21 August 2011

How Robin Saved a Life—Through Television

In one of Marc Tyler Nobleman’s interviews with people behind the Superfriends television cartoons of the 1970s and early 1980s, artist Darrell McNeil recalled a proud moment:
[A] girl in Ohio, I think, saved her sister from choking with [the Heimlich] maneuver, which she learned from watching Batman and Robin do it on All-New Super Friends. And since I did all the clean-up animation on that sequence (and took ribbing from my oversexed colleagues—especially Sandy Young; god, whatta mouth! LOL). Well, it’s one of the prouder moments of my career.
After diligent Googling, I found a passage from New Times magazine in 1978 which mentioned some footage about this topic:
In it there was an interview with a Minneapolis fourth-grader who had saved the life of a girlfriend choking on a piece of candy by employing something called the Heinlich [sic] maneuver. She testified that she had seen the technique on ABC’s Saturday morning cartoon show “Super-friends,” where Robin demonstrated it on Batman. The narrator mentioned many other examples of ABC’s educational and instructional value to children.
This is notable for two reasons.

First, the Heimlich maneuver, or abdominal thrust, was a new thing then—which is why New Times misspelled its advocate’s name. Dr. Henry Heimlich had published instructions in Emergency Medicine only in 1974. Until 1985, the American Heart Association and American Red Cross still recommended helping a person who’s choking by first slapping him on the back. (In 2006, the AHA returned to recommending backblows before abdominal thrusts.)

These days most Americans have been exposed to the Heimlich maneuver, but back in 1978 millions of people had probably never seen it before Superfriends. (I don’t recall this clip, but to this day I have a vivid memory of seeing Aquaman show how to get something out of your eye without rubbing.) So that clip might have contributed to saving more lives in the years that followed.

Second, ABC highlighted that story of a life being saved because back in 1978 the network was under pressure to increase the educational content of its programs for kids. That was around the high-water mark in American culture for the idea that the highest purpose of government was to help the unfortunate and vulnerable instead of to protect people’s existing advantages.

Under pressure from groups like Action for Children’s Television, the networks’ National Association of Broadcasters adopted limits on commercials and some content. They created short educational bits to slip in between the adventure cartoons, such as Schoolhouse Rock and, yes, Batman and Robin demonstrating the Heimlich maneuver. To fend off calls for stricter regulation, the network made a film highlighting “examples of ABC’s educational and instructional value,” as New Times reported.

Then Ronald Reagan was elected President, reflecting and accelerating a new view of government, as Daniel T. Rodgers discusses in The Age of Fracture. Rules were out; markets are in. The Superfriends stopped giving health advice, Schoolhouse Rock went off the air in 1985, and the Fairness Doctrine was abolished in 1987. In 1990, Congress passed the Children’s Television Act, but without public pressure the networks didn’t try to seed educational content everywhere.


Glenn Ingersoll said...

So what's the secret to getting something out of your eye without rubbing?

J. L. Bell said...

Something about bathing in a saline solution and not coming out for more than an hour.

Oh, sorry, that’s how Aquaman manages his own eye problems.

For a small child he finds rubbing her eye on the street, Aquaman gently lifts the top eyelid and puts it down on the lower, prompting tears that wash out any object on the eyeball.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Oh. My mom told me that eyelid thing.

It's not bad.

A few years ago I had to go to the Emergency Room to have a fleck removed that had affixed itself to the underside of my eyelid. Yikes that was horrid. I kept flinching and flinching, my eye constantly watering, while Kent drove. It was like Androcles and the Lion - I totally developed a crush on the long-fingered doctor who, using a swab, gently caught the offending fleck.

Superheroes ...