Editor's Note: Cultural Freedom


During the past few years, reason has beefed up its cultural coverage, supplementing articles on public policy and politics with stories such as "Still Fab: Why We Keep Listening to the Beatles" (June 2001), "Pornocopia Deluxe: Behind the Triumph of Erotica" (December 2001), and "In Praise of Vulgarity: How Commercial Culture Liberates Islam—and the West" (March 2002). Recent issues have included appreciations of TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Da Ali G Show, of controversial video games, and of racy Arab pop videos.

Why has the magazine of "Free Minds and Free Markets" expanded its coverage of art, music, film, literature, and other forms of creative expression? Partly because the major political and economic battle of the last century has been won, in broad outline if not in exact details (and to be sure, those details matter one hell of a lot). As The Wall Street Journal declared earlier this year, "few doubt…that the economic argument has been settled in favor of free markets" rather than command economies. We continue to make the case for free markets, but the time is right to look at what free minds are up to.

Another reason for our cultural coverage is that culture is increasingly important to people. As reason has been documenting, we're in the midst of a "culture boom," of a massive increase in the production and consumption of culture. Everywhere you look, there's more of everything. This is no small trend, and it has many causes and effects.

Finally, reason is exploring culture because we're intensely interested in freedom and the weird, wild innovation that comes with it. Because of broad-based increases in wealth, education, and technological capabilities—and the breakdown of gatekeepers and of tastemaking institutions—we can buy or make almost anything we want in the cultural realm. In a world of $75 DVD players, $200 video cameras, and cheap broadband Internet connections, the only limit is our own imagination.

Which brings me to Joe Bob Briggs' wonderful, even inspirational "Kroger Babb's Road Show" (page 30). Only the one-time host of Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater and Monster-Vision could do full justice to the story of the auteur behind Mom and Dad, arguably the most successful exploitation film in history. "Part biology lesson, part sideshow, part morality play, part medical 'shock footage'" writes Briggs, Mom and Dad "played continuously for 23 years, still booking drive-ins as late as 1977, and grossed an estimated $100 million."

In the 1940s and '50s, Babb managed to work around repressive social mores and a rigid, exclusionary distribution system to give small-town audiences the thrills, chills, and titillation that they wanted. Today's cheap technology and looser social and political climate mean that Babb's elaborate machinations are no longer necessary. But that only makes Babb's achievement all the more impressive—and the telling of his story all the more enjoyable.