The International Spy Museum: 1

In Uncategorized on August 10, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Last night I saw Salt, which was a fun little film about car-chases and assassination. Ky thoroughly enjoyed it, since she loves Angelina Jolie and all her face-kicking badassness. I enjoyed it because I love tales of espionage. To that end, here is a favorite essay about the International Spy Museum, which first appeared in Salt Journal in 2004. Photograph of a queue to enter the Capitol building, Washington, D.C.

Each Thanksgiving, I visit Washington, D.C. to see my family and dine on my grandmother’s succulent turkey. Like any good spy, I travel by bus – low security, no bag checks, no record of your passage. These days, Washington looks less like a historic tourist trap than a Soviet compound: Walking the Mall, it’s common to see army Jeeps, soldiers bearing automatic weapons, police blockades and metal detectors at every municipal door. This is the District of Columbia in the twenty-first century: Martial, paranoid, and quietly tight-fisted.

Ironically, the only museum that doesn’t require a pat-down is the International Spy Museum, a multi-media funhouse of espionage, where you assume an alias, learn how to duck surveillance, and train to plant bugs in tree-stumps. The more frightening our terrorized world becomes, the more delightful the International Spy Museum – it combines Disney World simulators, History Channel information, and the charming suspense of a Hitchcock thriller. Most charming of all: Much of your passage is narrated from speakers by James Earl Jones.

The Spy Museum delicately balances adolescent hoke and serious sociological background. The introductory video and alter-ego chamber help create a do-it-yourself atmosphere; you imagine that becoming a spy is as simple as pulling on a trench coat. This is the Museum’s clever hook – keep visitors smiling through the intro, then hit ‘em with history. (If you’ve never crawled through an air duct before, you must give it a try). By the time you reach the sections on ninja and Civil War spies, you’ve already fallen into the rhythm of the place.

The Museum enjoys its share of dark irony – one corridor is full of spy toys and lunchboxes; in a small screening room, you can watch period cartoon shorts from World War II. The cartoon characters are your stock Warner Brothers animals, dressed in sailors’ whites and drinking pints in navy bars. When one unlucky duck tells a prostitute about his unit’s position, we see Fascist soldiers raining bombs on unsuspecting cargo ships. The lesson: Loose lips sink ships. In its day, the cartoon was comic and informative; today, it comes off as secretive and eerie.


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