Ordinary Lifestyles: Popular Media, Consumption and Taste

By David Bell; Joanne Hollows | Go to book overview

14 A taste for science
Inventing the young in the national
interest

Johannah Fahey, Elizabeth Bullen and Jane Kenway

The atmosphere inside the exhibition room of P. T. Barnum's American Museum is charged to a fevered pitch as a captivated public scrutinize his form of popular anthropology. Chang and Eng the Siamese twins, Madame Clofullia the bearded woman, and Jo-Jo the Dog-faced Boy, socalled ‘freaks of nature’, are a spectacle on display for the masses. A century later, the BBC's Tomorrow's World is beamed into the homes of an equally captivated British television audience enthralled by the new inventions driving the media age. As science and the media converge, the scientist becomes a compelling personality popularizing science. Attenborough speaks in a whisper while crouched in the depths of a verdant forest, Bronowski traces the ascent of man while overshadowed by the Sphinx, Suzuki ponders the nature of things, and Julius Sumner Miller asks ‘Why is it so?’

By and large, scientific collections assembled in museums were not open to the general public before the end of the eighteenth century. Those few that were tended to be accessible only to those with the right social connections (Macdonald 2004). For the common folk, information about natural science was more likely to be presented as entertainment than education. During the nineteenth century, the wonders of the natural world and contemporary science constituted part of the entertainments at Bartholomew's Fair in London and the American Museum in New York City. These days science is still being packaged as entertainment, however, science and technology centres have taken over from the museums of old, as hands-on exhibits entice curious onlookers with their brand of edutainment. And the media have become the predominate vehicles for popularizing science, with print, radio and television all presenting their own amusing versions. Furthermore, science as entertainment and reinventing the young as scientifically literate has become serious business for the nation.

Why has science become serious business for national governments? Why have the young become the focus of attention? How are various popular media deployed as means of developing a taste for science in the young? Are such mediations likely to produce them as scientifically literate subjects who not only consume but also produce science? This

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