The Museum of Contemporary Art's wildly popular Mixed Taste series kicked off its first ever Winter series on Friday. For the uninitiated: MCA Denver invites two speakers on unrelated subjects to lecture for twenty minutes separately and then answer audience questions jointly. This week's juxtaposition was Adrian Miller on Chicken and Waffles and Kirk Johnson on the Ice Ages.
First, the good. Lecture series are a notoriously tough sell, and here is one that barely gets any tickets past a members-only pre-sale. Credit Executive Director Adam Lerner, who brought the series with him from his post at the Lab at Belmar, for making the thing sail. There's a lively cocktail hour and people seem to leave smiling.
And the speakers themselves are insanely impressive. Ice Age speaker Kirk Johnson, who is the Chief Curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, is involved in the massive Ice Age fossil dig currently unfolding in Snowmass. That places him at the front lines of the most fascinating paleontology happening at the moment, and given his subject matter, he's as deft and entertaining a speaker as I've ever seen.
The chicken and waffles portion came from Adrian Miller, who is publishing a book on Soul Food. He's another great speaker and provided twenty minutes of informed backstory and unique analysis. His topic, narrower and less well-known than Johnson's, allowed him to be direct and focused -- here's how chicken and waffles started, here's why, here's where you can get it. Steuben's provided sample plates of chicken and waffles to supplement his presentation.
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Then the two men retook the stage to take questions from the audience. Here's where the thing flies off the rails. Because, as it turns out, the Ice Age and chicken and waffles have absolutely nothing in common. That's the point, of course, but the Q&A session turns into a hopelessly pithy and academic guffaw-fest, with wordplay enthusiasts offering stilted jokes about fried mastadon. The whole thing serves to undermine the potential value of the individual lectures because the absurdist marriage of the two subjects becomes the featured attraction.
Think back to when you were in school and the teacher would do something like write the word "cock" on the whiteboard in the course of talking about something not related to penises. The male chicken or something. Except everyone would burst out laughing because, you know, cock, and that's all anyone would remember from the class. This is a lot like that, except the principal is the one making the first crack.
We're obviously not opposed to undermining potentially serious subjects with stupid humor, but it's not even like the jokes are funny. This is literally a room full of people in fits of hysteria over a "question" from an audience member that starts with the word "socio-politically" and ends with comparing white people to waffles and black people to fried chicken and suggesting the combination is a parallel to Obama's post-racial America. Fucking LOL, right?