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Is it Time to Rethink Media Panics?

  • Stephen Kline
Chapter

Abstract

As social historians have noted, in post-war America television was at first apprehended as the harbinger of social progress and democratization. Hope was especially strong among progressive educators that television’s ‘window unto the world’ would provide the next generation with a universal access to knowledge and culture and help forge a more democratic family institution (Minow and LaMay, 1995). And in many ways it did. At the vortex of a burgeoning consumer culture, television became the preferred source of entertainment and information for all sectors of the population — but especially loved by children for its up-beat visual storytelling and for its acknowledgement of them as consumers. Yet as Tow brow’ popular entertainments flooded the airwaves, the progressive dream of a media educated citizenship dissolved into an anxious fretting about the crisis of socialization in the mediated world. America, perhaps slightly before other advanced industrial nations, was in the midst of traumatic and confusing sociocultural changes. The transitional Spock generation — although happily indulged by their parents — were also regarded suspiciously as potentially spoiled and feckless brats. Given the crucial symbolic space that childhood occupies in western cultures, and the conflicted perspectives on childrearing, it is hardly surprising that children’s fascination with commercial TV was discussed ambiguously by the American public at large (Spigel, 1998). Did TV function as a universal cultural treasury for the nation or did it produce a generation of ignorant couch potatoes hooked on violent fantasy?

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© Stephen Kline 2005

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  • Stephen Kline

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