Shale was the topic of conversation at the sold out, adults-only party at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science on Friday night. "Who knew we had endless untapped shale right below our feet?" an attractive young woman playfully asked her date, who handed her a $7 glass of champagne. They were stepping off the museum's only "ride" - a video journey into the center of a hydraulic fracturing site. When visitors enter the small theater, the attendant asked that they set their drinks down by the door, because the seats "shake you like a washing machine."
The ride, which is the centerpiece of the Tom Hunt Energy Hall, might've been relaying the real science behind fracking and natural oil extraction. It might have been making a compelling argument for the necessity of drilling shale. It also might have been slamming climate change or taking a dump on atheism. Of course, what the pretty blonde "scientist" was reading off the cue cards was impossible to hear because all the money had been poured into the shaking chairs instead of an audible sound system. It was hard to do anything but wish for the swift end of the eight minutes.
The Perot Museum is a place of wonderment with a kid in tow - everything from the escalator to the two-story dinos can make the world seem like a magical place. But as an adult it is bereft of new information, instead shuffling classroom science with donated propaganda and sparkly gemstones. Certainly, science is the exploration of hypotheses, but there's a notable lack of pragmatism in the Perot Museum. It's a lot of flash and little explanation, and you may as well ignore the allowance for reasonable doubts. You want to learn about earthquakes, hop onto a shaking platform; want to know something about tornados, look at this swirling cloud of air. Then, if you're immune to ADD, the placard with information with scientific information is around here somewhere. But nowhere in the Energy Hall did I see a mention of the dangers of fracking - and why would there be with an petroleum magnate's name on the bill?
A quick ninety minutes after arriving, it was time to leave with complaints of long lines and expensive drinks (it's $18 to get in; $8 per cocktail) in tow. I began to wonder if this issue of one-dimensional information accompanied by pricey, but underwhelming special effects was a greater Dallas issue. And then I walked through the Dallas Arts District and glanced up at Museum Tower - a building built with the wealthy art lover in mind at the expense of the art. Down the road, the Wyly Theatre proved a bit more expensive than the Dallas Theater Center can afford to produce in. Of course, these are just the big, shiny buildings meant to house the art, not issues with artistic substance. Even so, the issue is related: How do we create something worthwhile in Dallas culture when the money here is not interested in open-minded pursuit of modern ideas or sometimes even just scientific facts? After the artists themselves, perhaps the people we should praise are the city's progressive philanthropists - the few, but mighty contemporary patrons of the arts, who aren't asking for a play or symphony to match their couch. What would the museum be like if the Hunt donation had invested in research into the dangers and benefits of fracking? What if instead of building a two-bit "ride," there was an exhibit of what hydraulic fracturing looks like below the surface?
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I'll stop day dreaming. Next time the science museum throws an adults-only party, you should go, but you should probably take a flask and a book filled with science - just in case you find yourself trapped in a fracking ride.