Museums: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Published 2022-10-02
John Oliver discusses some of the world’s most prestigious museums, why they contain so many stolen goods, the market that continues to illegally trade antiquities, and a pretty solid blueprint for revenge.

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All Comments (21)
  • silver megaman
    I once saw that someone said that the only reason Egypt still has the pyramids is that they were too big to be moved to Britain
  • Ayda Moftah
    I’m half Egyptian and I’m born and raised in Egypt. When I was little, I was SO fascinated by ancient Egyptian culture. When I was about 6 years old, my mom’s friend took me to the Egyptian museum. To my horror, almost all the artefacts weren’t available to see. There were just glass cases with photos of what would have been there, but were at other museums in Western Europe, the UK, or NY. The new Egyptian museum is opening up soon and supposedly it’ll have the largest archeological collection in the world. Here’s hoping that it’s not just going to be a huge disappointment like I had as a kid.
  • CaptMortifyd
    "The difference between archaeology and looting is 50 years." - one of my anthropology professors explaining the fucked up providence arguments of museums.
  • Jean-Luc
    "Can we have our stuff back?" "I don't know. I'm not sure you can even prove it is your stuff." "Yes, I can. You put it in a display case, with a little placard VERY EXPLICITLY STATING THAT IT IS MY STUFF"

    The British Museum in a nutshell
  • Nicole Seguin
    My daughter works at the National Museum of Scotland and worked hard to help a indigenous community from our home in Canada try to repatriate a memorial pole that was stolen from their community. She was disciplined for trying to help them. I’d love you to do a story about their struggle.
  • AnnoyingMoose
    The heart of the Solomon story is that the baby's true mother loved it so much that she showed that love by being willing to let that baby not be in her possession instead of having it hacked into pieces.
  • GoldenFlute88
    Gotta love the logic of the British Museum Act of 1963 being like "we made a law that says we can't give you back stuff that we stole from you."
  • hedgehog3180
    One really funny thing is that there is a head of a statue from the Acropolis in the Danish National Museum and it has a little plaque next to it saying "the rest of the statue can be found in the British Museum" and then if you go to the British Museum they talk about the head as if Denmark somehow specifically stole it from them and they're really pissy about it. It's hilarious to see just how much they hate it when they taste their own medicine.
  • Lavrentivs
    I quite like what the swedish etnographical museum did. They had a totempole that had been purchased from native americans in the early 1900's and brought to Sweden. When the tribe wanted it back, they returned it in exchange for a newly made pole by the tribe. So not only did the tribe get their totempole back, the tradition of making them were kept alive and the swedish museum still had an excibit.

    Can add that the Kitlope people then decided that the totempole should return to moder earth and buried it to molder.
  • Ginika Akpata
    Thank you John so much the Benin Bronzes are my heritage and it breaks my heart when seeing them various museums all scrambled after being ripped from their home. I sent this to my father who has been fighting to bring them back and this spotlight made him so happy that there’s more attention on this. As a first generation African American, I want to know my history my home and thank you for doing something that might get that history back ❤
  • Adora Tsang
    "We keep these loots because we can take better care of them."
    The British Museum cut up a 1000-year old Chinese silk scroll, because it was too long for their European picture frames. You can see them in pieces, the ends were just thrown out.
  • Nix
    When I was a preteen, my hometown museum hosted a British Museum exhibit. It was deeply moving to witness room after room of stunning artifacts… and then I came to a huge wooden Buddha head, the plaque of which indicated that it had been removed from a statue. Somewhere out there was a headless statue, hundreds of years old and of great spiritual significance to any number of people. Who decided they could do without it? In that awful moment I realized many of the items around me had been stolen in one way or another. I’m of Greek descent so I should have known this from the start. I finished my tour of the exhibit with horrified eyes. John Oliver and team have done an excellent job once again. Love the closing skit. F U, ongoing colonialism!
  • Rhov Anion
    I studied Native American Anthropology under a Cherokee professor, and one of the things she was involved with (a side hustle, you could say) was seeking to get stolen Native artifacts out of museum basements and back with the tribes. In one case, the museum was being stubborn that "you can't prove we stole this," so my professor tracked down the granddaughter of the woman who made the item (I think it was a ceremonial bead robe or shawl). This tribal elder explained the little tricks her grandmother used that literally no one could have known, things even the museum didn't notice until they inspected even closer, family trade secrets she still used and had taught to her own grandchildren. She made it more than abundantly clear, this belonged to her family.

    Back in the 1800s, her village was raided and her grandmother gangraped by White men. They ran off with anything they thought looked valuable. This included some of the young girls, livestock, head dresses, furs, and her beadwork outfits. So not only was it stolen, but in a really horrific manner. The museum had bought the majority of their Native American artifacts off a group of rapists.

    That was not the type of publicity they wanted, so they gave it back. This old lady wore her grandmother's robe at the next dance ceremony. All of this was around 20 years ago, so I hope her grandkids still wear that outfit at ceremonies.
  • Kitsmashing
    I really dont understand why we cant just create realistic duplicates for viewing in the west. Its litterally what we do with natural history museums, the majority of old west attractions, and everyone loves it and still appreciates it even if its not the original. Also loved the "oversized schnauz and this fd up dinger" bit, lol.
  • musicsangel
    I used to work in museums and the entire "We can't give them back if they can't take care of them" narrative was literally taught in the museum studies program I graduated from. It's infuriating. Reproduction tech is SO advanced now - there are pieces in the collection of the org I worked for that swap out the originals for repros all the time and you cannot tell the difference. There is no excuse to not reproduce artifacts for a collection and return the originals to where they came from other than greed and a refusal to spend the money. It's cheaper to make a repro of a ceremonial robe than it is to construct a humidity-controlled, UV-protected, environmentally sealed case to display it in. Just saying.
  • Iwan de Jongh
    The impact of this whole piece culminating in Kumail Nanjiani's comment about Gerald Ford's ribs is profound and so understated! Well done LWT!! (Ps Kumail's delivery is masterful!)
  • Briala B
    The thinking behind: if we gave some of the stuff we stole back we'd have to give all the stuff we stole back, That's insane. If an institution only exists because of a series of moral and ethical wrongs, then that institution should not exist. Not unless you can right those wrongs and transform it into something that sustains itself ethically.
  • Sweer
    Doesn't or didn't the British Museum also have the skeleton remains of Charles Byrne who specifically stated multiple times he didn't want his remains displayed and had his body sunk in the ocean to prevent it, and they still took it? (This was the Irish Giant, and I remember the British Museum getting a lot of backlash and seeing a petition growing traction so perhaps his remains are out, but I remember that being a thing from Ask A Mortician's channel).
  • qwertyuiopzxcfgh
    "We can't do the right thing now, or else we'd have to do the right thing again in the future" - the British Museum.
  • utterbullspit
    I didn't think I would be so moved by this episode, but taking people's history and storing it in basements is really one of the most atrocious things that could be done. This really saddened me.