Tag Archives: Akhenaten

Blast from The Past: Steve Martin and King Tut

Many have perhaps forgotten but there was a mania for the boy king Tutankhamun known informally as King Tut. Tutankhamun was the king of Egypt from 1333–1323 BCE.  He was the son of Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) who had during his reign instituted the the worship of one god–Aten–during his reign. He also had moved the capital to Amarna. His reign left Egypt in peril with the decline of imperial power, many upset with the worship of one god, and an economy that was not going well. After his death a period of restoration began and removing all references to Akhenaten from Egyptian history.

Tutankhamun took over after the death of his father though it is believed there were two pharaohs before he ascended to the throne. Not much is known of what happened to his stepmother (Nefertiti) after his father died. His reign was short and many thought he was a minor ruler. Recent evidence supports otherwise as he worked to restore Egypt after the reign of his father.

The finding of his tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter was one of the greatest archaeological finds of Egypt. Most tombs of the great rulers had been plundered so not much was found in them. In the case of Tutankhamun, they found a nearly intact tomb showing how the ancient Egyptians honored the pharaohs. The teen king may have died young but his tomb opened up a new world in understanding Egypt.

Artifacts from his tomb toured the world in 1972-1979. The Treasures of Tutankhamun and drew millions (including my family) to see. Naturally it increased interest in ancient Egypt and all kinds of things as well. Needless to say, it created its own industry as retailers came up with thousands of clever ways for people to participate in this mania. There were t-shirts, replica Egyptian artworks, caps, mugs, ancient Egyptian style earrings, jewelry and so on. It became a huge consumer event somewhat dwarfing the magnificent find of an intact tomb of ancient Egypt

Today the artifacts, especially the most fragile of them, never leave Egypt. His mummy is on display in the Valley of the Kings. Most other artifacts, such as the famous golden burial mask, are at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo but soon to be moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum

With all of the mania and consumerism that the traveling exhibition caused, it fell to that wonderful comic Steven Martin do a wonderful music skit on Saturday Night Live in 1978. It remains hilarious to watch today. Some have criticized this skit on social media as being an attack on Egyptian history or culture (the use of the term cultural appropriation is sometimes used). The skit does nothing of the sort. It is a satire on the industry that spawned from the traveling exhibition of this boy-king. So enjoy the skit remembering it is a satire on how commercialized this had become.