woensdag 13 januari 2010

Education and entertainment: moral intuitions on the cross roads

Over the course of Christmas and New Year we watched an uncommon amount of tv due to my husbands injured leg. The anesthetic left him unable to read for about two weeks and I was pretty knackered from a succesful but tough year. Although we ordered a meter of feel good movies, we discovered that we cannot watch movies back to back and thus we ended up watching a mix of movies and channels like National Geographic Channel. The overdose of National Geographic made me wonder about the cross roads between education and entertainment.
The beauty of NGC is that they put images to words, thus bringing antiquity to life (as you understand we mainly watched historic stuff, a great many knights templar were smashed to bits on our tvJ). And so realistically that it makes you feel you are watching it as it has indeed happened.
I realised that this approach is in stark contrast with the approach museum professionals take towards what they present. In 2008 I conducted qualitative research for my M.A. thesis Applied Ethics into the moral considerations of museum professionals regarding cross cultural education. The Wereldmuseum, Nederlands Openluchtmuseum, Museumpark Orientalis, Museum Volkenkunde and the Afrika Museum participated in my research, which for a large part focussed on the tension between education and entertainment. 
One of the common denominators in the moral intuitions of the museum practitioners I interviewed was that they drew the line with re-enactment or so called living history. The argument being that one can never know for sure whether it was indeed the way we portray it now. Although living history appeals to the imagination, is an educational method that works and scores well in the entertainment department the museum professionals I interviewed felt that a large degree of certainty was needed should one want to use living history as an educational instrument. I wonder what the moral intuitions of the people behind National Geographic are. Because, as I realised while watching, museums and this channel do have the mix of entertainment and education in common. But they have found a different balance, or maybe rather: way of dealing with the apparent tension between the two. The easy answer here would be “sure, NGC is primarily entertainment, and museums are not.” I would argue that this answer does not do justice to the ambitions of NGC nor takes into full account the struggle that entertainment and education provide for museums. A cross roads begging for further (moral) exploration. Because with the increasing multimedia the boundaries between what is true and what is real, what we know and what we assume, are becoming increasingly blurred. Add to that equasion the increasing need for information to be “entertaining”….and we have an interesting mix that on the strategic and operational level pose new questions to identity of institutions and to demands of the public. Question to which different people find different answers, motivated by different goals but also by different moral intuitions which I think we ought to get out in the open so that we can take them into consideration.

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