To the Editor:
I find Mr. Podhoretz’s article “Our Changing Ideals, as Seen on TV” (December 1953) altogether extraordinary. Unless it is written with a subtlety of irony which is beyond me, the Olympian moral imperturbability of this young critic in the face of a monstrosity is something like a tour de force. I take a single instance: the little TV drama of the high school student, the chairman of the committee, who has a list of other students, all cheats, to submit to the Dean, and finding on it his sweetheart’s name, debates with himself whether he should delete it. Mr. Podhoretz writes:
“His father, guessing the boy’s trouble, persuades him to do so: ‘You’re going out into a tough world where nobody will care about you and your interests. You have to look out for yourself and the people you love. ’ ” After a little more of this reported talk, Mr. Podhoretz continues: “At first the boy takes this advice, but later, to the consternation of his father, confesses while delivering his valedictory address, and proclaims his own expulsion.”
Now comes Mr. Podhoretz’s comment, in general keeping with his attitude toward TV drama problems throughout the article: “Though repudiated, the father in this play is not unsympathetically portrayed. He realizes that the Honor System places too great a burden on young people, and that there is something absurd—something that violates common sense—in allowing a trivial matter to ruin a life” (my italics). Mr. Podhoretz does not say the father is “of the opinion that etc.” The father “realizes. . . .” And what is the trivial matter? Not that the young man will shield his sweetheart, thinking that her “crime” is a forgivable misdemeanor; but that he will do so while permitting others to be expelled by handing in the remainder of the list.
“The father in this play is not unsympathetically portrayed,” writes Mr. Podhoretz. And the attitude this implies is not unsympathetically reported by Mr. Podhoretz. A piece of outrageous and heartless villainy is proposed by a “decent” father to a young son, and we have no comment on the ghastly corruption of public taste and morals which the sympathetic portrayal, and its sympathetic acceptance, imply. Mr. Podhoretz writes, a little further on: “Yet, curiously enough, the most salient feature of this ethos remains its sadness.” (Does it, by God? I should have thought that “repulsiveness” comes a little nearer.) “It presents itself as making a modest demand on life, a demand so modest that life would be guilty of the cruelest perversity to deny it. Bearing in its countenance the lines and wrinkles of maturity, it is always opposed to the presumptuous, enthusiastic ‘idealism’ of youth.” I suggest again that the wrong word has been used: I would substitute for “maturity” premature moral senility.
New York City
[Mr. Podhoretz entered the army at about the time when Mr. Samuel's letter was received, and the exhaustive schedule of basic training has not left him time to write a reply.—Ed.]