Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry

By Michael Suman; Gabriel Rossman | Go to book overview

14
Interest Groups and Public Debate

Michael Suman

Interest groups are a vital component of our democratic system. They wield influence in many realms of society, including those of the arts and entertainment. The chapters in this volume outline many contributions interest groups have made in relation to the world of television. In both television and beyond, many interest groups have played a key role in educating and informing the American public about significant issues, and in doing so they have served to stimulate important public debate. Unfortunately, the influence of interest groups is not always positive. Today there is evidence that some of these groups stifle, prevent, and distort public debate of significant issues, rather than encourage it. Add this to the fact that powerful economic forces discourage open debate in our society, and you have cause for concern.

That interest groups are having negative effects on debate is evident outside the realm of the mass media. For example, museums are now subjected to an unprecedented amount of scrutiny and pressure from interest groups. Many groups now insist on exerting their influence at the earliest stages of planning a show, and more and more are successful at getting their points of view incorporated. Some have even been successful at closing a show altogether. The Library of Congress hastily dismantled an exhibition about the architecture of slave quarters because of complaints by African Americans that some of the images presented of slaves and slave quarters were offensive. The Smithsonian drastically altered an exhibit on the Enola Gay and the bombing of Hiroshima after receiving complaints from groups of military veterans such as the American Legion. The groups were upset that the Japanese were shown as victims and that the bomb was not credited with ending the war. The result was a bland commemoration, devoid of interpretation so as to avoid any possible offense. Clothing industry lobbyists objected to another Smithsonian exhibit, this one on the history of sweatshops, because it featured a model of a sweatshop in which clothing, as opposed to some other type of product, was produced. Similar activities are evident in the realm of theater. A recent

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