP/John Doman

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

PTOP/John Doman

A new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History aims to show how pop culture tells the American story and how the American story is perceived in pop culture.

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

It is impossible not to go back to unforgettable experiences and events.



“Everyone will see at least a few objects that will shock them,” said John Troutman, curator of music and director of the new wing. “It’s from forms of entertainment on the theater stage, radio, television, cinema (and) sports arenas where a lot of big conversations happen. They serve as arenas for discussions 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 Michael Jordan’s jersey is on display, so is Jason Collins’ jersey from his time with the Wizards. We later learned that Collins wore the number 98 in honor of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in 1998 for being gay. Collins also later came out as gay and was the first openly gay player to play in the NBA.

Museum director Anthea Hartig said the new wing uses “popular culture as a way to get at some of those really difficult questions that surrounded us 150 years ago and today.”

Think of nostalgia as a call to learning,” she said. “Then the story that’s being told after that is really that entertainment in all its forms has been a forum for a national conversation about our democracy, about inclusion, about who becomes 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,” she admitted. “It would be very exciting to see this kind of exhibit on the entertainment history floor,” seeing as someone who grew up visiting these museums.

With the exhibit’s ability to reveal how our nation’s politics played out in our popular culture, she said, it’s something people in the D.C. region will be able to relate to.

“One thing that’s fascinating about this exhibition is that the connection between entertainment and politics is really clear,” Klingenberg said. “When we look at 150 years of entertainment history, we can also look at the historical political moment of the last 150 years, and I think people in this area are very passionate about these ideas and will really dig it.”

The opening of the new wing was graced by musicians Dave Grohl, Susan Tedeschi, and Emilio and Gloria Estefan, who donated exhibits to the exhibit and found it inspiring to see so many voices from different cultures represented.

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

“I hope it’s not about me and Gloria,” Emilio added. “It will inspire minorities. “God bless America. We are blessed to live in a free country.

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

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