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Week of 17 October 2003· Vol. VII, No. 8

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Francis Earle Barcus Photo courtesy of Barcus family


Francis Earle Barcus Photo courtesy of Barcus family


Television’s power to influence our behavior is well understood today. But in the 1950s, when the medium was still exciting and new, few Americans paused to consider how it might affect their buying habits or their children’s perspectives on family relations.

Professor Emeritus Francis Earle Barcus, a COM professor of mass communication from 1969 to 1989, was decades ahead of his time. He began studying the social effects of television almost half a century ago, and his two books and several academic papers on the subject were cited frequently by advocates for responsible children’s programming in the 1970s and 1980s.

Barcus, who lived in Jamaica Plain and was known to friends and colleagues as Earle, died on October 4. He was 76.

A native of Rossville, Ill., Barcus studied television from the time he was a doctoral student in communication at the University of Illinois in the 1950s, and eventually focused his research on its impact on children. His first book, Children’s Television: An Analysis of Programming and Advertising (1977), was a broad content analysis of children’s programs and featured startling statistics about the amount of violence on TV, how much TV children watched, and how easily advertisements could manipulate them.

His second book, Images of Life on Children’s Television: Sex Roles, Minorities, and Families (1983), argued that television programs depicting family life reinforced gender and other stereotypes and avoided serious issues such as “financial difficulties, divorce, aging members of the family, and troubles in school.”

Barcus’ wife of 56 years, Nobuko “Faith” (Araki) Barcus, describes him as a gentle, patient, and accepting person, whose work was an extension of his desire to help people. “His personality was not to be an advocate,” says Faith, who met Barcus in her native Tokyo in 1945, when he was serving in the U.S. Army. They were married in Japan and moved to the United States in 1948. “He didn’t shout at the world and tell people what they should do. But he had a meticulous mind and he would collect information and make it available to the world so that others could decide what was the best way for society to benefit from that information.”

As an extension of his academic work, Barcus served as a consultant to the Newton-based advocacy group Action for Children’s Television (ACT) during the 1970s and 1980s, and he testified before Congress on children’s susceptibility to advertising. He also was a featured speaker on the role of television in American racial issues at the 1969 World Affairs Council in Tokyo, and was among five international authorities invited to participate in an international symposium, again in Tokyo, in 1984 on how television shaped the perceptions of Japan around the world.

In his retirement, his wife says, Barcus enjoyed ballroom dancing, playing golf, bowling, and following professional basketball. He also stayed challenged intellectually, teaching himself to operate and maintain computers, and volunteering to teach a computer class at the Newton Senior Center. In addition, he served on the board of the Greater Boston Senior Computing Group, sang bass in a choir at the Senior Center, and played trombone in the First Corps of Cadets band of Brookline.

Norman Moyes, a retired COM associate professor of journalism, played alongside Barcus in the First Corps of Cadets band and often received computer assistance from his longtime friend and colleague. “Earle made progress every minute of every day,” says Moyes. “He was interested in everything and was constantly busy. I think what drove him is that he just enjoyed helping people.”

In addition to his wife, Barcus leaves his sons, Gary and Mark, and their families, including teenage grandsons Dustin, Dorian, and Dalton, all of Boston, and his daughter, Julie Starr, of San Jose, Calif. He also is survived by his brother, Hal, and his sisters, Claudine Rawdin and Connie Mockenhaupt.

A memorial service was held at Forest Hills Cemetery’s Forsyth Chapel on October 11. Donations in honor of Barcus can be sent to the Earle Barcus Fund at the Newton Senior Center, 345 Walnut Street, Newtonville, MA 02460. For more information about the fund, call 781-444-1077.


17 October 2003
Boston University
Office of University Relations