Broadcasting Birth Control: Mass Media and Family Planning

Broadcasting Birth Control: Mass Media and Family Planning

Broadcasting Birth Control: Mass Media and Family Planning

Broadcasting Birth Control: Mass Media and Family Planning

Synopsis

Traditionally, the history of the birth control movement has been told through the accounts of the leaders, organizations, and legislation that shaped the campaign. Recently, historians have begun examining the cultural work of printed media, including newspapers, magazines, and even novels in fostering support for the cause. Broadcasting Birth Control builds on this new scholarship to explore the films and radio and television broadcasts developed by twentieth-century birth control advocates to promote family planning at home in the United States, and in the expanding international arena of population control.

Mass media, Manon Parry contends, was critical to the birth control movement's attempts to build support and later to publicize the idea of fertility control and the availability of contraceptive services in the United States and around the world. Though these public efforts in advertising and education were undertaken initially by leading advocates, including Margaret Sanger, increasingly a growing class of public communications experts took on the role, mimicking the efforts of commercial advertisers to promote health and contraception in short plays, cartoons, films, and soap operas. In this way, they made a private subject--fertility control--appropriate for public discussion.

Parry examines these trends to shed light on the contested nature of the motivations of birth control advocates. Acknowledging that supporters of contraception were not always motivated by the best interests of individual women, Parry concludes that family planning advocates were nonetheless convinced of women's desire for contraception and highly aware of the ethical issues involved in the use of the media to inform and persuade.

Excerpt

In 1967, Walt Disney Studios, in collaboration with the Population Council, released an animated movie called Family Planning. This extraordinary film, which was translated into twenty-three languages and was distributed widely in Asia and Latin America, features Donald Duck at an artist’s easel illustrating the burdens of unlimited reproduction and the technologies of birth control while a narrator describes the benefits of limiting family size. America’s beloved cartoon duck was put to work to promote the use of contraception as part of an international movement against overpopulation that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, but the film is part of a much longer history of the birth control movement’s use of mass media. In fact, media has played a key role in the birth control movement since the very beginning of its twentieth-century campaign.

The history of the birth control movement is traditionally told through accounts of the leaders and organizations that fought for legal access to contraception. The extensive use of mass media to build support for legalization and then publicize the idea of fertility control and the availability of contraceptive services has been largely overlooked. Scholars have only recently begun to examine the cultural work of printed media, including newspapers, magazines, and even novels, in advancing the cause. This book builds on this scholarship, moving beyond the printed page to examine the films and radio and television broadcasts birth control advocates developed and the communications experts they increasingly turned to for guidance over the course of the twentieth century. Taking advantage of a rich and relatively unexplored archive of media materials and archival documents describing their production and use, this . . .

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