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National Educational radio takes pleasure in introducing wanted a series of recorded lectures and greetings from the Library of Congress in Washington. The lectures were given in cooperation with Gertrude CLARKE With all the poetry and literature of fond of the library today. Rod Serling will be heard speaking on the challenge of the mass media to the 20th century writer. He will be introduced by the deputy librarian of Congress John G. Lawrence that evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Library of Congress. I'm John Moran's the deputy librarian I'm very pleased to have the opportunity you have this evening of introducing to you the well-known television writer Mr. Rod Serling just a few facts about necessarily if you haven't checked your Who's Who in America recently. Mr. Serling was born in Syracuse New York in 1924. He grew up in Binghamton New York and after graduation from high school and listed in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper. Following his World War to service he
went to Antioch College from which he graduated in 1950. He began his professional career as a staff scriptwriter for Cincinnati radio and television stations while he wrote freelance television plays in his spare time beginning in 1953. He has devoted full time to writing television drama. And became one of the mediums foremost writers among his early successes with the teleplays patterns the rock and the prize winning Requiem for a heavyweight since 1959 he has been writer and producer for the well-known series Twilight Zone. Mr. Serling's published work includes patterns which consists of four television plays with the author's personal commentaries Requiem for a Heavyweight a reading version of the dramatic script stories from Twilight Zone and Rod Serling's devils and demons published in 1967. This title I suspect may refer to television
executives since Mr. Serling tells me that he is now working full time for motion pictures. Mr. Sterling will have some provocative things to say to us I'm sure. And as a result we will have a question and answer period following his presentation. He will speak to us tonight on the challenge of the mass media for the 20th century writer. Mr. Rod Serling. I'm delighted that all of you braved the intimate weather to come out here this evening. I was told when I very apologetically arrived last night and quite defensively said that I'm truly sorry this was on such short notice it was the only free weekend I had and I was told that there probably would be a reasonable coterie of
of listeners in the audience this evening. And when I expressed some doubt as to how I might conceivably pull list many people they said well we might as well be blunt and honest. It isn't necessarily you as an individual but for a Californian to come here as it's simply a tourist is kind of odd. You happened to be the only guy in television or motion pictures who isn't here either serving or running for public office. And in the immortal words of Groucho Marx. It's really not such a phenomena in Washington DC in Los Angeles California that we do have a former of song and dance man currently serving as our United States junior senator and kind of an actor type fella serving as our governor. Groucho goes on to say that indeed this is very much uniquely a part of the American phenomena in New York
State. The financial capital extensively of the world you have a millionaire a multimillionaire serving as governor and in the state of Michigan you have a former automobile executive serving as governor. And in the state of Alabama a world renowned for its very meaty and sizable pecan you have a Nazi. I. Preface of course I will send that applause on to Groucho Marx. Whence it came from. One more brief aside turned Thetic preface here I'm staying at a hotel called the Washington Hilton and it seems that the whole Hilton syndrome is very much a part of my every day experience because just two days ago I spoke at a book review forum in the Los Angeles Hilton the Beverly Hills Hilton. And I noted this morning.
As I woke up that along my nightstand there were two books. There was the Gideon Bible which I'm relatively accustomed to. That's part of bringing morality back to hotel rooms. Then there was another book which is called Be my guest. Written by Conrad Hilton. And it gave occasion for me to query the house lady who cleans up the room this morning I said tell me what is this book be my guest this Conrad Hilton book. And she said well our esteemed president has written a book called Be my guest. And it's and it's an all the hotel rooms. And I said You mean that book is an all the hotel rooms of every Hilton Hotel across the land she said across the land and throughout the far flung hotel empire of the Hilton chain. And then I proceeded to get this fantasy that. At the end of every month this is the way his mind which is at the end of every month. Conrad Hilton gets on the phone this gigantic conference call to his 600
various hotel managers and he says All right gentlemen let's have a breakdown on the inventory of lost items things stolen from the hotel and they proceed to tell him there were 1 million towels. Eight hundred sixty two thousand spoons and forks and countless numbers of hangers. And then there's his dead pregnant silence. And Conrad somewhat wistfully says and the book. Alum. There's a. Prescribed silence in return and they say We're sorry Mr Hilton no books were stolen. And then that gives rise to yet another fantasy I think we should have a Be kind to Conrad Hilton we. Check in and steal a book. But I do digress. We'll get down to the nitty gritty of this. I may digress from these prepared comments. I'm not an after dinner speaker or an after lunch speaker by avocation by particular desire by any unique
affection for it. I love coming to Washington I love coming to the nation's capital and I have a sense of something going on and indeed every time I'm here is something very much is going on. It was the assault on the Pentagon a month or so ago and now it's the rank and marchers. And I'm beginning to think that the administration is going to think that I have in some way have an alliance there. But we want to talk about the mass media. And one addresses himself to any discussion involving at nowadays at least with either of a tongue in cheek or if he happens to be an active participant in the mass media rather a foot in his mouth. Television Needless to say is accustomed to being the whipping boy and has been over the years and this past season has provided television with perhaps a totally negative critical response that I think even the networks are beginning to blush in living color. Before I became somewhat aging and set in my ways I was
perhaps one of the most strident if not to kill it Lee vocal critics of the mass media. And in a sense I still am. But with age has come at least a modicum of some degree of wisdom. And with the passage of years has come a certain restraint and indeed a certain perspective. Now we may blast this mass media of eyes with a sense of righteous anger and understandable impatience and predictable condescension. But it's reached the point now I think that we must not make our analysis of any mass media in this country without taking that logical step further and make an assessment of it not as an isolated American phenomena to be perfunctorily dismissed but rather is very much a part of the integrity American scene and very much liked of what our American tastes in this 968 year. I don't believe that we can criticize any of the art forms without a very legitimate self
criticism creeping in. It's a fact that culturally the American artist has not kept pace with his scientific brother. But it's also a fact that the nature of the times and indeed the nature of the audience has very much dictated or at least been in part responsible for the lack of creativity or the lack of ingenuity the lack of imagination and certainly the lack of courage. Drama be it fiction or motion picture or stage play has traditionally been a vehicle of social criticism that function would be altogether timely particularly during this day and age. There is much to criticize a diverse and demanding collections of human anguish that literally scream out for comment. A collection of injustices that so diminish the human condition that one wonders where in the name of God is that school of literary protest that
might move and sway public opinion as Ibsen did as Harriet Beecher Stowe did. As Clifford Odets did and as Arthur Miller did the novel of protest unfortunately is fonder rather limited readership. The play with a comment this is given away to Auntie Mame and Hello Dolly and any show that can guarantee some delightful choreography without making pressing demands on the conscience of its audience. And in the mass media the writing for television most clearly reflects what is the escapist mood of the American public. When the sessions of the Foreign Relations Committee were televised on the major networks during that afternoon and when literally the survival of a nation and the world was very much on the line in the discussion of Vietnam the networks were besieged by callers from irate housewives who missed as the World
Turns. And I Love Lucy. Now I must admit to a sense of dismay a feeling of concern and I kind of let a heavyweight in my gut when I contemplate a society which makes a daily idol out of business as usual while a very goodly section of this earth dies of starvation bleeds to death and battles crawls chained in dictatorial bondage while we fly to Mary Poppins or to the big NFL game at the Coliseum where the fair at Montreal. And we shunt reality as if it were a plague. Now this country created pleasure seeking must obviously have as its result a responding level of entertainment. And if that level is indeed low chastising a media may that's wise somewhat our consciences and scratch our intellectual backs. But it does not address itself I don't believe the real problem and that is
in essence people get what they pay for what they seek. What they find satisfying and if indeed they do prefer soap opera. To a slice of the times. Let us examine our own insensitivities in this regard rather than constantly with that somewhat dying steed. Because in every true sense it's the American public that rode the horse to death in the first place. I can give you a good working example of the phenomena of national hedonism as it is mirrored in our mass media. It takes a show like Hogan's Heroes. Now here you have a weekly mirth filled half hour that shows what kind of swinging ball it must have been in a Nazi p o w camp. Now there's a slight deviation from the norm in that there are good guys on this show certainly but there are no bad guys. At least not in the sense that we're used to recognize our enemies as they appear in an old Warner Brothers films.
Now the Japanese and the Jack Warner production was very recognizable. Big buck teeth. My Opa guys he lusted after Occidental women and he tortured nuns and the Nazis of course were all walking hymns of hate totally on regenerative and all looking like Erich von Stroheim. Now through the good offices of Hogans Heroes now we meet the new postwar version of the wartime Nazi. Now he's a big bumbling fat head. Whose crime singularly is stupidity. But nothing more. He's a kind of a lovable affable benign Hermann Goring. Now this this may appeal to some students of comedy who refuse to allow history to get in the way of their laughter. But what it does to history is to distort and what it does to a recollection of a horror that as an ugly matter of record it's a distortion that is
absolutely inexcusable. Satire is one thing because that bleeds and it comments while it evokes laughter but a rank diminishment of what was once an era of appalling human suffering. I don't believe is proper material for comedy. Now who knows. Next season we may be exposed to a pattern of this kind of thing. We may be viewing the Merry Men of Auschwitz or Milton Berle in a new musical version of the death march of the time or a single shot spectacular the whip and wisdom of Adolph Hitler. It's really quite incredible that in the past 20 years there is yet to be an anti-war play. That might be a 1960 sequent of Irwin Shaws bury the dead or a book that might eloquently cry for peace much as did my remarks All Quiet On The Western Front of the 1930s. Or a television show or a
book or a play. Commentator on the misery that is extant outside of our windows. Now that misery doesn't go away with our overt and self-conscious dismissal of it from our art forms any more than did the specter of one Joseph McCarthy leave us because there was not a single definitive play or book or piece of fiction written about this particular jolly demagogue egomaniac from the state of Wisconsin. Ironically it was television that took his site if not his smell into the respective living rooms and ultimately it washed him out. But a combination of creative fear and public apathy have left us with an ice cold recollection of a nightmarish time but with no proper body of literature which makes one single comment upon it. Now I don't suggest that the mass media must only be a theater of protest or that a viewing or reading public must simply be students of politics. I
do have the temerity to recommend that any controversy simply by virtue of it having two sides is preeminently worthy of comment. But I mean come on. I mean a point of view recently on NBC a documentary was presented called same blood same what and how many saw it. A reasonable smattering. Now the motives in presenting this program were certainly praiseworthy. Essentially it was to show that when white men and black men died together the imposed social differences of our times are relegated to a less conscious level. Now Frank McGee the narrator kept asking throughout the program what white soldiers thought of serving with negro columns and what they thought of them. And the point was driven home over and over again that death is the great equalizer and that exposure to death is a cement of racial relations. I have to pose the question Are
they serious. This is like a six hour thesis on whether or not our flag is red white and blue. Of course death equalizes and mutual Jeopardy does create bedfellows. I don't believe there was ever any doubt of this. But let's see that documentary which shows the negro veteran coming back to say the state of California whereby a recent two to one vote of the citizenry. There is currently a law on the books known as Proposition 14 which permits any man to refuse property ownership to another man simply by virtue of his color search if you will for some make when there MATY in this particular social phenomena search for it but I doubt if you'll find it either in California or a few dozen other states where certain citizens must take to the streets because cries inside of a tenement are obviously not heard and I places where their grievances might conceivably be answered.
Apparent that a clear note if you will how quickly we deplore violence and quite properly so. As a cure of ills. But note how quickly we also dismiss the negro athletes say refusing to represent us in the Olympics. Violent or nonviolent it seems to make very little difference. Of course if the Negro is 8 feet tall and he can belt 400 or can steal bases like a Jimmy Valentine we might conceivably allow him to place his garbage cans next Dyer's we chastise him for his alleged inferiorities but we deny him any any any quality unless he demonstrated himself to be a superman. But what has been the mass media's contribution to this shattering divisive social problem of race relations. It's been strangely mute. From experience I can tell you that drama at least in television must walk tiptoe and in agony lest it offend some serial buyer
from a particular given state below the Mason-Dixon. Hence we find in this mass media a kind of ritual try covering in which we attack quite obliquely. The business of minority problems. The television writer turns his literary guns on certain minority hang ups that are allowed. So instead of a negro he gives battle against that prejudice visited upon American Indians or Alaskan Eskimos or Armenian peasants under the Czar. Now yes all prejudice all prejudice is alike. Down it it's a very ugly route and all prejudice is indeed a universal evil. But you don't conquer intolerance by disguising it by clothing it and different trappings by slapping at it with a wispy parable. You can show the American Indian being driven out of his free land into a reservation but an audience can quite properly cluck sympathetically but deny any complicity in that
particular evil. Because after all how many of us how many of us have ever driven Indians back into their reservations. But how many of us how many of us have not in a moment of our own unique particular insanity let an errant thought slip by which was up to derision. Our darker neighbors or our Oriental neighbors or any of the minority groups. When you invite prejudice out to joust with it you display it in its honest trappings. If it is the deliberate withholding of homes to negroes by virtue of color now that is the nature of the opponent and that is what you attack. And this is the language you use. And this is the identification that you very clearly and overtly display. As I said I'm not not asking for a prolonged period of national mourning or a preoccupation exclusive with social comment. I'm
again only suggesting that as a writer and as a reader as a creator and as a viewer we properly put aside at least during a given hours our insatiable desire for pleasure and with some modicum of courage begin to relate to the inequities and the anguish of our fellow man. And this concluding thought before we get into questions and answers apropos of writers and readers and playwrights and theater goers and screenplay authors and movie ticket buyers. Despite everything despite our controversies and despite what has apparently and tragically a sense of divisiveness that permeates our land and despite riots and rebellions that go hand in hand mind you with repressions and brutality despite all of this one major and fundamental guarantee of continued and protracted freedom
is the unfettered right of the man the right as he sees fit as his conscience indicates as his mood dictates as his cause cries out for the moment you begin to censor the writer and history bears this out in the ugliest of fashion. So begins a process of decay in the body politic that ultimately leads to disaster. What begins with a blue pencil for whatever reason very often ends in a concentration camp. It has forever been us. So long as men write what they think then all the other freedoms all of them may remain intact. And it's done. That writing becomes a weapon of truth and act of conscience. And I tickle of Faith thank you. You all. Nen
An And now we've got. How about that 30 minutes. I was told and by God it was exactly 30 minutes. A few laughs but the 30 minutes were taken up. Now it's a question and answer yes ma'am. What's a body to do. Oft asked proper a realistic question. And I forgive me. I find it difficult to respond to it because every time I suggest that which is usually recommended to me write to the sponsor. Write to the network. Start up pressure groups refusing to buy commercials whose commercials are tasteless etc.. It obviously makes very little difference if indeed you read a very negative comment and you direct your letter to specifically a sponsor. You will usually get a response and it'll be a personal one but it it will in no way. Alter
the concept of their advertising the frequency of the commercial intrusions or anything else. I had occasion when I was here in Washington last to make a speech and then proceed to drop over in a dead faint and get hospitalized. And this was in an audience of some 4000 people with nary a doctor in the in the whole group. And no I always would love before I start the speech as I get older to pose the question Are there any doctors in the house watching carefully when his lips turn blue you know you make a little thing there. Anyway I digress. The point of my hospital stay in Washington was that for the first time I was able to note what daytime television was and indeed what the housewife was subjected to. And there were some corkers and again I fantasized tremendously. The ad that I found most fetching was the hurts. I had a guy that jumps 8 stories and it was small sedan and I thought to myself If this guy ever lands on a stick shift he. Is going to
know. Below the rim. I mean you were saying. Then there was one other that I might share with you since we've got a few minutes. Marvelous you know the dramatic ones the kind that they have a boy and girl in a drill hole dramatic thing with an actor and an actress and I don't recall him I said my sensitivities getting in the way and making me forget it had to do with a young newlywed couple and they were running obviously in a hotel. And the young man was shaving by a mirror and the girl very attractive and very young sort of slithers and in the negligee and leans against the door jamb of the Johnny and she says hi there Mr Smith. And he looks at her absolutely adoringly and he says hi there Mrs Smith and she looks at him and this sort of heavy breathing passion says I love my new name. And he says well you better not get used to it we're checking out at noon. See that's another fantasy I haven't had. But.
That's a long winded. Very bad joke response to a very good question. I don't know what the answer is my concern of course is not only the nature of the commercials but the desperate intrusion of you see many movies on television lately. Each year it seems to get worse and worse each year less creative less imaginative. I don't know the answer. I wish I did. Isn't it. Well it isn't exactly. In all fairness the question of just me sort of up and leaving television. Let's say that the networks did not indicate any great enthusiasm for my remaining let's put it that way. And I always say give the devil his due. That's what I always say. In point of fact it wasn't so much a question of writers leaving the ship but simply the ship deserving the writers. There was very little platform left. No in essence most television drama is of the running character thread and this is a chap dying of an incurable disease for a hundred eighty eight weeks. Or a man running away from a one armed man. And now I suppose his individual programs they're quite
fetching and they're well produced and they're well directed. Because I was a good actor David Jensen is a cut above the average actor. But it's sort of like asking Arthur Miller to write something about a salesman each week. You run out of perspective. You run out of challenge or run out of excitement. Now I venture to say that I think I really couldn't write death of a Salesman each week no matter who was running from. You know the American dream or what all. So this is one of the reasons that I just couldn't stay in it any more. And I guess I cast no judgement if this is what they want. Fine.
Library of Congress lectures II
Episode Number
Episode 5 of 9
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WUOM (Radio station : Ann Arbor, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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For series info, see Item 3701. This prog.: Television as a medium for the literary artist is one of the topics covered in a lecture by Rod Serling.
Film and Television
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Producer: Library of Congress
Producing Organization: WUOM (Radio station : Ann Arbor, Mich.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-40-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:29:00
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Chicago: “Library of Congress lectures II; Episode 5 of 9,” 1968-10-04, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 1, 2024,
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APA: Library of Congress lectures II; Episode 5 of 9. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from