Paris Diaries: Another Rant About Audio Tours
Injuries: 1 (blood blister right foot)
Overt Come Ons: 1 (Old Man on L'ile de la Cite)
Theoretical Come-Ons: 0

The first time I went to the Louvre, I got off at the Concorde metro stop and walked through the Tuileries while the Louvre got bigger with every step. The first time you see the Louvre, if you have any control over it, this is the way to do it. Because it just gets more impressive and huge and my inner monologue was basically, " no it can't get more....oh my god....look at that's just too..." and finally my inner monologue just exploded with amazement.

But this was my third time to the Louvre. And you know how when you go back to visit your third grade class room and everything is smaller than you remember, and I use the word you here because when I went back to my third grade classroom I was overjoyed to finally sit in a chair where my feet could touch the floor, but I digress. Going back to the Louvre this time, well, I tried to recreate that awe and not so much. It's not that it looked smaller or less, well, palatial, it was just less impressive.

I should say this, however, before I go on. In the metro station stop for the Louvre there are ersatz displays of works of art ON THE PLATFORM. There is a little Venus de Milo on the platform. I'd like to see that in New York. Oh sure some of our stations manage not to have the mosaics defaced, but can you image what would happen if
there was even a fake Statue of Liberty on the platform? Well, I don't want to, but I'm fairly sure that some poor emergency doctor would be involved at some point and that's all I'm saying. So even the Parisian metro is a unique and civilized experience.

So while the Place de la Concorde is lovely with a view of the Champs Elysees and Cleopatra's Needle, the Tuileries could use a lot of work. But even when I had to hobble through that fucker, the Louvre has restored my good feelings about Paris.

The late Richard Jeni believed that there is a neurochemical reaction that caused people to say stupid things to the MacDonald's drive in servers. I believe that there is a neurochemical reaction that makes people in museums assholes. Not all of them. Some, a very chosen few, are immune.

Not surprisingly this epidemic of assholery coincides with the proliferation of the audio tours. While I talked about my dislike of audio tours in my first set of Paris posts, I need to revisit this issue.
Umberto Eco in his essay "Travels in Hyperreality" condemned amusement parks like Disney World for essentially making attendees into machines. He didn't address the passive nature of the customers (sitting calmly as they are ferried through a "small world"), but the parks essentially regulate and therefore homogenize the experience (to his way of thinking). It seems to me that audio guides are far more effective in terms of giving a homogenized experience and, just for added fun, denigrates great works of art to boot. They direct passive museum goers to what works have been deemed the most important and instead of encouraging the goers to seek out the works that are the most provocative to them and just look. Art should be an interactive experience in which the viewer not only learns to really look at something directly (without the gaze of a camera lens), but also examines one's self. Why is the Lo Zoppo painting of the Virgin and Infant depicting the Virgin's exposed nipple as she breastfeeds Jesus is so shocking to me? Instead you have goers who simply walk through museums plugged into headsets trying desperately to quickly "get" the importance of works of art.

To some degree the argument for audio tours is, for me, a similar argument to those made for "condensed classics." One of the pro condensed arguments is,
"Well, reading an abridged version/listening to an audio tour may lead the person to become more interested and investigate further on his/her own" or that it makes the art less "difficult" and easier to understand thus encouraging intimidated viewers to have their first positive experiences which will lead, hopefully, to more involved experiences. Essentially what it comes down to is this: most of these people want to appear to be cultured the easy way. They want to "learn" what they should say about art to look erudite when they go back to tell their friends about their Louvre experience at the next cocktail party. They want to have a clue about what the subversive lesbian content of Jane Austen's Emma might be so they can intimidate friends with their pseudo intellectual prowess.

If that's your goal, don't even bother going into a museum and getting in my way. Seriously. If that's what you want you can get that from any number of books or websites. The goal of art is to be a unique exchange between the artist and the viewer. When I walked into the D'orsay I was shocked to find out I can identify an Ingres and an artist of the "Ingres school" with just a glance, but then I have to ponder what is it about the imitator that gives him away? What does the Ingres painting have that fascinates me? But there is no quick way to do this. One must really look and ponder and, worst of all, think. But the Da Vinci Code audio tour is not about helping "the masses" appreciate art. It's about giving them a simple streamlined generic passive experience of one of the most magnificent museums.

Aside from the marauding assholes with audio tours clapped to their head trying to hit the "right" works of art before running to the next event, I found myself frustrated with the Louvre. Perhaps it was because I wanted to see too much, and there was much that I sacrificed, but I found myself annoyed and for the first time wondering, "Why am I here?" I should not doubt my presence in the Louvre. It is meant to restore my faith, but instead it reaffirmed my deep and abiding hate of Americans. I come to Paris to get away from you fuckers not listen to you chat on your cellphone about, "Yeah, I'm by the Mona Lisa. Uh huh. Well can you hear me now?" After about four hours I was about to leave hot and tired and disenchanted, when I went to the special Praxitele
exhibit where I discovered Phyrne (actually a nickname that means toad), a famous Greek courtesan who adjusted her price according to how she felt about the customer.

There is something about statues, how someone can look at a hunk of rock and have the vision and skill to make it so delicate and alive that one expects the statue to suddenly blink and stretch and reach for a towel. Each step you take around the statue gives you a different experience. And if it's a statue of a famous Greek courtesan, well, that just makes the whole hot sweaty tired experience worth a few more steps on sore feet.

So after 5 and a half hours in the Louvre, I decided it was time to step back into the sunshine even though I had to behind many works that I wanted to revisit. I pondered perhaps going back on Sunday, but somehow I couldn't justify spending another day in the Louvre. After all, I had already seen these works once, and there were lots of places in Paris that I hadn't seen once. Like the Musee Rodin, Les Invalides, and the Eiffel Tower.

Regardless, it was time to seek out a cafe and relax for a bit.

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