Thursday, December 30, 2010

Vintage Headlines: But Maybe I'm Dumb?

Here's an interesting slice of irrational newspaper punditry from the mid-1950s.  If you thought media-rooted extremism was unique to the 21st century, think again.  This newspaper column from late December of 1955 clearly reinforces the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Richmond Barbour held the position of director of guidance for the San Diego city schools and wrote a newspaper column entitled Parent's Corner throughout the 1950s.  Though generally sound and rational in his observations and advice, his column on December 30, 1955 took a somewhat wacky turn.  He specifically targeted Walt Disney and the filmmakers of the then just recently released True-Life Adventure, The African Lion.  Here's what he had to say:
Heigh-ho folks. Let's welcome some new experts on children's discipline. They come from an unlikely place, the Disney Studio in Hollywood. What are their qualifications?

It seems they spent  three years watching lions in Africa. That's right. Three years watching lions. The connection between our children's discipline and African lions is obscure to me. But maybe I'm dumb?

Please don't think I am kidding. I've just taken time to read newspaper publicity for that recent Disney lion picture. A reporter quotes the lion-watchers as saying the law in lion families is obey or die. So lion mamas slap their cubs around. Maybe the lions have read modern psychology too. The reporter says that they never are harshly brutal in their punishment. Just knock the little ones across the landscape. Haymaker love taps.

What's the result? Hold on to your hats. There is no juvenile delinquency among the lions in that part of Africa! Isn't that marvelous? The lion-watchers seem to think so. They are quoted as saying that a headstrong lion would be a terrible nuisance to the rest of the lion family. No doubt. No doubt.

If this publicity was intentionally humorous, I'd enjoy it. But it isn't! It is serious. Wallop your kids. Knock 'em spinning. But don't be harshly brutal about it. Punishment is the rule of nature.

Did this publicity appear in your papers? I hope not. Your human instincts regarding the rearing of the human young are sounder than the instincts of lady lions prowling the African veldt.  I agree that Walt Disney has geniuses on his payroll. I'll admit that the lion-watchers are the best animal photographers in the business. But child guidance advice from Walt's lions is too much.

Please, Mr. Disney!
Barbour provides no specific quotations or citations from the publicity material he is referring to.  It was most likely press kit articles that featured veteran wildlife photographers Alfred and Elma Milotte.  Barbour was clearly playing hard and loose with subject and context and then jumps to the bizarre conclusion that Disney is advocating child abuse via his otherwise generally celebrated nature documentary.

Distilling child psychology and disciplinary philosophies from Hollywood press material?

Please Mr. Barbour!