Robert Lewis Shayon

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 474

The new Rod Serling teleplay, Certain Honorable Men,… presented no acts of physical violence. But an uglier form of violence—the suppression of the truth—haunted its ninety-five minutes of plot dealing with the mask and the reality of Congressional ethics, much as Banquo's ghost cried out in the empty chair at Macbeth's table….

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Viewers had no difficulty relating the author's fiction to the real life material of the 1967 Senate censure of Senator Thomas J. Dodd for "conduct which is contrary to accepted morals, derogates from the public trust … and tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute." Some viewers, however, did have difficulty—reconciling Mr. Serling's necessarily selective choice of dramatic essentials, among the complex elements offered by the true case, with the always troubling problem of how gatekeepers in the media use truth for their private, particular purposes.

The Champ Donahue case, as shaped by the author, searched out the simplest form of violations of traditional ethics—the acceptance of money bribes and corrupt favors. The Dodd case involved more sophisticated, significant, and insidious human failures that have impact on the effectiveness and justice of government service. These are failures in courage, energy, and detachment, where Congressmen take or withhold action, not for financial reasons but for fear of displeasing industry groups or political superiors; where duty is shirked by doing as little as possible; and where powers are used not for the public good but for a bloc with which a power holder identifies himself. From such a perspective, Congress appears as the chief ethical violator in the Dodd case. (p. 55)

It could be argued that a dramatist has every right to fashion an entertainment as he pleases, and to use only that which his artistic judgment tells him is manageable esthetically and relevant to his purpose. He must be judged on his work and not on what others think he might have done. It is a torturous question; and every talent that works in TV, which is the most public and portentous of all the agenda-setters in our society, must search his conscience to draw the shadowy line that separates freedom of choice from public responsibility. But it is also fair game to speculate, as a viewer, what might have happened had the author chosen to deal with the more subtle and inchoate substance of the Dodd story. Aside from Mr. Serling, what other gatekeepers sat at decision points in the communications channels that led from a playwright's private vision of dramatic truth to his national audience? (pp. 55, 86)

It may reasonably be concluded that Certain Honorable Men would never have completed its long journey to its TV audience had it, in any way, touched the deeper, more sensitive, and far more significant ethical issues. (p. 86)

Robert Lewis Shayon, "An Uglier Violence," in Saturday Review, Vol. LI, No. 41, October 12, 1968, pp. 55, 86.

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