Earlier this year, one of Philadelphia's illustrious cultural institutions underwent cosmetic surgery and had its name reduced.
Our largest science institution simply became the Franklin, as if it were some glistening condo development or waterfront casino.
Which is fitting, given all the sizzle, pyrotechnics and cost. Adult admission has soared to $23.25 if you want to see the current exhibits "Real Pirates" and "Chronicles of Narnia," the latter - correct me if I'm wrong - based on a fictional world and $1 billion global movie franchise.
"Adults" happens to mean anyone over 11, a rather severe view for an organization geared toward students. Imax? That's $5.50 extra. Audio tour? Yo ho ho, and an additional $6. For that kind of money, I left my two adults, 12 and 14, at home.
New York's American Museum of Natural History, a superior museum, offers $17 student tickets for ages 13 through 17 that include general admission and its more substantive featured exhibit, "The Horse." Why does the Franklin choose to financially penalize children for aging?
"Pirates" is the latest in the Franklin's succession of tantalizing blockbusters, following "Body Worlds," and shows on the Titanic, Star Wars, and King Tut, the equivalent of a casino floor show, there to draw in folks who might find science sort of yucky.
This show makes painful attempts at diversity. Kids, Indians, former slaves, boys and even women were once pirates, too. See? Any one could grow up to be a criminal!
"Pirates" offers instructive points on torture, amputation and hooch. Did you know that "pirates drank anything they could get their hands on?" You can acquire alcoholic alchemy: grog = rum + water. The show even offers Smell-O-Vision, a wood scent permeating the tavern display. It's a blessing no one opted for eau de scurvy.
What "Pirates" doesn't teach is science; instead it dumbs down learning to a theme-park level. The show ends, as these things always do, at a gift shop featuring a dazzling array of overpriced junk - swords, a stuffed "pirate pup," and skull-and-crossbones sunglasses.
Pieces of eight
The afternoon I attended, the Franklin was swarming with tourist families and urban day-campers. This seemed a smart arrangement: Full-paying tourists subsidizing underserved city youth.
The rub was that neither group appeared well-served by science. "Sports Challenge" is more Dave and Buster's than lessons in physiology, a homage to hyperactivity where kids run around without ever stopping to learn.
"Sir Isaac's Loft" contains one of those George Rhoads kinetic sculptures found in airports. "Sometimes you just can't avoid science," the caption reads, almost as an apology. "My intention is not to exemplify scientific principles," Rhoads states on the plaque. Oh, great.
Frequently, the Franklin seems as scared of learning as it does of science. Lopping off the "Institute" is an indication. What I watched was kids dashing madly, going from one pit stop to the other, without absorbing much. There was so much insistent fun (!) and no, this-isn't-really-science stuff that the place is transformed into just another consumer palace.
The one science at which the Franklin excels is the dismal one of economics. Inside these hallowed walls, pretzels miraculously soar from 50 cents to $2.75. Bottled water, scientifically equal to the free fountain variety, is $2.75. Though prices rival those at the ballpark, there's no dollar-dog day. Hot dogs are always $3.75.
Start your engines, adults 12 and older. This Wednesday is "Race Car Day," when that great organization of higher learning, NASCAR, teams up with the Franklin for a full day of science and fumes.