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September 08, 1979 - Image 4

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-09-08

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Page 4-Saturday, September 8, 1979-The Michigan Daily

How

TV

made Americans

nbe .tyAtE ranrdI
Ninety Years of Editorial Freedom

lose faith in education

Vol. LXXXX, No. 3

News Phone: 764-0552

Edited and managed by students at the University of Michigan

Justice for nationalists

p OLITICAL TERRORISM .has al-
was been harshly punished in the
United . States from the days of the
revolution till the conviction of
Patricia Hearst. The men running the
nation's legal system have always
considered that crime to be the wor-
st-betraying America is un-
forgivable.
To teach a lesson to those contem-
plating that action, political and civic
leaders have called for severe
penalties against anyone caught or
participating in terrorist activities. If
you commit a terrorist act, you had
better be ready to pay for it.
That philosophy has gone too far,
resulting in unfairly long and harsh
penalties for activists in terrorist plots
while other crimes were treated much
too leniently.
But finally a president has steered
from that policy and freed four Puerto
Ricans involved in anti-American plots
during the 1950s.
President Carter recently commuted
the sentences of a Puerto Rican
nationalist who attempted to
assassinate President Truman in 1950
and of three others who sprayed gun-
fire from a gallery overlooking the
House of Representative in 1954,
wounding five Cdngressmen.
At the time, the incident produced
quite an uproar in this country.
Americans were in the anti-terrorist
mood. With the awesome figure of
Joseph McCarthy on .television every
night, citizens didn't trust anyone and
reacted bitterly when activists tried to
upset the nation's fragile balance.
The four Puerto Rican nationalists
were equally upset but for different

reasons. They wanted independence
for their territory. And they were
willing to do anything for their
homeland.
At the time of the attacks, the United
States Congress had the power to
repeal laws made by the island's
legislature and a number of important
officials governing the territory were
appointed by the President rather than
elected by the people of Puerto Rico.
That's not to say these goals for
greater independence justify the
terrorist acts committed during that
decade. They don';t and it was proper
justice for the nationalists to be sent to
prison to pay for their crimes. But not
for 25 years.
As efforts were being made to gain
the release of the nationalists, many in
this country said they hadn't served
enough time and that the specific
crimes defied another chance in life.
Others warned that their release would
encourage terrorism and would con-
stitute a menace to public safety.
But would a 25-year prison sentence
for terrorisi tell would-be attackers
that the United States is lenient toward
terrorists? Will it convince those now
in the plotting stage that the U.S. would
be nicer the second time around? Of
course not. Ask Patty Hearst, Ben
Chavis and so many others.
Furthermore, the four nationalists
are now in their late 50s or 60s-hardly a
threat to the security of the United
States.
They have spent more than enough
time in prison and Jimmy Carter
should be praised for finally doing
what other presidents were afraid to
do.

Forget about readin', ritin',
and 'rithmetic. In the modern
alphabet of television fiction, at
least, "School days" are more
likely to mean racism, rape and
riot.
In a society which once placed
its main hope for the future in
education, the popularuconcep-
tion of schools today has
deteriorated into a violent night-
mare.
THE DETERIORATION is
nowhere, so plain as on network
television, where schoolrooms
have long provided grist for fic-
tional comedy and drama.
Whether or not television helps
shapeor merely reflects the at-
titudes and social mores of
society is a subject of endless
debate. But what is clear from
even a cursory review of the last
two decades of television fiction
is that Americans' faith in the
redeeming power of schools is at
an all time low.
"Happy Days"
Even at its mildest, this loss
of faith is evident in a pronounced
skepticism about the value of
schooling. "Happy Days," for in-
stance, has produced a leading
idol for adolescent Ameirica in
the drop-out "Fonzie," whose
street-acquired horse sense bails
naive student buddies out of jam
after jam. But behind this
nostalgic fantasy about life in the
Fifties is a hard-edged assum-
ption from the Seventies: Schools
no longer deliver practical retur-
ns. Street smarts are worth more
than school smarts.
"WELCOME BACK, KOT-
TER," which was recently can-
celled, rested on darker comic
premises, derived from the
image of a collapsing social order
made familiar by mass media
treatment of New York City and
other urban centers. While
nostalgia reserves room for in-
nocence in "Happy Days," the
"sweat hogs" of teacher Gabe
Kotter are anything but innocent.
Their Black, Puerto Rican,
Jewish and Italian jokes touch a
raw nerve, the unresolved fears
of a society quite ill at ease with
its ethnic variety. Kotter's
classroom has less to do with
learning thani~tloeswith a ner-
vous struggle for survival in the
melting pot.
"White Shadow"
The latest addition to tele-
vision's 25-year history of school
programs is "White Shadow," a
dramatic series highly regarded
among educators for its sym-
pathetic portrayal of a white
basketball coach in a
predominantly Black and
Chicano Los Angeles high school.
Although its concerns run the
gamut from teenage pregnancy
and drug use to the problems of
the handicapped, most "White
Shadow" plots turn on racial
hostility.
Coach Ken Reeves is himself a
veteran of reverse bias, a former

basketball player who made his
name in sports on an otherwise
all-Black team. Race con-
sciousness is what the series is all
about.
ALTHOUGH "WHITE
SHADOW" holds out the prospect
of social salvation for its
cooperative central charac-
ters-Coach Reeves' boys-its,
acute cynicism about other
characters is striking. In one
episode, a promising player falls.
under the temporary influence of
a vicious Chicano street gang
which quickly abandons him af-
ter he is wounded in a brawl. In
another, racial tension erupts in-
to a fistfight between Reeves and
an arrogant Black student who
makes an issue of his distaste for
the organized rituals of gym class
and basketball. Reeves is injured
and his authority seriously
weakened.
This episode has less
significance in isolation than it
did in the context of the June
week which saw it broadcast. For
that same week brought respec-
tive installments of "Lou Grant"
and "Barnaby Jones" in which a
pair of demonic Black teenagers
rape their English teacher, and

By Frank Viviano

provides them with the force of
generalizations. This is the true
source of the medium's social in-
fluence: transforming real, if
limited developments, into
massive, all-encompassing tren-
ds.
Television has followed a long
and escalating course to the
present obsession with social con-
flict in American education.
Although classrooms have never
enjoyed the prominence of fron-
tier towns, detective offices or
police stations as favorite TV set-
tings-, over the years they have
provided a steady stream of
images drawn from and con-
tributing to the popular concep-
tion of the school.
Those good old days
Until the mid-Sixties, these
images were entirely comic, and
located in a tranquil small town'
America which was quite unlike
the urban environments in which
most viewers actually lived. The
frivolous crises of "Mr.
Peepers," and "Dur Miss
Brooks" had nothing at allIto do
with an intrusion of concerns
from that tension-ridden world.
They traded in an uncontrover-

very much soft-peddled in "Dobie
Gillis." But as the decade
progressed and the vast school-
aged population produced by the
baby boom carried education to
the center of Armerican
education, schools commanded
more serious notice in TV fiction.
The change was most apparent
in a radical transformation of the
setting. In place of the comic
small town dream which had
dominated the TV picture of
school for ten years, new series
like "Mr. Novak" and "Room
222" were set in urban high
schools, populated by the
troubled urban mix of races and
ethnic groups. Here the school
was society in microcosm,
besieged by social problems
which expanded graphically on
the minor tensions suggested in
"Dobie Gillis."
HOWEVER, ALONG with the
legendary Father Flanagan, the
teacher-heroes of Sixties TV em-
bodied the belief that there was
no such thing as a bad boy. There
were only bad paths which kids
might be temipted to follow
without enlightened guidance and
the right environmental circum-
stances.
While a restless campus, either
on TV or in real life, might mirror
the failures of the larger society,
school itself was viewed as an
important instrument for
progress, the place where
problems were solved.
Like many of their viewers,,the
liberal writers and producers of
television's dramatic series in
the Sixties were caught up in the
optimistic tide which rose with
John Kennedy's election to the
presidency and waned painfully
through the divisive years of the
n Vietnam. War, riots,
- assassinations, and increasing
t attacks on the record of social
s reform.
It is from that context-the loss
* of faith in social .reform-that
today's TV schoolroom has
y materialized. The heritage of
s liberalism still survives in its
, broad outlines. But when the con-
e ventional TV image of teachers
- emphasizes their victimization
is by unsalvageable students,;
e liberal motives can only ,ppear,%,
. foolish. In a sense, the situation:
e recalls a joke that made the -
f- rounds in the early Seventies. A
s conservative, the punchline went,
e is just a liberal who has been
c mugged. In the public's media-
1, forged view, it's the liberal school
a system which has been mugged,
e and the public has accordingly
y grown more conservative.

"What emerges is a conventional portrait of
education in the United States which treats some
students as cruel aggressors, most teachers as
their victims, and racial violence as the charac-
teristic classroom experience."

Teddy may or may not

A
d&
tel
r
S4
TO
o ,

ILL HE OR WO1NT HE?' Should
he or shouldn't he? Has he
cided to and is not telling, or is he
ling us he decided not to?.
[t may not have been the
nifications on world peace of the
LT II debate, but the debate over
d Kennedy's future is occupying
>re time these days than the number
warheads in any midwestern missile

silo.
;The latest word is that he won't yet,
b4t he might, if, since he won't say he
will while not saying he won't. But by
saying the other day that his family
dqesn't mind if he does, he didn't say,
thlat means he will but it allows him to
if be wants.
Right now, Teddy's intentions to run
for the White House are cramped only
b the fact that there is already an oc-
cupant there, complicated by the fact
that the current occupant is of Teddy's
own party, and if there's one thing
Teddy is not, he's not one to split a par-
ty. And since the current resident of
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has made it
p4rfectly clear that he likes his job
there, Teddy, who everyone agrees
wants to, probably won't, although he
probably could if he would but he
wbn't.
But then again, he could be tempted.
He could be tempted if a certain
current pattern holds that shows the
current White House resident getting
less and less popular, while Teddy con-
sistently holds his own. Polls change,
and five months before the first
primary could reverse the current
numbers, so all he can do is wait, but
the longer he waits the more he has to
lose, since even loyalists grow im-
patient.
Some would say that the loyalists
have already grown impatient, and
that the draft-Kennedy movements
were running out of steam, and, thus,
the carefully timed announcement that
Teddy's family no longer objects to
Teddy running. Of course that doesn't
mean he'll run, and, of course it

'

Fonda and Tom Hayden, and a rock
singer who reportedly admitted snor-
ting cocaine. But then Jimmy's top
aide Hamhas been accused of snorting
cocaine, although he denies it, and
Jimmy's former drug advisor Peter
Bourne who resigned was also accused
of snorting cocaine, although he denied
that too. So if cocaine becomes a cam-
paign issue, Teddy appear to be the
only one to have kept his nose clean.
But then the other school of thought
has it that people who want Teddy and
don't want Jimmy might vote for Jerry
to make Jimmy withdraw from the
race so Teddy will get in, since
everyone knows Teddy won't run if
Jimmy is running and winning while
he might run if Jimmy is running and
Jerry is winning, since then Teddy
could say he was saving the party.
If that sounds like a case of deja 4u,
it comes from the election in 1968,
when an unpopular Southern president
was challenged in the primaries by a
dissident in his own party, who got a lot
of votes from a lot of people who really
wanted to tempt another Kennedy into
running.
So the question now becomes, how
long can Teddy wait. If he waits too
long, until Jerry is beating Jimmy,
Jerry may have enough delegates to
win the nomination on the first ballot
before Teddy even gets a chance to
run. But if Teddy goes too early, while
Jimmy is still what the pundits call a
"viable candidate," Teddy, not Jerry,
will be the one accused on splitting up
the party by challenging an incumbent
president.
The other factor that may influence
Teddy is whatever happens in the other
party across town, the Ron and John
and George and Howard and Bob and
Phil show. If Ron is winning in the
other party, and the polls show Jimmy
can beat Ronny, then Teddy would
have no reason to split the party. But if
Ronny is winning in the other party,
and the polls show Jimmy may have a
rough time beating him, Teddy can

private eyes are sent to investigate
a rash of faculty beatings. In
each case, the students respon-
sible are utterly malevolent, har-
dened criminals immune to the
sensitive encouragement of a
teacher or the civilizing potential
of a school.
What emerges is a conven-
tional portrait of education in the
United States which treats some
students as cruel aggressors,
most teachers as their victims,
and racial violence as the
characteristic classroom ex-
perience.
THESE THEMES do, of cour-
se, reflect real trends in the real
world. But the mirror is distor-
ted, selective. The image is often
founded in an incestuous ex-
change between mass journalism
and mass entertainment. In a
recent interview, "White
Shadow" creator Ken Howard
explained that his story ideas
came from "the popular press,"
and in all probability, so do the
majority of TV plots. As a result,
events which may receive
publicity in the first place by vir-
tue of their uniqueness-their
newsworthiness-merge into
dramatic fiction, where
television's taste for repetition

sial brand of humor resting or
stock comedy characters: ab-
sent-minded professors, smar
alec kids, man-chasing spinster
and reluctant suitors.
THE 1959 DEBUT of "The
Many Loves of Dobie Gillis'
marked an important, if only
gradual step towards reality. It:
chief character was a student
rather than a teacher, and one
whose life was a prophetic bat
tleground for value system:
which would be locked in mor(
serious combat afew years, later
Dobie Gillis was caught in the
middle of an ideological tug-of
war. On one side were the force
of a demanding, inflexibli
establishment-his workaholi
father, a wealthy socialite pa]
the greedy, beautiful Thali
Menninger. On the other sid
were the advocates of an earl
version of the politics o
liberation-the beatnik Maynari
Krebs, his supportive teacher
Mr. Pomfrit, and the homely bu
understanding Zelda Gilroy. Th
conflicts these social force
provided were symbolized eac
week in the opening image o
Dobie, pondering his fate in fror
of a statue of The Thinker.
Real social tensions were sti

d
at
e
s
h
nt
ill

a.. '
_ _..
_ _ l
f ' "
,-
--... --
e
, " ,.
i w . , 4
t om i S +a A,
"' r
'n om... '' f -
:, . ..
. . .. ,
; r+
1 t
t
. !
y i
:

Frank Vivano has a doe- -
torate in American Studies
and taught television at the
University. He is the author of .
the forthcoming book
'Prevailing Images:
Television and American Life,
1947-1979."

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