Quiz Show

Columbia University and the Players Involved

From the onset of the film Quiz Show the viewer is told "all is not well in America". Contrary to popular belief that the 1950's was a decade of "blandness" the film gives us clues or hints towards the 1950's as the seeds of the 1960's an era of widespread social and cultural upheaval. The movie begins with a radio broadcast announcing the Russians have launched Sputnik and consequently beat us in the space race. This defeat leads to the determination on behalf of the U.S. to beat the Communists in other technological battles including the atomic, hydrogen bombs, and other forms of nuclear warfare that comes to play in the 1960's. The roots are further evident in the characters themselves.

Charlie Van Doren -- His love for teaching at CU and writing novels is put on hold so that he can be a contestant on Quiz Show. He ultimately sells out to not only CU but his father and their distinguished last name for money.

"Everything has it's price," including Charlie Van Doren. The producers of the show appealed to Charlie to buy into the deal through his profession. Your pay of $86 a week is a direct link to the crisis of education in this country, teachers they tell him are not valued enough by government and society. Think of what this would mean to the course of education, little boys and girls would be rushing to do their homework so they could be like you.

The "real" Mark (left) and Charles Van Doren.

This is exactly what happens once Charlie makes it big on the game show and enjoys celebrity status both on campus and across the world (thanks to television). While being smart used to mean "cross-eyed" kids now are excited about books and learning. Charlie is very unsure of himself and his teaching. He questions what he should tell his students (in his office when Dick is talking to him for the first time) and why he is writing the novel.

The movie makes it apparent that his last name is what makes him the "crown prince of education" not his teachings, mannerisms, or ethics. He wants to be like his father but his fallen short and sold out.

Herbie Stempel -- The Jewish contestant Charlie beats to take over the reign as longest champion and most winnings. At first Herbie appealed to the producers of the show because he was the underdog and people root for that. "It's a New York thing" it isn't however a Queens thing, which is where Herbie lives.

In addition he has the everyman quality, the whole American dream thing (melting pot), you know you too can make it rich.

After his ratings plateau he is ousted from the show. The producers say he doesn't inspire kids. "Why would you want to be an annoying Jewish guy with a sidewall haircut." They ask Herbie to lose for the cause of education. Charlie's appearance and very nature (professor) fits the role model protege' much better. The Jew loses to the gentile.

Mark Van Doren -- His depiction in the film and in Wakefield's autobiography is very similar. Both show a man embedded with his love for books, teaching, literature, etc, He supports his son's appearance on the gameshow so long as it does not interfere with his work, which should be his primary focus. Van Doren's playful yet dry sense of humor is also evident in both.

Lynette Erbe

(This entry could also go under Allen Ginsberg or Wakefield)

Jewish identity during the historical context of post-1945 American society formed as a response to anti-Semitism. Throughout our course we have looked at various people whose attitudes towards Judaism have both supported and contradicted one another. Herbert Stempel, the Jewish contestant on "Quiz Show", Allen Ginsberg (p.5 Beat Generation), and Dan Wakefield (p.46-47 New York in the Fifties) have all touched upon this idea of Jewish identity.

First, Herbert Stempel believes that there is a Jewish conspiracy on the game QUIZ SHOW. He strongly believes that after a Jewish person wins for some 14 games, he/she suddenly loses to the handsome and charming non-Jew. His fear of anti-Semitism is evident in both his claims and his actions that continue throughout the movie as Stempel attempts to justify his loss to Charles Van Doren.

Second, Allen Ginsberg is kicked out of school for writing, "Fuck the Jews" in the dirt of his room. Whether he did this in response to an anti-Semitic maid (as stated in Beat Generation) or because of his Jewish self-hatred (as expressed by Mrs. Trilling) he has anger and emotions towards Judaism that stem from his environment and from inside himself.

Lastly, Dan Wakefield (a non-Jew) ironically ends one of his chapters with a few thoughts of Jewish intellect as outsiders and as he, himself, identifying with them because of this. He cites Kushner, who wrote that Jews were attempting to gain admission in the greater American scene while Midwesterners hoped to be apart of the Jewish intellectual scene. Wakefield supports this idea by writing about graduating from this "great good place" of Columbia University when Sam Astrachan calls him a Jew - the ultimate compliment to Wakefield.

Why was Wakefield so impressed and flattered by such a statement whereas Stempel and Ginsberg were battling this notion of Judaism and their identity? The struggle Jews and non-Jews underwent during this time period helped confront anti-Semitism while creating a Jewish American identity.

Amy Eichenwald

This is a collection of quotes from those associated with Quiz Show or Columbia University. It's very interesting reading.

Meredith Walker

A link about the motion picture Quiz Show


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