Patience is a virtue.
Self control is the hardest ability to master. And, as our lives become more advanced, instant gratification is always a button away. Especially, when it comes to our art and entertainment. With little effort, we can track down exactly what movie we want to watch, what song we want to hear, or what season of television we want to consume in one sitting. So, when I say that a trip to an art museum is a test of strength, I'm not being facetious.
Everything about the place is challenging you to break the rules.
Welcome to the First Circle of Hell, Cookie Monster.
At first glance, the plot of the 1983 Sesame Street special Don't Eat the Pictures has little to do with the name. The title refers to Cookie Monster's feeble attempts to refrain from eating the paintings of food that look good enough to eat. And, being trapped in the Metropolitan Museum of Art all night long, there is quite a toll being placed on Cookie's character.
But why is he trapped in the museum all night? Well, at the end of a day trip to the institution, Big Bird realizes that he has yet to see Snuffy who promised he'd meet him there. This was during the time that Snuffy was thought to be imaginary, so, when Big Bird strays away from the adults to find his friend, the whole gang resolves to track him down. Why they didn't alert the security guard is anyone's guess, but here we are. The cast of Sesame Street have the museum to themselves all night.
Each character has a little moment to themselves to reflect on the art inside, which reminds us that the passage of time in a museum is a strange concept. Try to do some people watching the next time you go, and you'll realize that many people struggle to "take in" the art for an appropriate amount of time. Not including those who are actually educated on the subject of art history, you'll find that many just don't know what to do with themselves.
How long should you stand in front of a painting or a statue to actually experience it? How long is too short? Too long? The point of a museum is to preserve for an eternity. And at times, it can certainly feel like it.
Oscar amuses himself by admiring the broken statues, considering them to be "the most beautiful trash" he's ever seen.
Is that distasteful?
Bert and Ernie engage in some witty banter, trying to decipher just what exactly is going on in Washington Crossing the Delaware including a safety lesson on whether or not you should stand on such a small boat?
It counts as appreciating art if you make jokes about it.
And Cookie Monster? Well, he slowly declines into madness over his moral dilemma.
Hallucinations are a normal part of the museum experience.
But just what does Big Bird get into all night? Well, he meets the spirit of a 4,000-year-old Egyptian prince who has been trapped in the museum and is unable to become a celestial body until he correctly answers Osiris's nightly riddle. He also has a permanent smugness about him that probably comes from being an immortal child.
So what if I can't solve a stupid riddle. At least I got a cool ghost cat.
Big Bird tries to help him solve the riddle "Where does today meet yesterday?" And, I bet that even before you finished reading that sentence, you know what the answer is going to be. SPOILER ALERT: It's "a museum." Yet, we have to follow this story for an hour before they reach that conclusion. And thus, we, too, learn what eternity is like.
I waited 4,000 years for a giant bird and shaggy elephant to save me. Just as the prophecies foretold.
The characters aren't the only ones who get cabin fever. Even Osiris himself, who instituted this idea in the first place, has grown weary of asking this question for nearly 1.5 million nights in a row. The fact that an eternal powerful deity can succumb to impatience shows how ill-equipped we lowly beings are for the task.
"I even made it an easy question! It was funny for the first couple centuries, but now it's just sad."
As we live our lives, we get used to the routine and the speed at which we receive what we want and what we need. But at any moment, the universe can intervene. And we find ourselves stuck, trapped, and without access to our usual amenities. It is in those moments we must master our own patience and self control to reach enlightenment.
Take a breath, look inward, and don't eat the pictures.