Censorship of Play

photo: www.bnet.com/blog/technology-business

I’ve learned a very disturbing fact recently. Media companies are actively censoring stories of unsupervised play. That’s right – to the book publishing, TV, and movie industries, unsupervised play is as taboo as sex, drugs, and violence. Believe it.

I’ve spoken about this in-depth recently with a children’s book author and a children’s television producer. They were both told that they needed to add an adult to stories in which children were playing with no adults around. This lone change was enough to sell their projects to the media companies. Without it, the projects would have had zero media company buyers. They said that it is common knowledge among their peers that children playing unsupervised is taboo – i.e. unsellable to the media companies – for works directed at children.

Thus, those of us who want our children to be exposed to stories of unsupervised play so that they can begin to comprehend that it can be a normal way of life are being betrayed by the executives of these media companies. We have virtually no contemporary stories like these to share with our children. We can only turn to nostalgic works made decades ago like the books Roxaboxen and Huckleberry Finn; TV shows Leave it to Beaver, The Wonder Years, and Charlie Brown (adults were reduced to “wa-wa-wa” sounds and no images); and the movie Stand by Me.

Why are media companies doing this? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s lemming-like stupidity, pure and simple.

I’ve heard two other justifications or, rather, excuses. First, some authors and producers say that media companies’ fears of “liability” force them to quash stories of unsupervised play. For example, suppose a mom reads a book to her kids in which kids play unsupervised, and then one of her kids gets abducted by a stranger. The idea, I gather, is that the mom would sue the book publisher for encouraging her kids to play unsupervised.

To this excuse, I say, “Hogwash!” Why are reruns of Leave it to Beaver or The Wonder Years broadcast so frequently? Why are Roxaboxen and Huckleberry Finn still so easy to find in bookstores? Are the folks who make money from these works being sued? Of course not. A few parents have sued creators of violent video games and movies for inciting violence in their children, but that hasn’t slowed the flow of these video games and movies one bit.

The second common explanation that I hear is that these media companies believe that stories of unsupervised play aren’t profitable. This is the “Oooooo, those-folks-are-so-smart-they-know-their-business-so-well argument.” Again, I say, “Hogwash!” The book publishing industry is in the toilet, far worse than the general economy. The TV industry isn’t doing much better.

I’m convinced that there is a very large market for stories about unstructured play. The huge success of The Dangerous Book for Boys a few years ago is an indication of this. Furthermore, in talking to thousands of parents about the Playborhood concept over the past few years, I’ve found that many, if not most, parents would like their children to have a life of neighborhood play. However, they don’t make it happen for two reasons: 1) they don’t know how to make it happen, and 2) they would feel very alone, even weird, if they were to buck current family culture to make it happen.

Along with many other play activists, bloggers, and authors, I’m focused on 1), but, practically speaking, it’s extremely difficult for us to make much of a dent in 2) when we’re up against all the major book publishers, TV producers, and movie producers out there. They could be part of the solution. Instead, they’re part of the problem.

How do get these media companies to back down from their war against play and join us?

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