I felt highly conflicted watching this show. I understand the value of entertainment (and its positive impact on attentiveness), but the show’s level of silliness made me cringe with embarrassment. Three things in particular frustrated me:
- The show’s entertainment factor appeared to be used to apologize for science and turn it into something more "palatable." I felt it insulted my intelligence and my genuine interest in learning something about science. Does making science fun really require turning scientists into clowns? I can’t imagine seeing a show like this in any other cultural context. There’s no history museum doing a send-up of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. There’s no art museum where Picasso is portrayed as a boozy goofball on the make. Entertainment and comedy can be fabulous presentation devices, but I don’t think we need them to mask the fact that science is serious, complicated, often funny business.
- The show was geared solely towards children. I saw the show with a large group of adults at an evening event, and it was painfully clear that the content and the form were not made for us. We all knew the outcome of the experiment presented, and yet there was no way for the presenter to break from script and give us a more complex view on Galileo’s experiment. If I was watching the show with my kids or chaperoning a group of students, I would have been pleased that the kids had a good time. But the show would have also confirmed that the science center was for children, not for me. It might also have made me feel that the science center was a place for fun, not so much for learning. Adults typically make up half of science center audiences. Shouldn’t these shows satisfy their interests as well?
- The show’s strong personality overwhelmed other more nuanced aspects of the science center. Live demos are just one part of a visit, but shows like this can have a domineering personality that imprints the whole visit. This show presented a version of the science center that was loud, overwhelming, goofy, and one-dimensional. It overwhelmed the more understated tone used in exhibit labels and by docents. Even though I thought some of the exhibits in the Space Odyssey gallery were quite nuanced and good, I left the museum with the show having the biggest impact on my visit.
I’m still grappling with this experience. I know how wonderful it feels as a presenter to captivate your audience and give them a good time. And people are more likely to internalize content messages when they are attentive and eager to follow the narrative of a presentation. Maybe attention is at such a premium that these kinds of measures are worth it to connect kids to science in an enjoyable way. Maybe I'm out of touch and my expectations are inappropriate. But the show felt like candy. People like candy—but that doesn’t mean it’s what you have to give them all the time. Sometimes, it can make them sick.
What do you think?