thumbnail of People or puppets?; How will you have your hero?
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
What is a celebrity to you. I don't I do you are just another guy in our attitudes toward celebrities. Are we acting as people or puppets. This is serious people or puppets is produced by the Union Theological Seminary in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center on today's program entitled How will you have your hero. You will hear the views and voices of theologians Robert McAfee Brown and Ralph Hislop. Author Edmund fuller and philosopher Kenneth Burke. These are the men who will analyze some of the concepts created by our modern mass media and compare them with our traditional moral religious values. Here is the commentator for people or puppets. The president of the Union
Theological Seminary in New York Dr. Henry Pitney even Jews. We're going to ask our guest authorities to analyze the various aspects of hero worship. The place of prototypes and celebrities in a society in the light of the various ways in which our heroes are recognized in America today. Various kinds of mass publications might see the same celebrity in totally different ways. It might even appear that the facts of the individual are secondary to the format of the publication. Let's test this theory with there are different stories about our fictitious young movie star rat rat. While our hero is fictitious the stories and exact lines about him are real. First we have the picture story one that might appear in a magazine that prints popular song lyrics or any other publication aimed at teenagers. While the important thing in a story of this type is several dozen different pictures
of our hero all collectors items the captions are nonetheless significant. And the rest. Hollywood hero all American misses mother is just as proud as she can be is right with this really great Hollywood star who is a slick magazine aimed at a more mature audience. The story read typical of the future. After appearing in only three films that Bret is reminding many American mothers of the hopes they have for their own son a member of a well-to-do Midwestern middle class family of five red views his
motion picture career the way most young men his age view going to college as a prep to a business career. Only 21 boyish in appearance but with serious eyes gregarious read Bret may represent the new kind of movie star who is more concerned with family life than studio gossip. There is another kind of magazine aimed at a less mature female audience it might offer a movie line and type features such as favorite date diary of red bread for par. What Bret likes to do on dates. Bret used his first check as down payment on a Jaguar and there's nothing he likes better than to take his girl for a long drive to the beach in his fast sports car. Whom has Rhett dated who hasn't read dated would
be a better category for this sinister popular matinee idol type. What appeals to him and girls claims he's attracted to every type of girl. I guess I'm fickle he says. What will read do about Barry. Oh I can't think about marriage till I achieve what I want in my career. Rhett says and he's quick to add. Anyhow why don't you leave me alone I'm coming out of my shell. Little by little. And then there's a fine old and increasingly popular approach to our hero. It might be found in the syndicated gossip column or the exposé type magazine. Where you get a couple laughs. Please be quiet and cover it with 100 people read what I write. Bret was kicked out of a personality Bob Baer. How did let that happen to have the same hotel room as the three of the Russian calendar
model the truth about rap rap. He doesn't like girls. Again the names have been changed to protect the guilty. But most of the lines you heard were taken unchanged and directly from publications precisely as printed about celebrity figures of our time. Why what needs are being met to such a need to have any relationship to our attitudes toward literary and religious figures. Who is a celebrity to you. Our producer Philip posed these questions and the ret brought examples to our guest authorities. As a minister of the Presbyterian Church. Dr Robert McAfee Brown served as a Navy chaplain in the Pacific in World War Two. Dr. Brown is general editor of the layman's theological library and associate professor of systematic theology and philosophy of religion at the Union
Theological Seminary. The celebrity may be the man who wins three games in a World Series. He is always a celebrity around our house with two boys a celebrity maybe someone who has done an act of self-sacrifice a celebrity maybe someone who has murdered his wife. The term itself can cover all sorts of varieties of individuals. Do you have any personal or immediate celebrity yourself. Well for the last couple of seasons are the predominantly male household has had a good day a good many celebrities on the team that used to be known as the Brooklyn Dodgers. We had to do a good deal of adjusting when they moved to Los Angeles. I have certain celebrities of my own in terms of people whose achievements have impressed me very much. One who has had particular meaning to me as the composer. But you know when I think not only of the kind of music
which he wrote but the handicap of deafness under which he wrote most of it. And sometimes the fact that he continued to write music which he could not hear seems to me one of the most remarkable achievements of the human spirit that I can conceive of. Dr. Melfi is an ordained Congregational minister professor of ecumenical that is director of the program of advanced religious studies at the Union Theological Seminary. My favorite celebrities are in the political field showing perhaps my major interest in that field I have gotten quite a thrill out of meeting Adelaide Stevens and people in that group. Tell us what qualities. Need like to find in people be what you yourself think of them as a celebrity hero. Any guy. Well I do. I do think particularly of Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt whom I met personally for the first time a little over a year a goal and
she does represent the I suppose I have to make judgments here the right kind of celebrity. She has used her prominence in the public eye it seems to me to advocate the causes that are often unpopular to demonstrate that a person who has had privilege and who has achieved a certain amount of fame is nevertheless profoundly concerned about the common people and the people who sometimes don't get much attention in publicity whose needs are not much attended to. Edmund fuller teaches at the Kent school in Connecticut. His analyses appear regularly in the Saturday Review. The American Scholar. The New York Times Magazine and other publication Edwin Fuller his most recent book is man in modern fiction. I think it is is better to say in relation to things
what is your concept of distinction or what is your concept of the hero or what is your concept of what is to be admired in terms of personal achievement. Wow. I accept those readily. Would you care to answer them. Well. For me what should constitute a hero just as is the case in the great tradition of literature and drama. The hero must be a person of some stature some size. Mere personality mere novelty mere notoriety. Do not constitute a hero type. I would say that the hero the true hero or the true person to be admired should be someone who has reached his position on the grounds of an accomplishment. Thus in science you have an Einstein very high very much at the top. You have a Jonas Salk.
You should have any great scholar and a great artist and a great inventor and a great scientist and any man of notable courage. The human race has always admired acts of generosity courage integrity the things of this sort are the substance of heroes and hero worship. And when a society begins to pay its hero worship to types such as Elvis Presley I went instead of the truly manly the cute becomes a dizzy Toronto. When instead of the overall beauty radiant from a total personality the mere prettiness or shapeliness of a figure becomes the disease around him then some kind of disintegration of the standards of values in terms of public esteem has manifestly set in. Kenneth Burke is a social philosopher he is a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the behavioral sciences at Stanford
California. I did a teacher at Bennington College. Among kin of birds many books for the grammar of motives the rhetoric of motives. And the philosophy of literary form. I regard your as inventing here All right Bret. My lord we all hear more lies clearly or vaguely off on the edges somewhere. Somebody appeal I guess as many LOT of guys to. Get legal middle class farm the novel is a gossip letter if your bank's online and I doubt whether there ever was a well-loved novelist there was not also a button for Geyser and yet as many writers take newspaper records in France one I mean affects you in so many publish any mandate real engines in the lives of the celebrities they're plugging and transform lead in this damn I think good news item. The British public traditionally has had his royal family does apply gendered Tain and right in the attitude especially in his historical place in the United States in the absence of a royal family. Social SATs were
to log on to meet this appetite on a national basis so the people as judges as entertainment went to the entertainers themselves and Star and queen of stage and screen. And when Bob leisure the man founded the public demanded specific personalities for these people over and above their skill as impersonators the conditions were set for the synthetic production of right brats. I know my guest knows more fish and got up and gossip under natural conditions would be and a person who walks through a supermarket him personally but getting things off the shelf must go to the news flavored countered with a kind of entertainment that in an earlier age might have been part of the transaction. Yes much artificial personalization is a substitute for the higher percentage of impersonal relations in our culture. Also under the consideration of this diet and praise no mater what you ever did again to escape censure mean like the writing to some neurotic you'll Madden's a back to back directly turbulent characters being raw unless he tries hard not to be. And there's also this possibility. Many of the responses that we take as hero worship may be of a quite
different when reading of a celebrity who does trivial things and is nonetheless rated AAA rated as a celebrity. We may never buy into rightly and our own trivialities of conduct when the qualities of celebrity. But Dr. Brown What need you think are being met and presenting celebrity figures in a way that we heard in the earlier portion of the program. Somebody reading about Rhett Brett's escapades on First Avenue might be able to say to myself well I never got thrown out of a First Avenue Bar in my life. I'm sure I can hold my liquor much better than that best seller. My point is that if we can beat one up on a celebrity brother we're good. This is something really to make us feel better. That I don't know how conscious this is but I'm sure this is part of the picture. The celebrity gives us some vicarious thrills but he also gives us an image against which we can project the extent to which
we really could have been done a more significant job than he did. Now there's another kind of level. It seems to me that a celebrity figure often fulfills. He can provide people with a real incentive. He was able to do it and maybe I could do it. It seems to me one of the significant things about people who overcome handicaps and become celebrities is talking about my boys in baseball a few moments ago. My young son's first real hero and celebrity was Jackie Robinson. He had to come up the hard way. He had to overcome all sorts of barriers to become a hero. And he was a real hero for my boy. There was real weeping the day he retired from baseball but he presents a kind of ideal to which hundreds of thousands of American boys can look up to and hope that someday they can be that way. This is why it's a great help when the celebrity that the child or the adult chooses happens to be one of the kind of
exemplary character that Jackie Robinson represents. Involving ourselves in the way other people from the past have met difficulty and have in some degree or other surmounted it we are given the resources with which hopefully we can do that when such experiences become part of our experience and not just experience as we have read about. I'm not sure that we get. Courage as cheaply as being able to appropriate it from another person without any necessity of displaying it ourselves. But here seems to me a whole dimension where once again in terms of literature or from the past we find part of the immensely enduring worth of the Bible. And this is one thing which was particularly true for groups in Europe during World War Two. Both Jews and Christians reading about the Christians let us say reading about the perils and trials of the early church in the book of Acts or in Paul's letters
were sustained and given courage because they saw that they were in something of the same situation and that they had available for them the resources of the same God who was acting in those events. And similarly Jews in concentration camps. Recognizing out of the whole sweep of their tragic history that this kind of thing had happened before that God had been with them in the exile in the tearing down of their homeland in all the events of their past history could realize that they were involved in a heritage which contained not only this dimension of tragedy but also the resources for meeting. The doctor Hislop were sitting in a very modern broadcasting studio at a seminary we know at that time men like Norman Vincent Peale Bishop Sheehan that the media have been utilized for while of the same telling the story of Christ as a
religious figure. So now we have the media to be used in the same way as our example of red Bret. He is the difference simply one of tying with tradition and being on the side of the church and the religious figures. I'm not sure that today you can say that time or tradition are on the side of the religious figures. We assume rather easily I think that there's a permanent significance and an acceptance given to the value say of Christ himself. But I think a great many people in the modern world are quite outside that tradition and any attempt to present Christ as the great figure to be emulated has to compete with the attempt to present other figures as
the heroes. I don't honestly think that for a lot of people there is this kind of residual sense of the importance and greatness of even Christ himself. I think the contrary may be the case. I you saying then that perhaps what occurs is that the mass media characteristics. Well sort of superimpose themselves upon these older traditional ones of basic greatness and that is what seems to come across rather then the age old and more significant qualities I'm thinking of the Motion Picture the Ten Commandments. I was much more aware of Hollywood than I was aware of. The Bible. Yes I think so and the fact that there is and varying quality about the medium itself. Means that it can be used with almost no
discrimination either for the service of the rep breath in this little picture or for. Moses or Christ. And I wonder sometimes whether the medium itself. Does not become more the determining factor than the character which it is devoted to portraying. You think there's some kind of irresolvable conflict here that the demands of the mass media are the least of the. Patterns of the mass media are such that the greater significant stories of heroes are really just figures of the best examples don't really have much of a chance. I'm not sure that it's an irreconcilable conflict but I think the tendency is to emphasize the kind of.
Figure and the kind of legend about the figure which is most easily received and makes the most immediate impression. And this is I think a parallel to the profounder qualities that are possessed by the great religious figures. What is the purpose of these celebrity hero Mr. Fuller. Undoubtedly in the highest level of admiration the highest level of hero worship if you will the highest level of respect paid to accomplishment. And there is always the implicit recognition of an example of something to be striven for. I believe that there's an anecdote about some lesser painter who stood before a
canvas of Titian back in Titian's own time and overcome by admiration for the canvas said Thank God. I too am a painter for he feels that the work which is admired is an expression of that to which he aspires that which he would like to realize in his own work his own attainment. I think this is or should be true in a great many fields. What I think happens in the other. Facet an aspect of so-called hero worship the other devotion to celebrity. I think these are the cruder fulfillments vicariously of frustrated hopes and visions in the minds of many. Isn't this what your artist was doing standing in front of Titian I mean he isn't going to be another creation. Can you be sure of that. Perhaps he is going to be his teacher thinks he's going to be another Elvis Presley and both cases aren't.
Isn't the element of emulation and if you want to call it inspiration they're in the one instance the painter let's say or the writer is hoping that he can dedicate his work and his skill and his effort toward accomplishment comparable to the accomplishment of what he admires in the other case the person is unconsciously simply wishing that the irrational lightning. Personality vibration would strike upon him and call him into the public eye. Actually I'm just trying to lead up to this question which is a big one I think in this particular program and that is how do both of these kinds of hero worship relate to our attitudes toward religious figures. Let's take Christ let's take Christianity. What I would say is that Christ rather than to be imitated and emulated entirely is that Christ is to be venerated and worshiped. This is as the Christian views that I can well imagine that a humanist and in fact many humanists
do regard Christ as a kind of Socratic philosopher to be emulated in so far as one can do so enough for them. From that promise I'm not going to argue with it. But I was there is a lot of the teenager attitudes toward some of their figures are almost veneration and worship that's quite true. There is a veneration and worship and to the degree that a popular singer is venerated or worshiped I would say that this is something that is widely permeated in our times namely idolatry the notion that our is as it has it has sometimes been called as an age of atheism is quite false ours is more an age of idolatry and the age of atheism. People always worship. The question is What do they worship. And now for a commentary on today's program. Here is the Roosevelt professor of systematic theology and president of Union Theological Seminary Dr. Henry Pitney even this discussion begins with a recognition that the Impose of hero worship is deep and strong in human nature and in no sense is it because we are to Americans.
I'm glad that Mr. Burke reminded us of the British public's idolization of their royal family. I sometimes think that the sentimentalism which is powerful just beneath the surface of British reserve is exhausted in concentration at just one point. The Queen and her family. We might cite the even more powerful and much less admirable German Idol ization of Hitler or Italian worshipper Musa Leni. Nevertheless hero worship is very strong in our American tradition to go no farther back than my own memories. I was raised in near where a ship of Washington as father of his country and Lincoln the great emancipator. Then came the revulsion of de bunking or traditional heroes and in the vacuum that's created have been inserted the hero figures of Elvis Presley and big league stars and Hollywood celebrities all embodied
in our fictitious Red Rock. Furthermore our discussions are correct in reminding us that hero worship satisfies the yearning for self glorification in two different ways through identification of myself with a hero in his achievements. And by contrast with the celebrity in his short comings granted that people will find heroes to worship. What can and should the mass media do about it. Obviously everything hangs on the heroes they choose. It is not necessary to rehabilitate the founding fathers although they greatly deserve rebore trail as they really were. Life magazine is very representative of this problem. Sometimes it seems to portray the life of today almost exclusively in terms of rhyme and Gore crime and sex. But a few years ago it printed a
picture story on Albert Schweitzer. One young man chanced to read this piece. A member of the wealthy and nationally prominent Mellon family of Pittsburgh he was moved to leave his luxurious Arizona ranch to go to medical school and devote his life as well as his fortune to building and directing a hospital in one of the most backward and needy islands in the West Indies. Everything depends on what celebrities are selected as heroes and the mass media can choose rightly if they wish to. And does it generate any measurable influence for good on America tomorrow. That was Dr. Henry Pitney even deers and the president of the Union Theological Seminary and the commentator for this series people or puppets. Next week at this same time people or puppets will bring you an authoritative
analysis and dramatic reason patient on obscene language or. Who is to censor one. Of the guest authorities discussing this topic will be theologians John Bennett and Ralph his novelist Geoffrey Wagner critic Mark and workman and doctor. People or puppets has written moderated and directed by Philip Gale. Well the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Executive producer of the seminary professor John W. Backman. By Albert Brooks. ANNOUNCER This series is made possible by a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center for distribution by the National Association of educational broadcasters. Join us again next week for an exciting analysis of obscene literature. Who is to censor what people are puppets. This is the end of a radio network.
People or puppets?
How will you have your hero?
Producing Organization
Union Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-028pgv9g).
Episode Description
How will you have your hero? Celebrity gods and religious figures.
Series Description
Discussions of values and ethics, modern versus traditional. Faculty from Union Theological Seminary, authors Kenneth Burke and Geoffrey Wagner, critics Edmund Fuller and Martin Dworkin, Dr. Solon Kimball and broadcaster Edward Stanley are featured.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Composer: Brooks, Alfred
Guest: Burke, Kenneth, 1897-1993
Guest: Brown, Robert McAfee, 1920-2001
Guest: Fuller, Edmund, 1914-2001
Host: Van Dusen, Henry P. (Henry Pitney), 1897-1975
Moderator: Geesy, Ray
Producing Organization: Union Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.)
Writer: Gelb, Philip
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-7-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:04
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “People or puppets?; How will you have your hero?,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “People or puppets?; How will you have your hero?.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: People or puppets?; How will you have your hero?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from