GUESTS: Harriet Van Horne, Dr. Robert Goldenson, TT, Frederic Wertham
AIR DATE: 09/01/1957
ANNOUNCER: The Open Mind, free to examine, to question, to disagree. Our
subject today, “Television and Children.” Your host on The Open Mind is Richard P. Heffner.
MR, HEFFNER: In a sense this is rather a personal Drogram. For about two years now just about every week during that time I’ve appeared on television or produced a program once a week or sometimes even more, so that I’m very much wrapped up in the television industry. But as the head of a family I’m also very much concerned with the effect of television upon children, I’m concerned With the interrelatiotship between the two and so I think today’s pro-gram is a program which concerns all of us in regard to our children and the children of others. Recently there’s been a great deal of talk about the effect, adverse and otherwise, of television upon children, As a matter of fact a very handsome pamphlet has just been Produced called Television for Children, and it was put out by the Foundation for Character Education in Boston, Mssachusetts.’ It talks about-some of the “shoulds” and some of the “shouldn’ts.” One very prominent New York critic has written about this paMphlet and had some contrary
2 things to boy. She said that like all pamphlets pasted together by a committee, this one gives credit to a committee of eleven;. it is lifeless and preachy. And a lot of people have commented upon the preachy nature of those who comment on television and children. And of course not too long ago a very renowned book by a very renowned psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham, came out, “Seduction of the In-, nocent.” And one chapter is called. Homicide at Home – Television and the Child.
Well a lot has been said about TV and children and maybe it would be well to read just first a quote from Walt Whitman that appears in the beginning of a vaim?hlet called “Children and Television I. Some Opinions,” The quote. is: “There was a child went forth every day, and the first object he looked upon that object he became, and that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, or for many years or stretching cycles of years.” That was Walt Whitman.
Now suppose we turn to my guests today to see what they have to say about television and children, My first guest is the author of the rather caustic comment on the TeleVision for Children pamphlet, Miss Harriet Van Horne, the Television Editor of the New York World-Telegram and Sun.
My second guest is Dr. Robert Goldenson, who is one of the authors of this reoort. Dr. Goldenson is Professor of Psychology at Hunter Col
lege and co-author of the recently published “The Complete Book of Children’s lake
My third guest is Dr. Frederic Wertham„ psychiatrist, Director of
the Lafargue Clinic in New Yorkl and- author among other books of “The Seduction of the Innocent,” And Dr. Wortham, T think l’d like to begin the program by nutting you on the snot. You’ve been a rather outspoken critic of television’s effect upon children; even though you don’t like the effect of violence gener-ally I’d say even that youtve been a rather violent critic of television in this regard and r wonder if you very briefly could begin the program by giving us a critique of your own ideas of the interrelationship between the two,
DR, WERTHAM: Well Mr. Tieffner, I don’t know what prompted the date of this forum today but this might be as well a memorial meeting because just now the two best children’s programs have died; today Zoo Parade, and yes
terday Kukla, Fran, and 011ie. If television wasn’t so expensive we should have a minute of silence, Now I don’t know why they died. That may come out later on. To me television is a marvelous medium. It has enormous potentialities to entertain and to help children.
For me it is not a question of criticism but a question of men
tal health. And my researches have led me to a few very simple conclusions. One is that in a child’s life everything that is a fact makes a difference. If they look at something often enough, if we describe that, that must make a dif-ference in the childis life.
Secondly, T believe that children can be seduced into violence just as well as they can be seduced into sex,
Then I believe that violence is as contagious as the measles from what I have seen.
And number four, to be more specific, I think that the brutality and the violence in such television shows as Westerns, Suerman, and Popeye, definitely harm children today.
MR. HEFFNER: All right. How about the other two members of the panel. Dr. Goldenson, go ahead.
DR. GOLDENSON: Could. I give the other side of that story?
And I certainly agree with you that violence can be contagious; but the other side is that there are many other values that are also contagious. For ex¬ample, cooperation, teamwork, the desire for information, the opening up of the world; and these things can be featured on television, It can open horizons of children to values in the world at large, the values of personality and of
character development and not just to violence, and I think it is already doing. that, pr. Wertham.
MR, HEFFNER: Miss Van Home.
MISS VAN HORNE: Well I agree with Dr, Wertham, and I’m certainly aonalled at the amount of violence I see on television, but I think the correc¬tive measures must be taken within the family as well as within the television ia – dustry, As someone has pointed out, television is the baby-sitter that is never too busy, that never says “run along now,” and also, don’t you think, Dr. Wertham, that if a child has a stable emotional background he is more or less impervious to the assaults of television? if he’s a happy adjusted little child, he’s not going to be unduly alarmed anC he’s not going to be so likely to go forth and do likewise.
DR. WERTHAM: Well you think there are children who are immune against influence; now it depends what the influence is. I die my homework, Mr. Heffner. I have here the latest number of the TV Guide, and they describe West-erns. And I want to tell you very briefly what they say — this is not a cm, mercial for the TV Guide, although I want to say that it is far more reliable • on TV and children than Parents Magazine is, which has been so defensive about violence all along. And I tell you what they say about the Western now; this is as of this moment. In every episode the cowboy is horsewhipped, slugged, wal, loped, kicked and mauled. That doesn’t include all the other people who are killed.
Then they go on and they have a picture here of one of these television shows and you see the blood coming from a man’s mouth. Now whether the family is happy or not happy this child gets an impression of blood, But one more word. They a are so honest in TV Guido that on the next page they say the blood is artificial. But on the next page they say — and I quote from the
current number. This is not all stuff of mine; this iS theirs. They say that from a man who watched while this TV show was made, this is the technical dime-tar “Lot8 of days there’s real blood flowing.”
Now I think that’s to much. Now there may be many other values from teleVision but they are so strong that they have such an effect on the chit, there is no immunity against that
MR. BE1FNER: Dr. Wertham, the fact of the western influence upon American life has been long established. We’ve talked about westerns; the west has been such a very real part of our life it’s Part of our very real heritage. Would you eliminate Westerns from movies, books theaters, and TV?
DR. WERTHAM: Well almost 35 years ago I lived with cowboys. They had nothing like what you see on Westerns; that has nothing to do with the west at all. Here it’s fighting, guns and shooting, They didn’t do that. They had work to do, They had very interesting work to do. I loved riding, They had all kinds of conOtruttive things.. That’s the old west. What you see now on television has nothing to do 7′fth it. It’s merely a crime show patriotically disguised as a Westeln. That’s what these shows are. Because they didn’t kick each other and shoot each other and beat each other. It just. isn t true. That’s what they say,
DR. GOLDENSON: Well it is -a crime show in a sense but it’s also an adventure show I believe. It’s high drama, action, risk. These things are important values for the child’s life as well as the values of getting in-formation, for example.
MR. HEFFNER: Why do you say that, Dr. Goldenson? I’d. like to stop you there. Why do you say it’s important?
DR. GOLDENSON: I believe children’s lives should be opened to -many stimuli, many influences. They should see all sides of the picture of life
Now I certainly would admit and gladly admit that many of these programs have stereotyped values but it seems to me even in the stereotyped val-ues that the parents whom you just mentioned, Miss Van Horne, could come in and say, “look, that characterization is a stock characterization, you know what the end of that program is going to be before it even starts”; then they become critics of the programs themselves. So they do have this positive value that they open the eyes of the children to stereotyped characterizations; but they also open the eyes it seems to me, of the child to still other values. Now risk I mentioned. just a Moment agog Every child has to realize that life is a risky thing.
DR. WERTHAM: But do they get murdered? Do they get shot in the
DR. GOLDENSON: I would eliminate those things.. As a matter of fact they have been eliminated, those things from many of the TV shows for children.
DR. WERTHAM: Not according to the TV GUide,
DR. GOLDENSON: Just a moment please. There is a difference between the Westerns that are being shown for the children primarily, such as the Gene Autry Show, and the adult Westerns. Now the adult Westerns usually come a little later- at night, They are the unexpurgated editions of the West-erns. The children are the censored and expurgated editions in which the blood does not flow. The most that is done is to knock the gun out of the hand of the villain. Very seldom do you find real killing in these programs, Its action without violence and without killing in most cases.
MISS VAN HORNE: I beg to differ. There are Western programs on during the afternoon, the time when children look, and they are filled with
blood, gore, violence, killing, shooting, all the things Dr. Wertham. just men¬tioned.
Another point, Dr. Goldenson, if T may differ with you. You say watching these shows in which somebody is pushed off a cliff, et cetera, awakens the child to the fact that life is risky. Well a child is awakened, I should think, by real experience. This is a synthetic experience. He’s not really perinea himself.
All of television, when a child sits there five hours a day he is having five hours of synthetic ex7erience when he should be out playing, imagining, reading, and doing things with his hands which are real, and which he would remember, as Mr. Whitman said, all the long day.
DR. (OLDENSON: Well good. I’m glad you brought that out be
cause of .course Pin not here to defend television or defend Westerns, I cer-tainly believe that the object in the home should be balanced viewing, and the object as a whole ,Should be a balanced life; and as a matter of fact I just finished a book you just mentioned, “The Complete Book of Children’s Plays,” which outlines and suggest hundreds of activities outside of the sphere of tele-vision so that children can lead a balanced life.
MISS VAN HORNE: Well there ought to be a book called the Com¬plete Book of Parent’s Responsibilities.”
DR. GOLDENSON: With that too I agree.
MR. HEFFNER: Well you _mentioned, Dr. Goldenson, you’re not
here to defend television and I’d rather not make this a defense or en attack. I’d rather make it e discussion of what is the relationship between children and television. DoT understand you to mean that there is not necessarily a relationship between what the children see on the screen and the way they think and the way they act afterwards?
DR. GOLDENSON: Oh there’s a definite relationship. In fact that’s the theme of the booklet you mentioned before, Television for Children. There we try to outline the motivations of children and show how television can appeal to children very very basically. Everything that happens does influence the child, I’ll agree a hundred per cent.
MR, HEFFNER: Then you go along , and of course the basis of the booklet is in a sense this quote from Whitman, what the child sees influences him DR. GOLDENSON: Exactly.
MR. HEFFNER: Then you don’t disagree with Dr. Werthem that there is an impact upon the child, or with Miss Van Horne that there is tremendous im-pact.
DR, GOLDENSON: No. I would analyze it in this way. I would say that there are two impacts. One is selective and the other is cumulative. There is a selective impact in this sense that the children who are already disturbed may be, well shall we say badly influenced by the prime programs on television, the who are already disturbed,
T think there’s also a cumulative .t3 act. If we give them 20 or 30 of these programs every week — and this morning’s paper has an article about it as a matter of fact, TV’s- Big Roundup, outlining 20 .or 30 of these Westerns that are coming on the air this fall, if TV offers those undoubtedly the child who watches too many of them will have a bad. effect. It will make his values much more crude, it will lead to feelings of violence, I believe, that cannot be mastered by the child, and so I would agree with you certainly on that cumula¬tive effect, What is the-solution? The solution of course is to select the programs and help the child to select the programs,
DR. WERTHAM: May I say a word about the rilDthers, the hard-pressed. , mothers, You know with all this trouble with children we have a scapegoat, and
the first scaPegoat is the -,redisposed child, rind the second scapegoat is the mother.
want to give you an example, According to my study the most corruoting program on television today is Superman. Now I’m not alone in that I have here the beet magazine on mental hyglaop which devotes a whole psychiatric article to the moral harm and ethical harm that Superman does.
But you can’t look at television in an isolated way. Now there is not only Superman television; you see that goes into the child’s life, and that’s the most influential -nrogram there is, there is no question. Not only do they get it by television; you have to take into account they also get it in -)ublications. And I would like to tell you something very specific now As we are sitting here, in these Superman publications there are advertisements offer¬ing to the young children .22 caliber rifles. That goes with the television; he sees it here and he sees it there.
MR. HEFFNER: But Br, Werth am, let me interrupt. Why beat television for what happens in the -lublication?
DR. VERTHAM: I don’t beat television at all. I praise tele¬vision. I think it’s a marvelous medium.
MR. HEFFNER: But we start off discussing
DR. WERTHAN: But it has to be taken into account that the impact which they make with Superman is not alone, that it affects children in vdritus other ways.
Lock, the same people, the same people who make the money out of SuperMan on television make it out of these nefarious stories too.
MISS VAN HORNE: I was going to say TV whets the appetite for
ME. HEFFNER: I wonder though, whether it is fair to put the
DR. WERTH-111: I don’t put the burden on TV. T tell you who nut the burden on; I put the burden on the people if you want me to name them,
who two million dollars a year for the Superman rights. Everybody knows
who they are.
MR. HEFFNER: Let’s turn to something you said about this very Point, and I wonder whether it doesn’t — you’ll forgive me for saying this — isn’t it more pertinent in terms of what Dr. Goldenson said, on page 380 of your “Seduction of the Innocent,” you said “in television cases as in crime comics cases I have found a law to be operative. All of those factors seemingly insignificant or trivial coming from the child’s previous life or from other media enter into the chain of causation if they tend in the same direction. Television has added one more agency in the bombardment of children with negative incentive.” So this is the cumulative effect that Dr. Goldenson was talking about, but I don’t think we can make TV responsible for publications.
DR. WERTHAM: But the people who corrupt children for money they use television. You see, television is a captive industry. They can’t do what they want.
MR. HEHIJER: What are we going to do about those people who say that these influences are not great? And there are a good many people who I think maintain what Dr. Goldeuson started off to say, that children who are -,reCisrOsed in a certain direction are going to be pushed by a show of violence Possibly?
DR. WERTHAM: Who decides who is predisposed-, Hitler? Superman? Who is going to decide that? Everybody is presisposed to all kinds of things if we seduce them long enough. We don’t knew that, I was in jail the other day seeing a boy whc strangled a fifteen year old girl. Now the state of New Jersey wants to electrocute him. Why don’t we study all the factors. Then
suddenly five psychiatrists declare this by is fit for the electric chair.
There are many influences. Television is just one. I don’t blame television. I think television is one of the most wonderful media we have, if they would be only free.
MR. HEFFNER: Television is just one, Then you say television reflects the violence of our times.
DR. WERTW.M: It goes both ways, yes,
MISS VAN HORNE:., I was going to say it goes beyond the violence. The average child grows up in a fairly cloistered environment and is told not to beat up his little friends, but he sees hours and hours of violence on television and the pity of it is when he grows up he’s not going to be shocked.
no you remember how terribly shocked we all were when the first stories of say the concentration cards appeared? I think if we had been brought up on a diet of violence of television we Would not have been Quite so shocked, and that’s a great pity.
DR, WERTHAM: That’s a hundred per cent true.
. FEE. FNEE: Dr. Goldenson I’m sorry to be such a noisy and noses moderator but I would like to make two points. First of all, whatever we may say about the other me-ia it seems to me television has been the only medium that has been willing to examine itself, en this I don’t think we found so tho¬roughly in the other media. We are today on television talking about television; but in the second place this question of the impact of violence and of what we see, so many reports that I’ve rend, reports that contradict what you said, Dr. Werthom — and I gather there are two camys in the Psychiatric field — indicate that there is some need to give an outlet for, provide an outlet for what are the natural aggressions and natural hostilities of all people, small ones as well as big ones. What can we say about this?
DR, WERTHAM: Let’s get these two views clear. I tell you what the two views are. There was a physician in Vienna by the name of Dr. Samelweis who was interested in the febrile fever of women who died, so many of them. ::nd he said one thing, He said to the doctors, wash your hands before you go into these women, That’s all he wanted, And they all attacked him. It was all or. ganized„you know, and in his lifetime it couldn’t be done, That’s all I say When you go to children wash your hands, at least wash the blood off. That isn’t asking so much.
T tell you what the other camp says. Let’s get it very clear. The other camp says nothing can harm a child as long as the adults can make, money out of it. Nothing, 7)redisposed, the mothers — look, if television wouldn’t make any money they would complain just the way that I do, That is the whole thing.
DR. GOLDENSON: I believe that the televison.industry is working u- to its resnonsibility. I’ve been involved in it a little bit, For example, there was n script done last year that was to be put on that involved an at-tempted suicide on the Tart of a ten-year old boy. It was for an adult aud. ience,nevertheless it was at nine o’clock at night and the continuity accep¬tance or editing department of the network thought that some children might be watching. They askeC me to read the script. I did, and as a result this epi. side was taken out completely, a different ending was put in, actually a stronger ending, I believe, and they avoided this effect upon the children.
I do believe that many. of the networks, all of them actually, are assuming a responsibility here, and many of those programs that you men¬tion, those afternoon lurid programs are on the independent stations that put on the old films, isn’t that true?
MISS VAN HORNE: Yes; not all of them, however.
DR. GOI4DENSON: Well here’s the other side of the story as I’ve been trying to give it. You mention the fact that in certain, publications they show a rifle along with the violence,
D.R. WERTEAM: Advertise it, a .22 caliber rifle. They would put the child in jail if he does what they tell him.
MR, HEFFNER: You’re not going to go off into the field of pub¬lications-too now, are you?
DR. GOLDENSON: NOS except for this, Some publications can grow out of television programs. I have one right in my hand I just picked up the other day by chance. It’s called Mr. Wizard’s Junior Science Show, and I’M not advertising Mr, Wizard, except it’s a wonderful program.,
MISS VAN HORNE: Marvelous.
DR. GOLTENSON: Ts ‘t it?
MR. HEFFNER: Fortunately he’s on this network.
DR. GOLDENSON: What they have done here is to make up a story bock for small children based upon the program to continue its effect, to Per-petuate its effect with the children, and I think many things of that nature could be done.
DR. WERTHAM: Could be done, could be done, of course. They’re
not being done.
MR. HEFFNER:- They are being done.
MISS VAN HORNE: Not being done often enough, Dr. Wertham.
DR. GOLDENSON: Not often enough; oh, I agree, And this, it seems to me is where we should strike, not simply the negative criticism, which is important I admit,
DR. WERTH Mr I don’t call it negative criticism; I call it a diagnosis. You can’t heir a -)ercon 17.nless you find out what’s wrong with him.
MR. HEFFNER: Dr. Wertham I don’t suite understand. your point of view. You’ve been shaking your head at what Dr. Goldenson says about this is a situation that can be improved–
DR. WERTHAM: Con be improved, of course,
MR. HEU.FNER: And is being improved because he gives evidence of
DR, WERTHAM: I don’t think — he hasn’t given any evidence. MR. HEFFNER: Before you mentioned the result within a publica
tion of television, You said that television stimulated reading — a publication
which advertised a .22 caliber rifle.
DR. WERTHAM: I didn’t take a position–
MR. FRFFNER: You put the two together. You brought in the publication. Dr. Goldenson brings in another publication showing—
TR. WERTHAM: Can you compare a weapon with which they shoot People on the street and little children’s books? Would you stop drinking whiskey if somebody offers you milk?
DR. GOLDENSON: You’re assuming a deadly weapon haS more impact nuJ influence upon the child than science and scientific experimentation.
DR, WERTHAM: I do.
MR. HEFFNER: Why, Dr. Wertham?
DR. WERTHAM: Because the victim dies; they die.
DR. GOLDENSON: I’m talking about the children as a whole. Which are going to be more influenced,
MR. HEFFNER: Let me ask this question. Why do you say the rifle will have more of an iurnact u-ion the child than this very nice book?
DR. WERTHAM: The human being is made like this, It’s the thrill, the thing of power oVer life and death. That’s how we’re made. We arc
not made for little children of twelve or thirteen,
MR, HEFFN]R: Then we come back to the nature of man.
DR, WERTHLM: Pil’Odisposed man, man in general.
DR. GOLDENSON: It’s a thrill also, it seems to me, to perform some constructive activities, to read books which can arise out of television ‘arograms like Heidi and Huckleberry Finn, which have been on the air; but parent have to watch out for these positive influences.on the child.
DR. WERTHAM: ho-?e to summarize my opinions in one way, Iive
read Dr, Goldenson’s report. I’ve read his two previous reports and to my mind they’re not research, they’re just commercials for the television industry. They’re just hot air. That’s what I think, They’re just commercials and I can ;rove it.
DR. GOLDENSON: NO, I back them up by facts,
DR. WERTUAM: Why, in your first report for the television in, dustry, why don’t you even mention the word violence?
DR. GOLTENSON: We did.
DR. WERTHAM: No you didn’t.
DR. GOLDENSON: I have it right here, as a matter of fact,
DR. WERTHLM: You know other people have said that. The Nation wrote a whole article blaming you.
MR. HEFFNER: Let Dr. Goldenson answer,
DR. GOLDENSON: We not only mentioned violence but said also that a chile can have action without violence and he can have excitement without kill-ing and that these are the pOsitive values that we should have. We should play down the violence of course. We’ve objected to it right through.
MR. HEFFNER: I think it’s only fair to say as an impartial and I think I am imartial — moderator, I’m in the television industry but I’m
16 concerned about my son; as I read. this I’ll admit, as Miss Van Horne said in her comment on it, that there are platitudes and it is kind of preachy, but I’think that here is an attempt to indicate the good that television does and can do, and indicate some of the keys to constructive television.
Now T don’t think anyone would deny that there is violence. I don’t think anyone here has denied it, Dr. Goldenson certainly, I think it would be fair to say he has concerned himself with the violence, urged that it be stricken, concerned himself with more constructive phases.
DR. WERTHAMt I dOn’t admit that at all, Let me read it here. Here it says on the first page one of the major influences of children’s char-acter are mass media. Let me read you the last page after all the report. -It says the influence on character is unknown. First they say that, then they say it’s unknown. If it suits them it is known; if it doesn’t suit-them it’s un-known.
DR. GOLDENSON: I’d like to Point out all through that report we brought in other values than violence.
DR. WERTHAM: So did Hitler but he had lots of other values.
DR. GOLDENSON: In your own comment you had the child’s sense of wonder was emphasized in this report, and it certainly was, Curiosity was; desire for information was.
MISS VAN HORNE: I said the whole pamphlet could have been based on this instilling in the child a sense of wonder, planting seeds sr it can watch them grow in a little box, and the miracle of life) this sort of thing. Mr. Wizard, incidentally, does that.
MR. HEFFNER: I think that would have been a perfect descrip¬tion of Mr. Wizard’s program. It’s a ridiculous way of putting it, but I. gather there is a tremendous disagreement between you; but as a lay Person from
the outside I have the feeling neither of you are defending violence and neither of you are indicating that there shouldn’t be constructive things..
I think, Dr. Wertham, you’re saying there’s violence, and there might well be. Dr. Goldenson is putting his emphasis on what can be done upon the medium.
MISS VAN HORNE: I think one thing we all forget is that tele. vision in the last analysis belongs to the people. After all, the government gives the licenses to the Peo-ole and stations and if the parents would be a little more responsible and take more interest in what the child is exposed to and complain when more violence is shown you.’ be surprised how fast changes are made.
DR. WERTHAM: There have been thousands and thousands of letters sent to Sen. Kefauver and his committee. There are thousands about that, and many letters have been sent to me, and we can’t do anything because the tele-vision industry is captive. They don’t listen to that because. they can’t ex¬plain the truth as it really is.
MISS VAN HORNE: This is one time don’t write to your Congress. man. Write NBC, CBS, and all the rest of them.
MR. HEFFNER: And the producers that produce the program. That’s a fairly good way of ending our program, and thank you for joining us today.