Yesterday’s children’s shows taught moral lessons

By Judy Brandon

As I sat the other night and watched the lineup of shows on television, my mind went back to “The Howdy Doody Show.” As a kid, I was a big Howdy Doody fan.

Buffalo Bob began every show with a question: “Kids, what time is it?” And the children would eagerly respond: “It’s Howdy Doody time!”

Howdy was a puppet and sometimes we could see the strings used to manipulate him, but to my sister Susie and me Howdy Doody was real — at least for 30 minutes at a time.

Howdy Doody stood for what was right. He told the truth, was kind, and treated others as he wanted to be treated and respected elders, friends and police officers. He always made the right decisions because Buffalo Bob, who was the adult authority in the show, gave Howdy direction and Howdy listened.

Another regular was Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring. Even though she too was a puppet, she was a beautiful Indian princess who was kind, principled and always on the side of right.

Then there was a puppet character named Mr. Bluster. He was devious and a troublemaker. His thick eyebrows stood out over sinister eyes, and Mr. Bluster was always involved in something underhanded or dishonest. His intentions were not good, and we knew from the beginning that he was the villain.

Finally, there was Clarabelle, a clown who couldn’t talk but communicated with a horn and lights worn on a belt around his waist. One signal meant “yes” and another meant “no.” Sometimes Clarabelle would get really ornery and spray everyone with a seltzer bottle.

There was a moral lesson to be learned from every episode. Howdy, Buffalo Bob and Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring steadfastly stood for what was right. They could never be swayed, even if they had to take some flack at times.

Mr. Bluster was always villainous, and Clarabelle could be influenced either way. Some days, he was swayed by Mr. Bluster and would get into a mess, but Clarabelle always came around and learned his lesson by the end of the show.

There was never a question — right was right and wrong was wrong.

Back then, Desi and Lucy had twin beds even though in real life they were married. Roy Rogers was wholesome, stood for integrity was honest and of exemplary character. Even the title of one show, “To Tell the Truth,” stressed an absolute that somehow seems lacking in our society today.

Now ratings show us if the episode coming up is “acceptable” for viewers of certain ages. Few things these days stress moral absolutes and virtues that we want our children to imitate. In fact, we worry about the influence of television on them.

I cringe at the language used, I am saddened at the values portrayed, I am worried about the habits encouraged, and it frightens me that the sinister is applauded.

Even the commercials are not fit to watch in mixed company.

Long before television, the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “Suppose someone invented an instrument, a convenient little talking tube which, say, would be heard over the whole land. I wonder if the police would not forbid it, fearing that the whole country would become mentally deranged if it were used.”

Long ago, Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept. I wonder what he is thinking today. Call me conservative, na