Banner Alt
Sections: Political Humor | Causes and Controversies | Blurring of the Lines 

Return to Blurring of the Lines List Previous Section: Entertainment and the News | Next Section: Politics and Camp

Television swept the nation during the 1950s, with the number of sets increasing from one million in 1949 to fifty million ten years later. This phenomenal growth marked a new era in communications, one that many believed would change politics dramatically. In 1951, a White House communication related President Harry Truman’s concern that congressional hearings should cease to be televised “because of the tendency to make Roman holidays of them.” Although Senator John F. Kennedy warned in 1959 that television could be “abused by demagogues, by appeals to emotion and prejudice and ignorance,” he believed that television’s “net effect can definitely be for the better.” He contended that the new medium gave the public a new opportunity to detect for themselves deception and honesty in a politician’s image.

TV has altered drastically the nature of our political campaigns, conventions, constituents, candidates, and costs.—Senator John F. Kennedy, 1959


“The Revolutionary Impact of Television”

In this TV Guide article published during his run for the presidency, Senator John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) discussed the effects of television on the political process. While warning about the potential for manipulation and the rising cost of campaigns due to the medium, Kennedy charged the “viewing public” with the responsibility to use their “power” to determine television’s ultimate impact on American politics. This 1966 Jules Feiffer (b. 1929) cartoon satirizes that hope for an engaged viewing public.

1 of 2

  • Senator John F. Kennedy, “Television as I See It: A Force That Has Changed the Political Scene.” TV Guide, November 14–20, 1959. Courtesy of Alan Gevinson (154.01.00) [Digital ID # bhp0154_01] (154.01.01)

  • Jules Feiffer. Pencils ready televiewers? March 20, 1966. Ink drawing on layered paper with paste-ons. Jules Feiffer Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (151.02.00) [Digital ID # ppmsca-31187]

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/hope-for-america/television-and-politics.html#obj0

Television and the News

Americans were drawn to the camp, choreographed violence of the “Dynamic Duo,” Batman and Robin, whose televised adventures followed news broadcasts two nights a week beginning in January 1966. The show’s popularity waned by its second year, perhaps, as cartoonist Jules Feiffer (b. 1929) suggests, because its comic book plots could not compete with news that brought horrors of war into the nation’s living rooms. In 1971, an artist employed iconic comic book superheroes to satirize the nation’s leaders.

1 of 2

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/hope-for-america/television-and-politics.html#obj1

Political Advertising on Television

With the advent of television, candidates for political office entered millions of homes through ads that creatively employed audiovisual techniques to instill emotional connections. In 1964, the campaign of Republican Senator Barry Goldwater (1909–1998) accused Democrats of resorting to “terror on television” after the airing of the controversial “Daisy ad,” which depicted a young girl picking daisies in advance of a nuclear bomb exploding on the scene. The ad “evoked a deep feeling in many people that Goldwater might actually use nuclear weapons,” the ad’s creator, Tony Schwartz (1923–2008), pointed out, even though Goldwater’s name was never mentioned.

1 of 4

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/hope-for-america/television-and-politics.html#obj2

Back to top

Return to Blurring of the Lines List Previous Section: Entertainment and the News | Next Section: Politics and Camp

Sections: Political Humor | Causes and Controversies | Blurring of the Lines