Monday, September 3, 2012

Regulation in Recreation

In reading Czitrom's "Early Motion Pictures," I was primarily interested in the brief discussion of the argument that "leisure must be controlled by the community" which arose in response to the rapid growth of commercial amusements in the early 20th century. It's an issue we still discuss and argue about today - just how much control should the government have over what actually gets produced in the media? In a nation which prides itself on its freedom of speech (three words which cover a multitude of media-related sins), this question of government regulation of content can be hard to meet with any sort of simple, clear-cut answer. However - and perhaps this is because of my own modern, cultural bias - one thing I can say with personal conviction is that I disagree with Micahel M. Davis's assertion one hundred years ago that "laissez-faire, in recreation as in industry, can no longer be the policy of the state" (insofar as it applies to recreation; I won't attempt to talk about laissez-faire in its economic context).

The first reason for my disagreement with Davis is simply the issue of practicality. It is hard to imagine how effectively the government (or even local communities) could control leisure, as Davis and his contemporaries argued it should. This is especially true in today's 21st century, media-saturated world, in which we would laugh at anyone who might suggest that the government should control leisure for the sake of American morals. The culture of mass media and commercial entertainment has today permeated the cultural landscape so much so that the task of controlling it would be an almost impossible one. The sheer number of the different types of media content produced and thrown at us daily make it an impractical idea from the start.

Secondly, I think that the laissez-faire ideal can and should be applied to recreation based on an argument that is also commonly used in the debate about regulation of new media (e.g. Huffington Post, Gawker, the like) in defense of old media (e.g. The New York Times). This argument is also a simple one - people should be allowed to make their own choices in how they spend their leisure time/what kind of media they consume, and ultimately, those who choose "better" options (which Davis might argue would be going to the library and reading a book) will benefit. Essentially: let media companies produce dumb TV shows. People should have the freedom to choose how to enjoy themselves... and if they choose to watch dumb TV shows, too bad for them. On the other hand, people who seek more productive forms of leisure also have the freedom to choose such and will be the better for it.

Of course, there are always exceptions. One of the biggest examples of an exception to this little-or-no-regulation-of-content stance is where it concerns children's TV programming, which I think should be and is currently well regulated for educational content and fewer commercials. Here's a good example of children's "edutainment," from the TV show Histeria! which was produced to be both entertaining and educational for children: All you ever wanted to know about the history of the printing press, presented in a delightfully cheesy cartoon.

1 comment:

  1. Yurie, I like the way you've pursued a detail from one of the readings in order to stage a conversation. One point I want to press you on is your conflation of local communities and government--there's an important difference between citizens' groups and federal, or even local bureaucrats. Progressive-Era reformers often were not officially affiliated with the government, but rather were community organizations along the lines of "Women for Cleaner Neighborhoods" or "Mothers Against Factories." How does the flavor of regulation change when it's your neighbors or your supposed social "betters" or "experts" telling you what to do, as opposed to Uncle Sam?