The Three Arguments Against EVERY New Medium

Look away, or you might get addicted!
Look away, or you might get addicted!
I just finished listening to Paul Cantor’s lecture course “Commerce and Culture“, available free through the Ludwig von Mises Institute. When I found that Cantor had given such a course, I rushed to download it, because I had been so impressed with a (partly related) book he edited, Literature and the Economics of Liberty, which I read and reviewed just over a year ago.

In the final lecture of the course (but listen to them all — they’re worth it), Cantor expresses something we all know intuitively (if we know any history at all), but that I had never seen (or heard) put so concisely before.

At least as far back as Plato in The Republic, any time there is a new artistic medium, people (usually older) react badly to it. And they level the exact same three accusations, regardless of time, place, or the medium.

  1. It has too much sex and violence.
  2. It causes people to confuse illusion and reality.
  3. It is addictive.

That’s exactly what people say about video games today.

It is precisely what people said about comic books in the 1950s. Frederic Wertham said it so effectively that there were congressional hearings and the industry set up a self-censorship organization to forestall congressional action.

It’s the same thing that was said about TV.

It’s the same thing that was said about movies.

It’s the same thing that was said about novels in the early 19th Century, particularly when serialized fiction became widely popular.

And, as Cantor points out, it’s the same thing Plato said about drama (in contrast to epic poetry) in The Republic.

These charges are always laid by an older generation, and the medium does not start being considered an art form until that generation dies out and the generation that grew up on it takes control of the culture.

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