The New York Times Company
The New York Times
December 12, 1985, Thursday, Late City Final Edition
Section C; Page 1, Column 1; Home Desk
HEADLINE: CONTROVERSY ABOUT TOYS, TV VIOLENCE
BYLINE: By GLENN COLLINS
parents sat in a circle during the first "He-Man Workshop"
at the Christ Church Day School in Manhattan and voiced their
concerns - and confusions - about the state of children's
worried about the one-dimensional nature of the characters,"
said the father of one of the school's 90 children between
the ages of 2 and 5. He was referring to "He-Man and
the Masters of the Universe," the popular half-hour weekday
animated children's television show. "Why can't an all-powerful
hero have a sense of humor too?" he asked.
yet, somehow I feel this Superhero play is important,"
said the mother of a 4-year-old. "Isn't it just a modern
version of 'The Odyssey'?"
words were the latest manifestation of a controversy over
the content of children's television programming and the commercial
exploitation of the young that has long embroiled not only
parents, educators, legislators, broadcasters and toy makers,
but also psychologists, who have conducted many studies of
the impressionability of small children exposed to televised
parents descend on stores to buy toys merchandised by children's
television, the debate has revived in response to the announcement
that Rambo, the gun-toting former Green Beret popularized
in films of Sylvester Stallone, will soon become the star
of a half-hour animated children's show.
is true of a number of popular shows, the "He-Man"
toys came first, while with Rambo Mr. Stallone's movies initially
gave the character visibility; however the arrival of Rambo
toys will coincide with the animated show's debut next spring.
to some of the parents who gathered on a recent evening in
the Christ Church United Methodist building on Park Avenue,
the advent of a "Rambo" show was of concern. "As
a parent, I find it offensive," said Matti Feldman, a
developmental psychologist, at the day-school meeting. She
led the discussion with Naomi Siegel, a parent-educator.
"Rambo" program will start in April with five weekly
episodes timed to the arrival of a Rambo line of "action-figure"
dolls in toy stores, manufactured by Coleco Industries, makers
of the Cabbage Patch Kids.
fall, the show will begin a cycle of 65 episodes currently
the show's producers think that the R-rated "Rambo: First
Blood Part II" is an appropriate source for children's
you think that the President has mentioned him, the symbol
of Rambo transcends the film," said Amy Kastens, a spokesman
for Anabasis Investments N.V., producers of the television
series. "That symbol is a symbol of good. He's very patriotic.
He stands for strength, he only does good, and he undoes evil."
added that the lead character of the children's shows will
not be a Sylvester Stallone look-alike. "It'll be a total
departure from the film," she said of the television
show. "There won't be any violence. He will have giant
muscles and all of that. But he will be a guy who loves nature
and won't look for trouble."
show will become "a sales tool" for the toys, Mrs.
Kastens said. Although not directly involved in the "Rambo"
film production, "we are working in conjunction with
the producers to make sure that the product line and cartoon
series carry the same messages," said Barbara C. Wruck,
a spokesman for Coleco.
is that message that some parents at the school objected to.
But they did not limit their criticism to "Rambo,"
naming children's shows like "G.I. Joe," "Thundercats,"
"Voltron," "Transformers," "Gobots"
and "Superfriends," among others.
focused on "He-Man," however, the action adventure
show about the blond muscle man who is prince of the "planet
Eternia." "It is immensely popular," said Peggy
Marble, the school's director.
would say in terms of boys age 3, 4 and 5, it's almost a national
obsession for them." She added: " 'He-Man' is the
most prominent of these shows because it seems to absorb their
fantasy life in a most powerful way."
feels that 4- and 5-year-old children "are uniquely vulnerable
because of their age." Miss Marble and some parents at
the school had complaints about the show, primarily that it
was violent, depicting force as the way to resolve conflicts.
They said it promotes unusually aggressive play among the
Marble said: "The characters on "He-Man" are
devoid of human characteristics - they have no emotions and
no humor. They may lead children to idealize such qualities."
"He-Man" show made its television debut in 1983,
a year after He-Man toys appeared in the stores, according
to a spokesman for Mattel Inc., the manufacturer. It was the
nation's top-rated daytime syndicated animated children's
show according to the A.C. Nielsen Company's most recent national
television market analysis last July, and in November the
show had an average audience of 2,900,000 households across
the country. This season She-Ra, He-Man's sister, has her
own program, which in November had an average audience of
70 toy characters have been created for the "Masters
of the Universe" series, with a castle play set and other
accessories. So far, Mattel has sold 125 million dolls at
about $4.50 each, and last year retail sales were $500 million
try not to have He-Man hurt any living creature, and the good
guys always win," said Lou Scheimer, president of Filmation,
the animation studio in Reseda, Calif., that produces "He-Man"
and "She-Ra." "He-Man is heroic," Mr.
Scheimer said, "but not omnipotent. He does make mistakes."
He stated that most of the show's critics have never watched
the program carefully, or they would notice "that we've
given children a lot of positive messages."
done shows on drugs, on child molestation and gun control,"
said Mr. Scheimer.
Cleveland, senior vice president of marketing for boy's toys
at Mattel, said much of the criticism of "He-Man"
was unfair. "Having good guys and bad guys didn't start
with 'He-Man,' " he said. "Little boys played that
way 1,000 years ago."
added: "Look at 'Road Runner' - can anything be more
violent than that?" referring to the cartoon series.
in the toy industry have pointed to a long tradition of violence
in children's entertainment beginning well before Punch and
Judy shows. Answering criticism about overcommercialism, they
point to the merchandising of Walt Disney and "Sesame
Street" characters as well as product spinoffs of "Superman,"
"Batman," and "Star Wars" films. The parents
at the day-school meeting also criticized the commercial content
of the programs. Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children's
Television, a Massachusetts-based, nonprofit group, said in
an interview that she is especially alarmed by programs designed
by toy companies to sell merchandise.
shows are not thought up by people trying to create characters
or a story," she explained, terming them "program-length
advertisements." "They are created to sell things,"
she said. "Accessories in the toy line must be part of
reverses the traditional creative process. The children are
getting a manufacturer's catalogue instead of real programming
Charren said: "Basically there are only a few kinds of
shows on commercial television: stuffed animals, adventure
figures, robots and the dolls for little girls. For the most
diverse age group in human development - age 2 to 11 - these
shows are almost all alike."
Charren said she does not believe in censorship of the shows,
but favors "creating more diversity," and is supporting
a bill in Congress that would compel broadcasters to air diverse
children's programming. (See accompanying article.) While
critics have confronted broadcasters and toy makers, researchers
have attempted to determine the effect of television shows
on children's development.
1982 the National Institute of Mental Health released a report
updating the 1972 Surgeon General's study on the relation
of televised violence to children's behavior. It concluded
that there was "overwhelming" scientific evidence
that "excessive" violence on television led directly
to aggression and violent behavior among children. "It
is true that some shows, like 'He-Man,' have a kind of moral,"
said Dr. Jerome L. Singer, professor of psychology at Yale
University and co-director of the Yale University Family Television
our observations of young children have been that they don't
we have noticed is that the play with toys like He-Man tends
to be rather aggressive."
Dr. Donald F. Roberts, the educational and psychological consultant
for "He-Man," and a professor of communication at
Stanford University, pointed to a study of 50 children he
has conducted that "indicates that children do pick up
on these messages and they do understand them," he said.
AST July, the Children's Television Education Act of 1985
was introduced by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of
New Jersey, paralleling a bill introduced in the House of
Representatives by Democratic Representative Timothy E. Wirth
of Colorado. The measures would require commercial television
stations to provide seven hours a week of programming that
enhances children's education, five of those hours on weekdays.
bill would also require the Federal Communications Commission
to hold hearings on the issue of overcommercialization in
children's television, and to report its findings to Congress.
hear from parents and educators and people in the community
that they're concerned about these shows, and that they would
love to have alternative shows available," Senator Lautenberg
said, referring to children's current commercial fare.
shows are a violation of good taste and good judgment, and
the worst thing is that there is no choice," he added.
"Broadcasters have an obligation to do something that
enhances the ability of children to learn. But what's happening
is that the product on these shows is being sold through the
entire broadcast - not just in the commercial intervals. It's
objectionable to seduce children to want to buy things unsuspectingly
in the show that they might be watching."
broadcasting industry has opposed such legislation. "We're
not against kids or Senator Lautenberg, but we have philosophical
and practical problems with the bill," commented Shaun
M. Sheehan, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters,
which represents more than 875 television stations plus the
there appropriate programming on television for children to
view?" he asked. "Most of us receive a bare minimum
of nine television signals, and that amply demonstrates that
there is appropriate programming for children." He was
referring to all programming, including that on educational
and cable channels.
Sheehan added: "No matter how benign this bill may appear,
we vigorously oppose the notion of governmentally mandating
any judgments over editorial product in the media.