Metatalktail Hour: What would your Midas Touch? ✨ May 22, 2021 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead asks: "You have 17 pounds of gold (at minimum worth $50,000 in today's buying power), a time machine, and the infrastructure to fund one arts project at any point in history. What do you fund?" 'Arts' covering any human technology / performance / creation, in this case.

Or just tell us what's up in your life lately, or share those deep thoughts you had in the shower. (No politics, please!) And if you have ideas for future Metatalktail topics, please hit us up!
posted by taz (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 11:02 AM (48 comments total)

Slight correction to my original bad phrasing - I was trying to figure out the weight of gold that would guarantee you'd have at least $50,000 in buying power ay any point in recent history , using .
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 11:13 AM on May 22

I would go to the Mesolithic age & go from town to town discouraging people from discovering agriculture via superstitions transmitted through song and dance.
posted by bleep at 11:18 AM on May 22 [12 favorites]

Make the Great Library of Alexandria fire proof? Or just move the whole thing. Or copy every book and put it somewhere safe in the manner of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
posted by Glinn at 12:05 PM on May 22 [19 favorites]

The Matriarchal VC Network. (Can you tell this was written by a man?) Pass a bunch of "Hang This In Your Time Machine" cards to the everyday mothers in Babylon about the time of the Ziggurat with the instructions to stay under the radar, accrue enough political power to avoid your offspring being purged, and to pay it forward to the next motherly figures.

Failing that, put an off-heat smoker on the portable grill that is the Ark of the Covenant. (This needs some unpicking -- I'm a Western European man from a protestant Christian tradition who grew up reading the 1970’s-era English translations of the Pentateuch. The winged figures are either side of a sacrificial grill and the organisation of the temple priests were to receive offerings from the faithful and to cook them. Don't take on shellfish, and it's difficult to cook pig thoroughly so it's safe. I don't mean disrespect by suggesting you add a smoker to render those tendons to fall-apart nothing.)
posted by k3ninho at 1:20 PM on May 22

i'd give adolf hitler an arts scholarship and do my best to get him a position in the arts world

it would have saved everyone a LOT of trouble
posted by pyramid termite at 1:32 PM on May 22 [16 favorites]

Fascinating question. I'm immediately drawn to ideas that involve documenting the past, but that's not actually creating art. Does paying someone to make a Mississippian or Ancient Pueblo dictionary or oral history in 1100 count as an art project? Hiring someone to hand-copy the codices in all the big cities of central Mexico a few years before the conquest? Probably not.

Paying a historical artist to make more art is an interesting idea. I wonder what Mary MacLane would have written if someone showed up when she was 18 and gave her a trust fund. Robert Johnson? Washington Phillips?

Spending it on pranks would be mighty tempting. Buy some genuine Olmec artifacts on the art market today, go back to the 1600s, and carefully bury them at Troi. Pteranodon bones in the Egyptian tombs would be entertaining. It's not the most noble use of either money or time-travel, but it would be fun.
posted by eotvos at 1:45 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]

"Does paying someone to make a Mississippian or Ancient Pueblo dictionary or oral history in 1100 count as an art project? Hiring someone to hand-copy the codices in all the big cities of central Mexico a few years before the conquest? "

posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 2:00 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]

Just to riff on the usual time travel idea, go back to Vienna in 1907 and become the patron of Hitler's art; to see what it might change.
posted by nubs at 2:45 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]

Take the time machine back to 12/12/80 and use the 17 pounds of gold to buy ~$160,000 worth of Apple IPO stock. Come back to the present day and use my billions to fund the construction of a time machine. Then enter a pocket universe so I can work on a trilogy of novels without all these distractions.

(Why yes, I am reading Charles Yu at the moment. How could you tell?)
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:27 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]

I would try to talk Janis Joplin into doing an album with Fanny and try to foster some friendships between her and the band in hopes that she wouldn't be spending so many damn nights alone and lonely. I might encourage her to do that album with Paul Rothchild, who (if I recall correctly) was the first person who helped her learn how to control her voice so it wasn't shredded within minutes, helped her see that she could sing amazing vocals without abusing her voice.

But I'd also invest part of it in ... something (San Francisco real estate?) so it would balloon an indecent amount by 2021, so I could fund another project or twelve once I've had more time to think about it.
posted by kristi at 4:02 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]

Oh no, these are tech projects, not art!

If I could go back, I'd not make a flippant joke about the Holy of Holies when there are heightened tensions in the present-day territory and instead ...see if we can keep the Beatles a boy band after their last f__kable day by averting their diversion into contemporary (of its time) British folk music.

Or keep a bit of the Swallow Sidecar company making motorbikes when they pivoted to cars under the name Jaguar Motors.

Or pay some bards to go round Europe in the 1100’s signing songs about public health: washing your hands, clean or dirty running water, damp courses and pest control, and cow pocks.

Or make for 10,001 Arabian Nights with the role of Sheherazade performed by a sequence of understudies over a 30-year span as each escapes with her lover while also abandoning a cohort of the harem to stay alive by keeping the story going -- each gets a bit of the gold as dowry.
posted by k3ninho at 4:57 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]

> 17 pounds of gold (at minimum worth $50,000 in today's buying power)

Gold was $1,767.70 per ounce in April 2021, which would mean $1767.70 × 16(ounces) × 17(pounds) = $480,814.40. You would need to less than 2 pounds to be worth $50k, which is much easier to carry if you're going to be time-travelling lightly.
posted by ardgedee at 5:15 PM on May 22

I would go to wherever Van Gogh was, at the time he burned his paintings to stay warm. I would buy him firewood and some sort of endowment to keep afloat. Would warn him about the terpines and their effect. Would convince Alan Turing to flee, and work in some other venue.
posted by Oyéah at 7:36 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]

I'd put up large billboards along the coast of North and South America in the mid-teens hundreds which read "NO religious whack-a-doodles allowed...this means YOU!" Alternatively, does sinking the Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria or he Mayflower count as an art project?
posted by maxwelton at 7:47 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]

this will take time.
posted by clavdivs at 8:27 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]

say a quarter talent of gold...learn the language and go fund Me Leonardo da Vinci. No Medici, no fittle-faddle. Or, take the 1/4 talent, learn the language, divest the gold and travel in Judea, try and hang with the essene and upgrade the library stash houses. Or go to Armana, learn the language and go work for Thutmose the sculptor and copy all the missing Armana letters.
the cool thing would to go to Salem Mass. and investigate the pre-perscution, buy a bunch of land to twart the money hunger buckle hats of their medievalist gangster approach to the aquistion of others property. Bring on those blunder buss, pilgram- shamy religious land grabbers.
posted by clavdivs at 8:46 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]

I’d tell Stevie Ray Vaughan he could have it all if he’ll just take a bus instead.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:26 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]

17 pounds is remarkably close to 400 cubic cm of gold, or a cube a little less than three inches on a side.

It's astonishing that something so small should be considered so precious, not for its usefulness (although gold is, indeed, very useful) or its beauty, but just because it's gold.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:26 PM on May 22

i’d sell the gold, give the cash to my dear friend’s small theater company, and try to resist fucking with the time machine
posted by Gymnopedist at 1:57 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]

“You have 17 pounds of gold (at minimum worth $50,000 in today's buying power), a time machine, and the infrastructure to fund one arts project at any point in history. What do you fund?" Right now is a point in history; the terms do not explicitly state I have to use the time machine. ;)
posted by Gymnopedist at 2:39 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]

If I were feeling zesty I would go back and find out what Shakespeare did for the bear in Winter’s Tale.
posted by Gymnopedist at 2:41 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]

That's lame as hell Gymnopedist. You were given the gold to use with the time machine.

....unless Gymnopedist DID use it to go forward in time, to see what would befall that small theater company without the funding.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:02 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]

> say a quarter talent of gold...learn the language and go fund Me Leonardo da Vinci. No Medici, no fittle-faddle.

A Leonardo da Vinci who's not compelled to work for others to make money would probably have been a Leonardo who spent all day in his sketchbooks rather than painting and building things and managing a studio and all the people in it and attending to the courts of the rich and famous.

Now, an even larger trove of da Vinci's sketchbooks would also be a global treasure, but at the cost of the few paintings of his that survived? I'm not sure.
posted by ardgedee at 5:47 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]

I would fund artistinal guns for Native American and slaves in the USA.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:01 AM on May 23 [11 favorites]

Statues of me. Paintings of me, me in other random paintings...hey, who is that dude in the doorway in the back of Las Meninas? That's me. I'm also the Atacama Giant, the man in The get the point. Wait, what do you mean ego?
posted by Literaryhero at 6:15 AM on May 23 [5 favorites]

Can I go back to 500 AD & help the Mayans establish printing press technology?
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:19 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]

You could probably solve the "missing episodes" problem that plagues a lot of classic British TV: go back to 1955, and fund a pilot project with the British Film Institute to establish relationships with the BBC and ITV companies to house the films and videotapes they discarded in the 60s and 70s.
posted by offog at 12:15 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]

Between three:

- April 1593. Give it to Christopher Marlowe, tell him to collect his stuff from Kyd's place and get the hell out of town for the summer.

- 1816. Give it to Franz Schubert. Tell him in graphic detail what the symptoms of syphilis are, how it is transmitted and what its inevitable course is, and make him swear to check his partners for symptoms before engaging with them sexually. Hopefully he makes it past 31. If that means no Winterreise then so be it.

- 1788. Give it to Konstanze Mozart, who'll be more sensible with it than her husband. Each year he makes it past 35 is a gift.

I'd love to save Chopin, Keats or any of the greats who died of TB, but all the gold in the world can't buy a course of antibiotics before the 20th century.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:32 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]

I would go back to 1993 and throw that $50,000 at convincing other people with more money to pay off the outstanding tax liens and save the Native American Center for the Living Arts (known locally as the turtle building). I still can't get over what's happened to it.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 5:08 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

Purchase the sequel to Dead Souls before Gogol burns it.

This is the classiest instinct I have. Maybe I'd see if John Sladek was willing to write a bit longer (as opposed to finishing his life in corporate America with occasional editing stints) in return for cash. That'd be a net benefit to humanity. Less certain about the next one, but if I was slumming perhaps I'd instead go to Alexei Panshin to finish some sequels to the Thurb Revolution, so after all these years I could find who indeed wanted to kill a nice guy like Anthony Villiers.
posted by mark k at 5:42 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]

You apparently just scammed us all.

On a technicality, I'd go back to maybe about 1970 and invest in New York real estate, in a trust fund for The Development and Aggrandizement of Meatbomb's Various Arts paying out on a regular schedule starting in 2010 or so.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:17 PM on May 23

Anyone who doesn't immediately say 'make Jodorowsky's Dune' is kidding themselves.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:52 PM on May 23 [9 favorites]

Not sure if this is following the rules, but I would go back in time and fund my own life to be Ansel Adams assistant just to go to all the gorgeous places he photographed. I would also stop by and ask Jackson Pollack why he wastes so much paint. Finally, I would go back to my junior year in high school and give some of that gold to this girl in my english class that was the best doodler I have ever seen. I think with some help, she could have gone on to greatness as an artist. She is now an actuary at a bank.
posted by AugustWest at 9:58 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]

I would rescue a chocolate candy bar that I haven't been able to find in 25 years. Back around 1994 I worked at a hippie fru-fru supermarket in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A place where co-workers walking up and rubbing your shoulders or stuffing a nugget of weed in your pocket is totally normal. So was sampling the wares as it were (I've tried so many extracts and pills and snorted various herbs..).

Anyways, once upon a time this goth girl who made her own extracts dragged me off to tell me that "You have to taste this" and yoinked a chocolate candy bar off the shelf.

It was almost as bliss as that time I spent a week chasing the dragon (smoking heroin) in that it was such a curl up and enjoy square of a chocolate candy bar.

I have spent the past couple of decades trolling world food sort of markets trying to find that chocolate candy bar to no avail. I've tried so many candidates, none compare.

I'd go back and make sure somehow that that particular chocolate candy bar survived and was readily available and well-known.

I might even just keep the money and use it to re-create that chocolate candy bar myself.

Simple thing it is. Good creamy sweet chocolate, inside are highly flavored Pop-Rocks. You let it melt in your mouth and then it starts exploding POP with bursts of flavor over and over like fireworks. It tickles, it comes in waves...

So yum.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:44 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]

When the passenger door opened I thought it was my kids done with their martial class but it was this 30ish dressed-to-the-nines woman who put her arm around me and kissed me and I kissed her back wondering about reality and then she said I probably don't remember her but I saved her life and everything I said came true. Then she got out of the car and walked away and my kids saw all of that and they are ribbing me about not having secrets and I have no explanation.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:44 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

I'd visit RKO Pictures in 1942 and offer them $50,000 for the "silver nitrate recycling rights" to the original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons so that I could save it from oblivion.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:40 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Or maybe visit one of the various international broadcasters who had copies of all of the Doctor Who serials and buy their old tapes with a similar "recycling" yarn to keep those from being junked.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:43 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]

I'd go to Peru in 500 BC and get them to add some new lines in the Nazca desert. Maybe a Nike swoosh logo or the voyage golden record.
posted by jenkinsEar at 10:46 AM on May 24 [4 favorites]

I'd visit various time periods and get people to make these weird, hollow knobby dodecahedrons and ask that they be left or buried in strange places.
posted by loquacious at 1:04 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]

Simple thing it is. Good creamy sweet chocolate, inside are highly flavored Pop-Rocks. You let it melt in your mouth and then it starts exploding POP with bursts of flavor over and over like fireworks. It tickles, it comes in waves..

I had an adult/cannabis chocolate recently that had pop rocks in it. A friend gave me a small bag of various gummies and candies to review. The one with the pop rocks was super unexpected and slightly startling, but ultimately very delicious and pleasant. The chocolate was a very good sort of dark milk chocolate with hints of mint, then very strong mint as the pop rocks started crackling and exploding.

It was about as close as I think I'll ever get to trying some sort of magical Willy Wonka candy with the bonus side effect I was soon high as fuck and ready for a very languid and pleasant nap.

I still have no idea what the name or brand of the candy was.
posted by loquacious at 1:11 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]

I'd fund statue construction in high school and college arts class. Statues are insanely cool, people like them, and most US cities only have statues of a few Confederate jerks. There should be statues of moderately and locally famous people in every city park in the US.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:15 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

I could first buy the antibiotics Beethoven needed to not go deaf from the disease, that deafened him.
posted by Oyéah at 1:54 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

loquacious and zengargoyle, you might be interested in the Chuao Firecracker bar.
posted by JDC8 at 10:24 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I keep trying to figure out if I can pay for the Marquess of Queensberry to open a string of boxing gyms someplace very far away from Oscar Wilde. South America perhaps.

Failing that, maybe I can bribe Lord Alfred Douglas to move to California.
posted by FencingGal at 10:50 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]

Plenty of great ideas above and I suppose the farther back one goes the more effect one can have, but eschewing earlier excellent ideas (which I wouldn't have been smart enough to come up with anyway) and perhaps not paying off somebody not to crucify Jesus (since that's his whole thing) I think I'd probably represent the B-Boy and wave my wad at Charles Babbage to try to get us all our collective steampunk on
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 7:13 PM on May 27

Modern cinema has been nothing but historical romances and overwrought musicals for the last 30 years and I, for one, am sick of it. The last time cinema showed any promise was in the 70s with the short-lived sci-fi revival. My plan is to go back in time to during the production of a now obscure film called The Star Wars and pay to improve it. The bones of a great film are there, in my opinion it just needs re-editing. I think it could really kick start something, and if nothing else we will get one last sci-fi film.

edit: That was easy, turns out the director's wife is pretty good at editing.

edit 2: Dear God, what have I done?
posted by AndrewStephens at 6:27 AM on June 3 [4 favorites]

I'd go to Peru in 500 BC and get them to add some new lines in the Nazca desert. Maybe a Nike swoosh logo or the voyage golden record.
Meeting the Nazca people of the period would be awesome. But, you could also just show up in 1000ACE and do it yourself. There are bound to be people nearby, but with night vision goggles, contemporary wayfinding devices, and a "make me disappear" button, one could have a lot of fun drawing weird things. I'd be tempted to write "don't build a road here, asshole" in Spanish in a few places. But, the voyager pulsar map would be pretty cool. (I suspect it'll still be accurate enough, in -500, compared to the accuracy of turning stones over by hand.)

Chimú pottery featuring space-shuttles, dinosaurs, and Mongol writing would also be pretty fun. And, the 20th century literature will tell us exactly where to put them so they'll be discovered undisturbed.

For some reason, archeological pranks is the part of this discussion that really sticks out to me as the most appealing use of silly time-travel. I suspect that means I'm fundamentally a bad person. I promise not to actually do it, if I luck into a time travel device.
posted by eotvos at 7:25 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I'd kidnap Banksy, hand him 12,500 cans of spray paint and strand him in Lascaux 20,000 years ago... Have fun carbon dating that!
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:47 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

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