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Earl Hamner's view on values

Earl Hamner

Earl Hamner at the electronic media division at CCM

Famous Hollywood writer, producer gives a grown-up John Boy take on values

by Deborah Rieselman, originally printed in 2005

One UC alumnus has made his appreciation of both moral and religious beliefs evident to the whole world. In creating “The Waltons,” Earl Hamner, CCM '48, HonDoc '08, took the memories of his family singing Baptist hymns around the piano and shaped them into one of the country's most enduring images of family values.

“We should treasure the time-honored values that have stood us in such good stead all these years,” Hamner says, “to love our country, revere the flag, honor our mother and our father, love our neighbor as ourselves. When I was growing up in Virginia, those values were drilled into me, but we also need to put some effort into independent thought.

“I was told that I was my brother's keeper, but I learned that we had enslaved a good many of our brothers. I was told all men were created equal, but I saw women pretty much consigned to activities suitable only for the bedroom and the kitchen. I learned that I should do unto others as I would have others do unto me, but gay people seemed to be scorned and reviled.

“How true is everything we have been taught? How reliable is the information we are given? It is incumbent upon us to question and decide for ourselves exactly how valuable the 'traditional' values are in today's society.

“Happily today, the slave cabins exist only as museum exhibits, and while gays still have some strides to make toward full acceptance, that dark sad closet is almost empty.

“I believe that each of us is a work in progress. We believe we were created in God's image, but what if we were created as less than perfect and are reaching for a more God-like image? And so as we grow more in God's image, does it not make sense that we modify the old values to help us reach for a more perfect life for each of his children?”


From the Waltons to the Simpsons

Of course, there is a difference between modifying old values and abandoning them. Hamner, who wrote the screen adaptation for the movie “Charlotte's Web,” believes many television producers have done the latter.

“People want more family programming,” he told electronic-media and journalism students while he was on campus in April. “They want programs they can watch with their children without being embarrassed. They want programs about people like themselves, who aren't necessarily criminals or in need of lawyers.”

Nearly 13 years ago, the first President George Bush testified to Hamner's position as a role model in the industry when he announced at the Republican National convention, “We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.”

University of Cincinnati alum Earl Hamner readily agrees that television programming seems to slide further and further away from those touching "Goodnight, John-Boy" moments. "There is a lot of vulgarity on TV," he says. "We tolerate grossness -- shows like 'Fear Factor.' And we certainly don't need reality programs that bear no resemblance to the reality most of us know.

"I suppose it's human nature to be interested in the bizarre and the outlandish. Going back to the Roman Circus, we watched the Christians being consumed by the lions.

"Maybe it's nothing new," he continued, "but it's tiresome. I don't want to be reminded daily that people are capable of perpetrating such heinous things."

An abundance of news broadcasts on monstrous crimes further contributes to people's perception of a moral decline, philosopher Julian Wuerth suspects. "The moral shortcomings of people are much more visible to us today. Every little shortcoming makes its way into mainstream news and the Internet.

"Local news is devoted to the most sensational events because the market is responsive to that. In the past, TV stations weren't willing to offer that level of programming. Now TV producers are willing to show it because the viewers are willing to watch it," says the father of three whose family owns no television.

"People will tell you there's a lot more sin around today than there was 50 years ago," Hamner continues. "But I always remember something my grandmother Giannini said when I asked her in the early '50s about the difference between her generation and mine. 'The only difference,' she answered, 'is that people today do on the front porch what we used to do out back.'"

Earl Hamner, a College-Conservatory of Music electronic-media alumnus, created, wrote and narrated the 1970s family-TV classic "The Waltons," an autobiographical series that aired for nine seasons and won him an Emmy. He also authored the novel "Spencer's Mountain," which later became a movie starring Henry Fonda. He was also the screenwriter of the original "Charlotte's Web" film, a screenwriter for the television show "The Twilight Zone" and producer of the 1980s series "Falcon Crest."