Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Rapeutationists and DIRA zombies are preconditioned for violent behavior by cinema and video game violence.

Re: Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Postby admin » Sat Nov 30, 2013 7:11 am

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 4 CONT'D.)

If I were to make the briefest summary of what children have told us about how different peoples are represented to them in the lore of crime comics, it would be that there are two kinds of people: on the one hand is the tall, blond, regular-featured man sometimes disguised as a superman (or superman disguised as a man) and the pretty young blonde girl with the super-breast. On the other hand are the inferior people: natives, primitives, savages, "ape men," Negroes, Jews, Indians, Italians, Slavs, Chinese and Japanese, immigrants of every description, people with irregular features, swarthy skins, physical deformities, Oriental features. In some crime comics the first class sometimes wears some kind of superman uniform, while the second class is in mufti. The brunt of this imputed inferiority in whole groups of people is directed against colored people and "foreign born."

When the seeds of prejudice against others first appear in a child, or when he first becomes aware of belonging to a group against which there is prejudice, depends on many diverse factors: family, education, community, social stratum. From my studies, the second apparently appears later. But in general both feelings appear much earlier than is commonly supposed. A four-year-old can imbibe prejudice from comic books, and six- or seven-year-olds are quite articulate about it. Sometimes their feeling of dislike for a group ("They are bad." "They are vicious." "They are criminals." "They are dirty." "You can't trust them.") is derived from crime comic books. In other cases, distorted stereotypes acquired at home, on the street, in school, are given new nourishment and perpetuation by comic-book reading. These conclusions are based entirely on what the children themselves say.

The pictures of these "inferior" types as criminals, gangsters, rapers, suitable victims for slaughter by either the lawless or the law, have made an indelible impression on children's minds. There can be no doubt about the correctness of this conclusion. For example, when a child is shown a comic book that he has not read and is asked to pick out the bad man, he will unhesitatingly pick out types according to the stereotyped conceptions of race prejudice, and tell you the reason for his choice. "Is he an American?" "No!"

Attacks by older children on younger ones, inspired or fortified by the race prejudice shown in comic books, are getting more frequent. I have seen such cases (which do not always come to the attention of the authorities) with victims belonging to various minorities. For the victims, this is frequently a serious traumatic emotional episode. Some juvenile gangs make it a practice to beat dark-skinned children, and they do it with comic-book brutality. So comic books provide both the methods and the vilification of the victims.

Comic books read with glee by many children, including very young ones, teach the props of anti-Semitism. There is the book with the story of the "itch-ray projector," with illustrations which might be taken directly from Nazi magazines like Streicher's Stuermer. One particularly popular comic book features the story of "Mother Mandelbaum, A True Story." Depicted as an unmistakable and repellent stereotype, she "aspires to be the biggest fence in New York." She finances bank robberies, starts a school for pickpockets, and also has a class for safecrackers and another to teach assorted kinds of violence. She personally orders and supervises the beating up of "slow payers."

When you see groups of children reading this and hear them chuckle and fill in the derogatory epithets and appellations, the result of the indoctrination is clear. It partially explains some recent episodes of vandalism and attacks on children.

As for counteracting prejudice, which some publishers claim to achieve through their heroes-who-fly-through-the-air, we have yet to see a single child who was even remotely influenced in this way by a comic book. Even the comic-book version of Uncle Tom's Cabin has been characterized by a pupil in a school magazine like this:

The Classics Comics version of Uncle Tom's Cabin gives the impression that the Negro is still that stereotyped man who sings about "going to glory" all day. Mrs. Stowe's book shows the Negro to be a human being.


Some children take for granted these comics standards about races, with more or less awareness of their implications. For others they constitute a serious traumatic experience. For example, a twelve-year-old colored girl said at the Lafargue Clinic: "I read a lot of comic books, sometimes about seven or eight a day. Love Comics, and Wonder Woman, Sheena, Superman, Archie. I don't like the jungle. She don't have no peace. Every time she turn around, she'd be fighting. I don't think they make the colored people right. The way they make them I never seen before -- their hair and big nose and the English they use. They never have an English like we have. They put them so dark -- for real I've never seen anybody before like that. White kids would think all colored people look like that, and really they aren't. Some of those children in my school don't like no white people. One girl's face was scratched up. I seen the girl, but not the fight."

The depiction of racial stereotypes in sadistic actions makes a great impression on children. It is not difficult to find out why that is so if one bothers to analyze children's psychological processes in this sphere. One effect of this fomenting of race hatred is the fact that in many children's minds mankind is divided into two groups: regular men who have the right to live, and submen who deserve to be killed. But the deeper psychological effects are more subtle. A comic book has a picture of a white girl held with her arms seized from behind by a dark-skinned man. A picture like this stands out in a child's mind quite independent of the story. The picture alone becomes the starting point for fantasy. Its sexual effect has been built up by previous pictures showing her, front and back. There is another story showing a subhuman caveman grabbing a blonde heroine.

We know that the dreams of adults often contain images of forbidden acts in which one of the participants belongs to a group of people considered socially inferior by the dreamer. In this way the forbidden act itself can break through the psychic censorship. Through such psychological mechanisms comic books give children a feeling of justification for violence and sadism, frequently in fantasy and sometimes in acts. They supply a rationalization for these primitive impulses. A large part of the violence and sadism in comic books is practiced by individuals or on individuals who are depicted as inferior, subhuman beings. In this way children can indulge in fantasies of violence as something permissible.

In many comic books dark-skinned people are depicted in rapelike situations with white girls. One picture, showing a girl nailed by her wrists to trees with blood flowing from the wounds, might be taken straight from an illustrated edition of the Marquis de Sade.

In another specimen the editorial viciousness is carried to the extreme of showing a white girl being overpowered by dark-skinned people who have tails. In another comic book the hero throws bombs and a Negro from his airplane. A picture shows the bombs and the Negro in mid-air while the hero calls out: "BOMBS AND BUMS AWAY!"

One of the most significant and deeply resented manifestations of race prejudice in the mores of the United States is the fact that in books, movies and magazines photographs of white women with bared breasts are taboo, while the same pictures of colored girls are permitted. Comic books for children make this same distinction. One such specimen had half-nude girls in all kinds of suggestive positions. Other pictures show typical whipping and flagellation scenes such as are found, outside of this children's literature, only in pornographic books. When the girls are white, there is always some covering of the breasts. Only colored girls have their breasts fully exposed.

This is a demonstration of race prejudice for children, driven home by the appeal to sexual instincts. It is probably one of the most sinister methods of suggesting that races are fundamentally different with regard to moral values, and that one is inferior to the other. This is where a psychiatric question becomes a social one.

War comics, in which war is just another setting for comic-book violence, are widely read by soldiers at the front and by children at home. It seems dubious whether this is good for the morale of soldiers; it certainly is not good for the morality of children. Against the background of regular-featured blonde Americans, the people of Asia are depicted in comic books as cruelly grimacing and toothy creatures, often of an unnatural yellow color.

False stereotypes of race prejudice exist also in the "love comics." Children can usually pick the unsatisfactory lover just by his looks.

In addition to their effect on children's ethical growth, their character development and their social maturation, comic books are a factor in a host of negative behavior manifestations: dreams and daydreams; games; nightmares; general attitudes; reactions to women, to teachers, to younger children; and so on.

Comic books act clearly as a trauma or the precipitating circumstance in nightmares and other sleep disorders. I have observed this in many cases. Nightmares occur in children under very different circumstances, of course. Often they are more or less harmless; sometimes they are premonitory signs of more serious developments. A seven-and-a-half-year-old boy was brought to the clinic with a complaint of nightmares. He told his parents he could not remember what had frightened him. Psychological examinations had uncovered nothing. Later, routine questions about comic books elicited merely that he read Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse and liked them. When I saw him alone I told him a little about what nightmares are, and that grownups have them too. And that if one remembers what they are about one has more chance not to have them any more.

"Don't you remember the least little bit of any of them?" I asked him.

"You know," the boy said, "what I really like is the Blue Beetle [a figure in a very violent crime comic book]. I read that many times. That's what I dreamed about. I don't have it at home; I get it at another boy's house."

"Who is the Blue Beetle?"

"He is like Superman. He is a beetle, but he changes into Superman and afterwards he changes into a beetle again. When he's Superman he knocks them out. Superman knocks them out with his fist. They fall down on the floor."

"If you say it is like Superman, how do you know it is?"

"I read the Superman stories. He catches them. Superman knocks the guys out."

It is not difficult to understand that a child stimulated to fantasies about violent and sadistic adventures and about a man who changes into an insect gets frightened. Kafka for the kiddies!

The recent output of horror comic books, a refined or rather debased form of crime comics, is especially apt to interfere with children's sleep. In a typical specimen a man-eating shark changes into a girl. You are shown the gruesome picture of an arm bitten off by the shark with blood flowing from the severed stump. And the moral ending?

"No one would ever believe ... that the ghost of a lovely girl could inhabit a shark's body ... "

All kinds of monstrous creatures inhabit these comic books. They have in common that their chief pastime seems to be to kill people, eat them or drink their blood. A boy of eight read many comics during the day without any ill effect being apparent to his family. But after a while he demanded that after dark his comic books be securely locked away. He insisted on this every night because, he said, "I am afraid that these horrible creatures would come out and attack me in the night."

A common clinical syndrome in comic-book readers is rough and blustering conduct during the day, associated with fear dreams at night.

Sleep disorders also occur of course in children who say they do not read comics, though they know what is in them. Sometimes this is their method of telling you that they read those books, too, but either feel spontaneously guilty about it or know that their parents do not want them to do it. A girl of eight had been taken by her mother to the family physician because her sleep was disturbed. The physician had prescribed a sedative, but that had not helped the situation.

When I was alone with the girl, without her mother, she said, "Sometimes I dream that something happens to me. I read comic books, but only funny ones, not mystery ones. Some of my friends read mystery ones." When I asked her what "mystery ones" are, she answered eagerly, "When somebody shoots somebody! Sometimes they try to shoot the hero and they shoot people who have money when they want their money. They shoot anybody they want to. Sometimes there are girls in the mystery comic books. The girls, sometimes they shoot and sometimes they get shot. Sometimes the girls have a lot of money. They are dressed in pretty clothes, fancy clothes, diamonds, sequins, pearls. Sometimes a lady works with a killer and when the lady is going to tell the police, the men will shoot her. Sometimes they do bad things to girls. Sometimes they shoot them, sometimes they strangle them. I don't know what they do, I don't read those comic books." In the ordinary statistics based on the primitive questionnaire method such a girl would appear as reading only harmless funny animal comics, and the sleep disorder would be ascribed to some other cause.

The time when children read comics has something to do with the causation of sleep disorders. Many children read them before they go to sleep, often unknown to their parents, until very late.

Some typical attitudes in children, particularly pre-adolescent children, are caused, stimulated, encouraged or rationalized by comic-book reading. For example, there is a kind of arrogance and bravado sometimes combined with a tendency to cruelty or to deceit and trickery. Such attitudes are by no means always either fixed personality traits or deeply ingrained characteristics caused by early childhood experiences, or the natural expressions of an abnormal temperament. I have often found that such attitudes, however serious they may seem, may be merely a facade, the psychological structure of which cannot be understood without a full knowledge of the mass seduction by comic books.

An important aid in understanding these attitudes and their relation to comic books is our finding that frequently the influence of comic books is not exerted directly, but comes through other children. The influence of children on children is generally underestimated. Parents have sometimes told me that what I have said about comic books may be true, but that doesn't affect their children because they do not read such trash. One of my answers to this is generally, "Don't you think your child will later on, either in school or in other places, meet other children who have been steeped in comics and have absorbed their attitudes concerning sex, violence, women, money, races and other subjects that make up social life?"

In many cases where there is no question of a definite neurosis or of serious delinquency, comic books have exerted a tangible and harmful influence. This always takes place, of course, in the setting of other factors. It should be self-understood that the effect of a stimulus -- any stimulus -- on a child's life is not so simple as the impact of one billiard ball against another. A child's life, unlike a billiard ball, stores many memories and the game of life is not played on a smooth, green, level surface.

An attitude which I have found most frequently engendered by crime comics is an attitude of brutality. Of course that is sometimes connected with sadism, with sado-masochistic tendencies, with cruelty, with sex, with hostility and aggressiveness. But we may not be seeing the forest for the trees if we start right off analyzing brutality into its supposed components. Nor does it help to say that children have always been cruel -- with the implication that they always will be cruel and that cruelty has no cause, but is a natural attribute of children.

Many children are so sheltered that they have not come into contact with real brutality. They learn it from comic books. Many others have had some contact with brutality, but not to a comic-book degree. If they have a revulsion against it, crime comics turn this revulsion into indifference. If they have a subconscious liking for it, comic books will reinforce it, give it form by teaching appropriate methods and furnish the rationalization that it is what every "big shot" does.

The variety of different kinds of brutality described and depicted in detail is enormous. Children have told me graphically about daydreams induced by them. Brutality in fantasy creates brutality in fact. Children's games have become more brutal in recent years and there is no doubt that one factor involved in this is the brutalizing effect of children's comics.

An eight-year-old boy was examined and treated because he "wakes up at night scared." His Rorschach Test showed that he was "concerned with Superman kind of things and with supernatural things. A good bit of blood in the pictures." "The kids around the block," he told us, "have millions of comic books. In school there is a gang, they are littler than me. Once I was walking to school. They sneaked behind me and they held my hands behind my back. Once the whole gang knocked a girl's head against the wall. They jabbed a needle into her lip. They kept jabbing it in. Once a boy played sticking a penknife into my back."

A Lafargue social worker investigated the case of an eleven-year-old boy who "played" with a boy several years younger. He put a rope around his neck, drawing it so tight that his neck became swollen, and the little boy almost strangled. His father happened to catch them and was able to prevent the incident from turning into a catastrophe. About a month later the eleven-year-old beat the younger child so that his mouth was all bloody. He did not know that one should not hit a younger and smaller boy. What he did know was that this sort of thing was done in innumerable comic-book stories about murders and robberies.

Realistic games about torture, unknown fifteen years ago, are now common among children. To indicate the blood which they see so often in crime comics they use catchup or lipstick. A boy of four and a girl of five were playing with a three-year-old boy. With a vicious look on her face the girl took hold of the younger boy and said, "Let's torture him!" Then she pushed him against the wall and marked him up with lipstick and said, "That is all blood!" One must know children's games to understand their minds, and one must know comic books to understand the games.

Violent games may be harmless enough, but only a hairline divides them from the acts of petty vandalism and destructiveness which have so increased in recent years. Camp counsellors have told me that with regard to some particularly destructive and ingenious schemes the inspiration came directly from comic books brought to the camp in plentiful numbers by the parents on Sundays.

The act most characteristic of the brutal attitude portrayed by comic books is to smack a girl in the face with your hand. Whatever else may happen, afterwards, no man is ever blamed for this. On the contrary, such behavior is glamorized as big-shot stuff in the context, and enhances the strength and prestige of the boy or man who does it.

In a comic book "Authorized by the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers" this lesson is driven home. A young girl is being initiated as a confederate into the slot-machine protection racket. She sees how her friend beats up an old man, knocks off his glasses, etc. At first she does not like it. But later, after she had seen such brutal treatment repeated as routine in the racket, she says: "One gets accustomed to brutality after a while!" That is one instance where I agree with a comic-book character.

In another comic book the murderer says to his victim: "I think I'll give it to yuh in the belly! Yuh get more time to enjoy it!"

Is shooting in the stomach to inflict more pain really a natural tendency of children?

Often the ending of the stories, which is generally supposed to be moral, is an orgy of brutality like this ending of a horror comic-book story: "His body was torn to shreds, his face an unrecognizable mass of bloody and clawed flesh!"

In many comics stories there is nothing but violence. It is violence for violence's sake. The plot: killing. The motive: to kill. The characterization: killer. The end: killed. In one comic book the scientist ("mad," of course), Dr. Simon Lorch, after experimenting on himself with an elixir, has the instinct to "kill and kill again." He "flails" to death two young men whom he sees changing a tire on the road. He murders two boys he finds out camping. And so on for a week. Finally he is killed himself.

The injury-to-the-eye motif is an outstanding example of the brutal attitude cultivated in comic books -- the threat or actual infliction of injury to the eyes of a victim, male or female. This detail, occurring in uncounted instances, shows perhaps the true color of crime comics better than anything else. It has no counterpart in any other literature of the world, for children or for adults.

According to our case material the brutalizing effect of this injury-to-the-eye motif is twofold. In the first place, it causes a blunting of the general sensibility. Children feel in a vague subconscious way that if this kind of thing is permitted then other acts are so much less serious that it cannot be so wrong to indulge in them either.

An eight-year-old girl said to her mother, "Let's play a game. Someone is coming to see us. I'll stamp on him, knock his eyes out and cut him up."

But it has also a direct effect. Children have done deliberate harm to the eyes of other children, an occurrence which before the advent of crime comics I had never encountered among the thousands of children I examined. On a number of occasions I have asked juveniles who used homemade zip guns what harm they could do with so little power. I received prompt reply: "You shoot in the eye. Then it works."

The children of the early forties pointed out the injury-to-the-eye to us as something horrible. The children of 1954 take it for granted. A generation is being desensitized by these literal horror images.

One comic shows a man slashing another man across the eyeballs with a sword. The victim: "MY EYES! I cannot see!"

In a run-of-the-mill crime comic a man with brass knuckles hits another man (held fast by a third man) in the eyes, one after the other. Dialogue: "Now his other glimmer, Pete! Only sort of twist the knuckles this time!"

In a Western comic book the "Gouger" is threatening the hero's eye with his thumb, which has a very long and pointed nail. This is called the "killer's manicure." He says: "YORE EYES ARE GONNA POP LIKE GRAPES WHEN OL' GOUGER GETS HIS HANDS ON YOU!. . . HERE GO THE PEEPERS!"

In one comic book a gangster gains control over another man's racket and tapes his eyes "with gauze that has been smeared with an infectious substance!" He says: "When I get through with ya, ya'll never look at another case of beer again!"

When a policeman is blinded, the criminal says: "Well, he don't have to worry about them eyes no more!"

Girls are frequent victims of the eye motif, as in the typical: "My eyes! My eyes! Don't! PLEASE! I'll tell you anything you want to know, only don't blind me! PLEASE!"

It is a pity that such quotes are never mentioned in discussions by the expert defenders of comic books who "have never seen a child adversely affected by a comic book."

One of the best avenues to the unguarded minds of children, as of adults, is the study of their dreams. Investigation of children's dreams, especially in relation to various maladjustments and delinquencies, has been greatly neglected. From many years of study one definite statement can be made in connection with the eye motif. In children's dreams eyes often play a role, just as with adults. But injuries to the eye and gouging out of eyes in dreams used to be of extreme rarity. Even where it existed in nightmare dreams, it occurred in disguised form. Nowadays after years of comic-book indoctrination, such dreams in children or young people are not so rare.

There is an interplay between the stimuli from comic books and from life. A twelve-year-old girl was referred to the Clinic. She told us:

"Me and some girls and boys were playing. A boy said he was going to hit me in the eye. He did it with an umbrella-spoke."

Her mother confirmed this. One might expect -- if one did not know the comic-book atmosphere in which American children grow up -- that such a child might shy away from violence. But she told me she liked to look at killing, especially "how men kill ladies."

In such a case it is hard to say where the tendency to female sado-masochism comes from -- from the violent play in the streets or from crime comic books or from the temper of the times which breeds both and affects individual lives so deeply and so early.

In children who read a lot of comic books there is a typical comic-book syndrome. It has these features:

1) The child feels spontaneously guilty about reading the violent, sadistic and criminal stories, and about fantasies stimulated by them.

2) He is made to feel guilty about them by others.

3) He reads them surreptitiously.

4) He lies and says he does not read crime comics, but only "Walt Disney comics, Looney Tunes and Merry Melody comics." Typical is the remark of an eight-year-old child at the end of our interview: "Please don't tell my mother that I read Crime Does Not Pay and Superman! I keep them always on the bottom of the heap."

5) He buys comic books with money which he is supposed to use for something else, or he steals to get comic-book money.

This comic-book syndrome occurs in children in all walks of life who are in no way psychologically predisposed. Of course in children in bad social circumstances it is apt to occur more frequently. Child psychologists who do not know that these children read crime comic books secretly and who do not gain a child's confidence fully cannot diagnose it.

Since comic books may have such diverse effects on children, from distortion of human values to nightmares and violent games, one must make clear to oneself what psychological mechanisms are involved. The influence consists in a continuation or repetition of the contents of the stories in life, either in thought or in action. The simplest mechanism is just plain imitation.

This factor of copying in action a detail from a comic book has been brought home by the cases where children hanged themselves.

It is in the youngest children that one can see the process of imitation most clearly at work. A four-year-old boy in Florida looked through his brother's comic books and his mother found him under a tree stark naked, with a long knife in his hands. Stunned, she asked him why he had undressed himself, and what he was doing. He replied, "The man in the comics did it." Later he showed her pictures where some "Mongols" had a white man stripped naked and one of them had a long knife to cut out the American's tongue.

In California a very handsome six-year-old boy on his way home from school one day trudged to the top of a steep cliff. An ardent comic-book reader, he had translated his reading into practice and made for himself a flying cape or magic cloak. Taking a brisk run he jumped off the cliff to fly as his comic-book heroes did. Seriously injured, he told his mother, "Mama, I almost did fly!" A few days later he died from the injuries he had received.

How the comic-book defenders can deny the role of imitation in good faith is hard to see. During one of the debates in the British House of Commons, where the defense of English children against American comics was discussed, one member, a former judge, mentioned a case he had tried. Some juveniles had attacked another child on Hampstead Heath in London. He summed up his opinion: "Their crime was in fact imitative. They had seen the glorification of violence as illustrated in these comics; they had seen how the heroes used the rope, the dagger, the knife and the gun; they had seen how they were glorified, and they simply imitated the example of the heroes portrayed in these lurid publications."

Sometimes it is contended that imitation is far too simple a mechanism to explain anything in the behavior of children. Does not modern psychology know much more now about the complex behavior of human beings, about unconscious factors, infantile experiences and similar factors? This argument is pseudoerudite and utterly false. A similar misunderstanding is sometimes found in popular writings about modern physics. It is true that the general theory of relativity embraces complex happenings in the physical world. But that does not mean that for innumerable simple happenings the laws of gravitation are not adequate. If an apple falls from a table, Newton is enough for our understanding of how to keep the apples on the table next time. For that we do not need Einstein. Newtonian physics is a special case of Einstein's physics. Just as the laws of gravitation were not abolished by Einstein, so the psychological mechanism of imitation is not abolished in its field of application by the deeper psychology of Freud.

Conscious imitation is only a small part of the psychological processes initiated by comics reading. Beneath is a kind of subconscious imitation called identification. The bridge of associations that links a child in this way to a comic-book figure and causes identification may be very slight. Rational resemblance or logical comparison has relatively little to do with identification. What is important is the emotional part of the reaction. The child gets pleasure from poring over what a comic-book figure does, is emotionally stirred and identifies himself with the figure that is active, successful, dominates a situation and satisfies an instinct, even though the child may only half understand what that instinct means. He looks for the same sensation again and becomes conditioned to identify himself with the same type that stimulates him to seek and satisfy the same pleasure again.

In investigating the mechanism of identification in individual children with individual comic books, it became clear to me that comic books are conditioning children to identify themselves with the strong man, however evil he may be. The hero in crime comics is not the hero unless he acts like a criminal. And the criminal in comic books is not a criminal to the child because he acts like a hero. He lives like a hero until the very end, and even then he often dies like a hero, in a burst of gunfire and violence.

Identification, which is part of the conditioning process, is of course greatly influenced by a child's other or earlier experiences. So that even when one studies such a factor as comic books in relative isolation, one must take into account many other factors in a child's life. The mechanism of identification, therefore, is at the same time a cause and a result. Identification itself may or may not lead to imitative action. The reading of crime comics is not a release in action, but leads more to passivity and daydreams. Where it does result in activity, the actions are never constructive. The scenes of sadism, sex and crime in comic books arouse the child's emotions, but leave him only a limited scope of release in action. These actions can only be masturbatory or delinquent.

Since the heroes of crime comics invariably commit violent acts of one kind or another just as the criminals do, the child must identify himself with violent characters.

It has been claimed that if a child identifies himself with a violent character in a comic book it shows the individual child's psychological need to express his own aggression. But this reasoning is far too mechanical. Comic books are not a mirror of the individual child's mind; they are a mirror of the child's environment. They are a part of social reality. They not only have an effect, they also have a cause. When we level a constant barrage of crime and violence at young children, it leads them inevitably to preoccupation with these subjects. Subjective and objective factors are closely interwoven in a reciprocal relationship. In this preoccupation there is an element of projection of inner factors and an element of selection from the environment. The very fact that crime comics are socially tolerated shows how much expression of hostility we tolerate and even encourage. The more hostility there is in a child's home, the more threatening he finds his school and social environment, the more likely he is to show identifications with people who fight each other as they do in comic books.

I had occasion to follow the development of a girl from the age of two to nine. Before she had learned to read, she began to pore over comic books. Her favorites were Westerns. She got them from her older brothers who had stacks of all kinds of crime comics. There was considerable conflict in their home, which this little girl witnessed. In conversations with her, as well as on projective tests, it was noteworthy that she was mostly preoccupied with people and animals being "mad" at each other. You might say that this preoccupation with hostility could not come from the comic books because so many children who do not have it read comics. You could also say that her preoccupation could not come from the conflict at home because so many young children have a similar home environment and do not have such fantasies. The correct interpretation is that both factors were operative, interacting with each other, and reinforcing each other.

The general lesson we have deduced from our large case material is that the bad effects of crime comic books exist potentially for all children and may be exerted along these lines:

1) The comic-book format is an invitation to illiteracy.

2) Crime comic books create an atmosphere of cruelty and deceit.

3) They create a readiness for temptation.

4) They stimulate unwholesome fantasies.

5) They suggest criminal or sexually abnormal ideas.

6) They furnish the rationalization for them, which may be ethically even more harmful than the impulse.

7) They suggest the forms a delinquent impulse may take and supply details of technique.

8) They may tip the scales toward maladjustment or delinquency.

Crime comics are an agent with harmful potentialities. They bring about a mass conditioning of children, with different effects in the individual case. A child is not a simple unit which exists outside of its living social ties. Comic books themselves may be the virus, or the cause of a lack of resistance to the social virus of a harmful environment.
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Re: Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Postby admin » Sun Dec 01, 2013 11:27 pm

5. Retooling for Illiteracy

The Influence of Comic Books on Reading

"reading maketh a full man." -
-- Bacon


While we were carrying out our investigations on the effects of comic books, gathering more and more cases, following up old ones and analyzing the new comic books themselves, there were changes going on. Not that crime comics got any better -- that was believed only by those who did not study them.

One interesting new development was that whole comic books and comic-book stories appeared in other publications that did not look like comic books from outside. Sometimes a comic book would be sold as a comic as usual, but would also appear, without its cover, in an ordinary magazine. Thus the reader is relieved of the trouble of tackling connected text and can peruse at least some of the stories in the magazine by the simple picture-gazing method appropriate to the comic book format. Or maybe the idea is that the young adult readers of such a magazine have barely graduated from comic books and find regular reading too hard. A regular twenty-five-cent pulp magazine, for example, has in the middle of it a whole sexy science-fiction comic book, which alone and under a different title sells for ten cents. When the enticing blonde heroine says: "Keep those paws to yourself, space-rat!" the magazine reader can save himself the effort of reading. It is clear from the picture what is meant. The magazine prints some enthusiastic responses from-readers to the comic-book section innovation.

"Your comic section is wonderful," writes one. "Being only 16 years old," writes another, "I just love your illustrated section. Please make it longer."

This undercover extension of the comic book format has also spread to what on the outside appear to be regular magazines in the children's field. Children's Digest, published by Parents' Magazine at the stiff price of thirty-five cents, contains sections in typical comic-book form with bad colors and crowded balloons. The text has the comic-book flavor, too.

A similar children's magazine, Tween Age Digest, at twenty-five cents, also looks like a regular magazine, but has comic-book sections. One of these is a supercondensed comic-book version of Don Quixote. You see him lying on the ground: "The servants beat Don Quixote mercilessly and although he swore vengeance he was helpless as a beetle on his back."

When a publisher was asked recently about this spreading of the comic-book style to regular publications he answered: "That is simple. We are retooling for illiteracy."

All the negative effects of crime comics on children in the intellectual, emotional and volitional spheres are intensified by the harm done in the perceptual sphere. Comic books are death on reading.

The dawn of civilization was marked by the invention of writing. Reading, therefore, is not only one of the cornerstones of civilized life, it is also one of the main foundations of a child's adjustment to it.

Children are like flowers. If the soil is good and the weather is not too catastrophic, they will grow up well enough. You do not have to threaten them, you do not have to psychoanalyze them, and you do not have to punish them any more than wind and storm punish flowers. But there are some things you have to bring to them, teach them, patiently and expertly. The most important of these is reading. A readiness to learn to read is developed by healthy children spontaneously. But for the reading process, and especially for the habit of reading, comprehending, assimilating and utilizing the printed word, the child requires the help of his elders.

When we indulge in huge generalizations in discussing such questions as why people act this way or that, why they believe or tolerate this or that, or the other, we usually forget the simple question of why it is that so many people cannot read properly. Statistics on illiteracy indicate not only that many people do not read books, but also that many cannot read well enough to absorb a book or an average magazine article. According to Ruth McCoy Harris, in an article on reading, one out of twenty-five Americans cannot read at all, and three out of five adults "do not read well. Millions read nothing but the comics."

Reading difficulties in childhood constitute one of the most important areas of mental hygiene. This has been recognized by the establishing of what Dr. Stella Center, a remedial-reading expert, calls "a new institution in the educational world," reading clinics. Reading clinics are unfortunately very few, children with reading difficulties unbelievably numerous. According to a survey made by a committee and presented at the Secondary Education Board in 1951, 5 per cent to 10 per cent of high school children and college students are so deficient in reading that they need individual remedial instruction, and an additional 10 per cent to 15 per cent read so poorly that small group instruction for them is desirable. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 12 per cent of all American children fail in learning to read as well as the average of their class.

A survey sponsored by the New York City Association of Teachers of English and the New York City Association of Teachers of Speech, made public in 1952, reveals these significant data: of students entering high school as freshmen, 33 per cent are retarded at least one year in reading; by the time these students have reached the fifth term the percentage has risen to 40 per cent. Of the children routinely referred to the Queens General Hospital Mental Hygiene Clinic for any reason, every eighth child had a reading problem. Sometimes this had not been recognized before either by teacher or parents, and the child had been punished without the root of his difficulties being known to him or his guardians.

Reading troubles in children are on the increase. An important cause of this increase is the comic book. A very large proportion of children who cannot read well habitually read comic books. They are not really readers, but gaze mostly at the pictures, picking up a word here and there. Among the worst readers is a very high percentage of comic-book addicts who spend very much time "reading" comic books. They are bookworms without books.

Parents and other adults are often deceived into believing the children can read because they "read so many comics." In teaching children to read, the schools have to compete with the pictures of comic books. Low-grade literacy is the long-range result. One of the Lafargue researchers, a physician, visited the library of a public school. There were about thirty boys there. Two of them were reading newspapers and eleven of them were reading comic books.

Scientific understanding of reading disorders requires a knowledge of the research done on reading during the last few decades, of brain pathology, of the modern psychological tests -- general, projective and special reading tests -- a psychiatric understanding of children, and a concrete acquaintance with the social conditions of children and the educational process that affects them.

Reading is not a circumscribed, isolated function of the brain, but a highly complex performance. Visual comprehension contains many more abstract elements than, for example, motor behavior. Psychologically speaking, reading is a very high performance. To see a real apple and try to grasp it is much simpler than to read the word apple, which is on the one hand an abstraction and yet has potentially many associations not only visually but also in the sphere of hearing, touch, smell and taste.

Reading disorders are much more frequent in some countries than in others -- in the United States and England, for example, rather than in Germany. In a study of 51,000 children in the schools of Munich, contrary to expectation, only ten were found (ages ten to fourteen) with serious reading disorders. So it is not accidental that most of the research in this field has been done in England and the United States. The difference in frequency may have little to do with the methods of examination or the methods used in teaching reading, or with any differences between German and English and American children. It is the result of differences in the language itself. In the English language, spelling is much more difficult because the spelling and the sound may be so different. The child has to learn to pronounce a word differently from what it seems to be according to its spelling. The letter a, for instance, has to be pronounced differently in different words, while for the child learning to read in German the letter a has only one visual vocal association. In English, the letter u may represent twenty-four different sounds.

The process of reading requires intactness of complex brain mechanisms which regulate the functions of organization (putting things in order), direction, spatial orientation and association between different special sense data. If a child has a weakness in this respect, it will not show up in any simple performance. It may be outgrown, remedied by experience or compensated for. If, however, a very high level of performance is demanded, such as reading and knowing the spelling and sound of such words as through and trough, bow and bough, the symptom that appears on the surface may be a reading disability.

Many children whose trouble lies in the field of reading are wrongly diagnosed. This is due primarily to the fact that the frustration from the reading failure leads to all kinds of other emotional troubles. There is in fact a vicious circle. Emotional factors may lead to reading difficulties and chronic reading failure may cause emotional disturbances. Often behavior disorders clear up when the reading disorder is cured, and reading improves when emotional problems are straightened out. In my routine work over many years in mental hygiene clinics I have found children with reading disability wrongly committed to institutions for mental defectives, regarded as psychopathic or incorrigible without any regard for their reading disability, or given the facile and so often false diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia. These erroneous diagnoses, as well as the prevalent neglect of children's reading difficulties, are the more deplorable because most of these children could be helped.

The diagnosis of reading disorders is established by special reading tests, the selection of tests being adapted to the individual case, and the test results evaluated in combination with a general psychiatric and social study of the child.

There is a high correlation between intelligence, vocabulary and reading. Comic-book readers are handicapped in vocabulary building because in comics all the emphasis is on the visual image and not on the proper word. These children often know all that they should not know about torture, but are unable to read or spell the word. For practical purposes a basis for diagnosis, as well as therapy, is intelligence. The child with reduced intelligence whose reading level is up to the level of his intelligence, but below expectancy for his age and grade, is considered a case of reading retardation.

When the child's reading level is below his mental level, the condition is regarded as a reading disability. If the reading ability of a very bright child is average for his age and grade, he is actually functioning below his potentialities for learning and deserves special remedial attention, because he is not up to his reading grade level according to tests.

The word specific is sometimes added to reading disability and the diagnostic label "specific reading disability" used. But this addition means very little. Usually the disorder is not specific, although it does require specific treatment, that is, remedial-reading training. Lack of interest in reading is often a reaction to failure in reading, a symptom indicating that other causal factors are operating in the creation of a reading problem. It may be a reaction to dislike or fear of school, pointing to more serious underlying difficulties. Failure in reading occurs not infrequently because a child has developed the illusion that he can read because he can follow a comic-book story from the pictures with the occasional reading of a word or two in the balloons. The bad reading and/or language habits he develops from such reading interfere with laying the foundation for proper reading habits. The basis of a child's future reading career is usually laid down in the first and second grades. It is at this stage that comic books do the greatest harm with respect to reading. Children who may be most efficient in other spheres get more and more behind in mastering the reading process. Instead of learning good reading habits they acquire the habit of not reading. They become slow readers, meanwhile continuing to read their comic books.

The hereditary factor has been grossly exaggerated. The theories according to which reading disabilities are chiefly due to heredity express the most reactionary attitude. They relieve us of the responsibility, which is so necessary for purposes of prevention, to evaluate properly the psychological and social factors.

The most significant causes of reading difficulties are: visual defects -- particularly far-sightedness and poor fusion resulting from eye-muscle imbalance; auditory defects; speech defects; prolonged illness; frequent absences from school; frequent changes of school; emotional maladjustment; foreign language background; home conditions in their socio-economic and emotional aspects; poor teaching; lack of reading readiness.

Reading readiness is a most important concept. It is the acquired ability to profit from reading. In the British literature on reading disabilities it is spoken of as "timing." It is characterized by such factors as intellectual development, visual and auditory perception, language development, background of experience and social behavior.

This is precisely one of the points where comic books are so harmful. They retard or even interfere with reading readiness. In this they may act as a prime causal factor or merely as an aggravating influence. Comic-book reading is an inadequate experience. The child fastens on one experience at the expense of others. If he is given these wrong or harmful experiences, he loses out on constructive experiences.

An important area where comic books do specific harm is the acquisition of fluent left-to-right eye movements, which is so indispensable for good reading. The eyes have to form the habit of going from left to right on the printed line, then returning quickly to the left at a point slightly lower. Reversal tendencies and confusions are common among children at the age of six. As better reading habits are acquired, including the all-important left-to-right movements, reversals and other errors gradually diminish and may automatically disappear. It is different with the comic-book reader who acquires the habit of reading irregular bits of printing here and there in balloons instead of complete lines from left to right.

The best understanding of reading difficulties is obtained in the process of therapy. Success may be achieved by a variety of methods. The patient work of the remedial-reading teacher gets the best results if it is combined with understanding psychotherapy, constructive social service work and tactful family counseling. The reading teacher should work just a little below the child's level, so that the child will not get discouraged and will start emotionally with a successful and reassuring experience from the beginning. Comic-book reading is nowadays a real (though often not recognized) obstacle to therapy, for it is difficult -- if not impossible -- to keep a child away from comic books which are so temptingly displayed wherever he goes.

I have had occasion to study the reading problem specifically on over one hundred cases studied and treated at the Remedial Reading Clinic which I founded and organized at the Queens General Hospital and which functions under the direction of a trained remedial reading teacher. These children represented about every variety of reading disorder, and the results of their treatment were highly encouraging. The general gains they made were due chiefly to overcoming resistance to reading, increased security and confidence and amount of work accomplished. In the last respect comic-book readers are also handicapped. If a child can read good books, he can talk or even brag about it to his parents and others. The sort of community of interest established between children, and between them and adults, by reading and knowing the same stories and classics is one of the benefits derived by children from reading, and one that is lost to comic-book readers. They also lose the interest of being read to, because looking at pictures has robbed them of the art of listening. They cannot tell adults what they read and win approval by showing that they know by their own effort something that is interesting to adults. They are left with disjointed bits of reading about banks robbed and girls bound and beaten which are better left undiscussed with parents.

Reading disorders existed, of course, long before comic books. We know that they are due to a great variety of factors, but among these factors for the present-day child comic books have a definite place. Moreover reading difficulties among children have increased and are continuing to increase with the rise of the comic book.

The comic-book industry has successfully spread the fantastic idea that comic books are actually good for children's reading. So the fundamental question arises, How many children suffering from reading disorders are comic-book readers? The answer is simple. Most of them are. Comic books, especially crime comics, are a significant part of these children's lives. If anything, they read them earlier and in greater numbers than other children.

Twelve-year-old Kenneth was referred by his school. Reading tests showed him to be an almost total non-reader. He "reads" fourteen to twenty comic books a day. Questioned about this, he says proudly, "Oh, yes! I can read some words! I can read guns, police, Donald Duck and horse. That's all. When I'm on the subway I can read Times Square. But when I had to go to Floral Park once I couldn't read it so I missed the stop."

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SEX: AGE: SCHOOL GRADE: READING GRADE: COMIC BOOKS

boy: 13: 8th: 3rd: A few comic books once in a while. Looks at pictures.
boy: 12: 6th: 2nd: About 15 comic books a week. "Reads" most of them.
boy: 12: 5th: 3rd: About 25-30 comic books a week. Looks at pictures; reads "sometimes."
boy: 12: 6th: primer; below 1st About 15 comic books a week. Looks at pictures.
boy: 12: 7th: 2nd: About 6 comic books a week. Looks at pictures; tries to read
boy: 11: 6th: 1st: 50-75 comic books a week, 10 to 15 at a time. Looks at pictures.
boy: 11: 3rd: 2nd: 5 to 8 comic books a week. Looks at pictures. Tries to read.
girl: 11: ungraded 2nd: 2 to 6 comic books a week. Reads and looks at pictures.
boy: 10: 5th: 2nd: 20 comic books a week. Looks at pictures.
boy: 10: 4th: 2nd: About 3 comic books a week. Looks at pictures. Now trying to read.
girl: 9 3rd: 2nd: About 5 comic books a week. Looks at pictures


An interesting sidelight on such a sample group is the fact that these eleven children coming from families screened by social workers for attendance at a free clinic were an economic asset to the comic-book industry to the tune of almost twenty dollars a week.

Severe reading disorders and chronic addiction to comic books are very often associated. That alone indicates that comics do not work in the direction of literacy. Norman, aged twelve, had a severe reading disability owing to a visual disorder for which he had received treatment. His drawings gave evidence of some disorientation and distortion. Such a boy is in need of a great deal of careful remedial training. But instead of giving him early diagnosis and treatment, society made a comic-book addict out of him: "I read all different kinds of crime comics. I read many of them. I get the point of the story by just looking at the pictures."

Raymond, aged nine, was in the fourth grade. His mother said, "He does not learn well in school and cries at night." It was found that he needed remedial-reading training at the grade-1 level. Comic books absorbed most of his time and attention: "My favorites are all of them. I like the escape stuff. I looked at comic books that had all about escape, like Batman, a prisoner escaping from the prison. I used to wake up at night screaming. Since my mother left the light on in the living room, I haven't had that so much. In the dream, when I scream, I can't remember anything in the morning. I read about five comic books a day. I keep looking at them."

Reading difficulties are of course common in the school classes for children with retarded mental development. We have therefore in our investigation made special studies in these classes. They afford additional conclusive proof that severe reading difficulties and maximum comic-book reading go hand in hand, and that far from being a help to reading, comic books are a causal and reinforcing factor in children's reading disorders.

Here is an abstract of a survey of a whole ungraded class made by one of my assistants, who is a teacher and a psychologist. This class was composed entirely of boys. They were unselected cases of a series. The teacher had considerable difficulty in teaching them to read. She felt that even the language in the comic books interfered with learning to read. They could not read the original words, so it did not help their reading power when in comic books the word was abbreviated or in dialect. For example, in comics the children saw th' when they did not know how to read the word the, or they saw gal when they could not recognize the word girl. The teacher also found that comic books emphasized the poor features of the children's environment. The favorite scenes in comic books were precisely what children in slum areas, for instance, see too often in real life: assault and brutality, women who are hit or beaten, pocketbook snatching, etc. The teacher found that comic books were a definite hindrance not only to the reading progress, but also to the acquisition of social principles by these handicapped children. Every child in this class had been studied for two years by the same teacher. The children who were transferred to other classes or were late admissions were not included in this survey. Such a survey shows how children who are both socially and psychologically handicapped have to face the added complication of crime comics.

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AGE: HIGHEST GRADE REACHED: I.Q.: READING GRADE: COMMENTS:

Tommy: 11 yrs.: 3rd: 72: 0: House where family lives is in a very deteriorated condition. Boy sleeps in same bed with brothers aged 6 and 12. He is considered "very wise in the ways of the street."

Comic books: "I like ghost stories and murder comics. They teach you not to curse nobody."

Ralph: 11 yrs.: 5th: 69: 1.5: Took money from children in the lower grades. Family lives in basement apartment with large rat-holes, broken floor boards, flies and leaking overhead pipes; furniture worn past recognition. Father unemployed; mother in poor health. Sleeps in one bed with two brothers aged 6 and 13.

Comic books: "In crime comics they murder people with guns and knife and strangle them. They stick up banks and stagecoach. My sister looks at murder comics and at night screams that she sees a man over there. Some men kill girls 'cause the ladies be rich. Men see lady walking down street and push them in front of train, sometimes tie them up. Some boys try to do like what's in the comic books. They take ladies' pocketbooks and beat them up and run off. Women kill the men, knife 'em, sometimes take men to dance and while dancing jook [sic] them in the back with a knife."

Harry: 9 yrs.: 3rd: 73: 1.3: Good home conditions. Spends a lot of time with television.

Comic books: "I like Gangbusters, Crime Does Not Pay, Batman and Superman. They do murders, like shooting. The girls do things to the men. Catch bad men and take them to the law. Bullets bounce off girls in Super Girl. She can fly and swing on ropes."

George: 10 yrs.: 3rd: 74: 1.3: Very tough little boy who will fight anyone of whatever size or age. Sleeps in one bed with three brothers aged 2, 5 and 11.

Comic books: "I don't remember the names of the comic books. They hold up coffee store and when girl reach for gun shoot them. Man make girls hold up stores. Other people learn about killing and taking ladies' pocketbooks. They learn about murders, but not me. I learn good stuff. Don't take nothing from no kid's house when you go up their house."

Henry: 10 yrs.: 2nd: 65: 1.2: Lives with foster parents who do not speak English. Basement apartment consists of kitchen and bedroom.

Comic books: "I like Superman. I forget the bad things. I forget all that's in the crime books. I forget about how they robbed the bank. The men want to kill the girls. Maybe because they have jewels."

John: 12 yrs.: 4th: 67: 2.1: Sleeps with 13-year-old sister in one bedroom. Parents separated.

Comic books: "Captain Marvel was fighting ants and the ants grow big. Had a lady and was going to kill her and he escaped and fought ants and saved the lady. An ant helped him. In mysteries and crime comics they poison each other, dynamite caves and blow people up. Girls play men for fools and when men rob banks they give money to the women and they buy mink coats and when men don't like it they kill them. Superman ladies hardly do anything."

Dick: 12 yrs.: 4th: 54: 1.4: Father left family when boy was very young.

Comic books: "I like the way they fight and when they kill people. The books tells about murder, killing and shooting and some love."

Peter: 11 yrs.: 3rd: 72: 0: Mother is dead.

Comic books: "In murder books men steal and throw the cop off the roof and kill about five men. Some make you scared at night. You dream about it and think somebody's coming to kill you. Some tells about stealing, killing people, some stick with knives, shoot with guns, beat them over their heads with sticks and stick them in the eyes, hit 'em over the head with a poker and string them up with ropes. I can read them now 'cause I know what's right and wrong. My aunt teaches me not to do bad things."

Jack: 12 yrs.: 2nd: 61: 1.5: Very neglected child. Has to get up early in the morning and prepare his own meals. Grandmother, this boy, his brother, aged 4, and sister, aged 3, sleep in the same room.

Comic books: Knows many comic books. "Cowboys are bad. They steal money out of the express office. The boys beat the girls up and Superman comes to help the girls. The boys are bad because they do things they shouldn't. They set houses on fire. The comics teach boys how to rob and join up in gangs."

Sam: 12 yrs.: 5th: 66: 1.5: Frequent family assistance from Department of Welfare.

Comic books: "I read all kinds of comics except love. I don't like them. The only time I read them is when I've seen all the rest of the comics."

Paul: 10 yrs.: 4th: 64: .7: Mother deserted family; father works nights.

Comic books: Knows the names of many comics and says they are all his favorites. "The Indians shot a man in the eye with an arrow. The soldier took his sword and stuck it in him. The Indian took the soldier's rifle, killed everyone in the fort and the boy was shot right in the back and a baby was shot with a bullet and then the troopers came and they warred. I don't like mystery comics any more 'cause I dream about them and I can't sleep."

Marvin: 9 yrs.: 3rd: 65: 1.1: Brother also in ungraded class.

Comic books: "Cops and robbers fight. Robbers don't have money. They buy a cheap gun or little guns and go rob a bank."

Jimmy: 9 yrs.: ungraded: 72: 1.5: Father in tuberculosis sanitarium. Children neglected. Truant.

Comic books: "I have no comics. I read my sister's. I like cowboy stories. They kill too much in the mystery comics. I don't like it because I dream about it. I dream ghost stories."

Bob: 12 yrs.: 3rd: 56: 0: One of 11 siblings. The boys sleep in one room in bunk beds, 4 brothers in the upper bed, 4 in the lower bed. The sisters have a bunk bed in another room.

Comic books: "I like Superman. A man be laying down in bed and the door be locked and the lady run outside for help and hollers. The man comes through the window. Girls are always getting hurt in comic books. Every time the girl goes with a man there is murder and the girl screams."


Reading disorders, whatever their cause, are profoundly disturbing in a child's life. These children have to perform on a level far above their functioning capacity in an atmosphere of competition, and under the critique of teachers and parents they are exposed to an ever-present threat. They have to cope with something they do not understand. Almost with the precision of an experiment they are placed in a situation of ever-increasing frustration and disorientation. Going over the records of such children, I find noted over and over again: lack of self-esteem; no self-confidence in school; "seems to lack interest in subjects he used to like"; estrangement from parents; shame; suspicion; hostility; feelings of inferiority; fear; truancy; running away from home; such characteristics as disruptive, unmanageable, rebellious, over-aggressive, destructive, discouraged; attitude of defeat; "doubts his learning ability in any field."

Over the years I have found a relatively high correlation between delinquency and reading disorders; that is to say, a disproportionate number of poor or non-readers become delinquent, and a disproportionate number of delinquents have pronounced reading disorders. Often such children are harmed by comic books in two ways. Comics reading reinforces the reading disorder, if it has not helped to cause it in the first place, and the child, frustrated by failure, is made more liable to commit a defiant act. At the same time comic books suggest all kinds of specific defiant acts to commit.

Judge Jacob Panken, a New York City Children's Court judge who has paid particular attention to reading, described the situation he found among delinquents in his court. "I have boys and girls -- fifteen, sixteen years of age -- who attend the high schools of our city, and some of these children cannot read one-syllable words! Yet they are in high school -- second term, third term ... Now I asked these children, 'What do you read?' and the answer is 'Comic books.'"

In cases of serious delinquency or crime the problem of severe reading disability sometimes comes up and usually receives little attention. It would be wrong to think that in such cases inability to read has driven an individual directly to the antisocial act. But it is equally wrong to disregard entirely such a severe handicap, which often in devious ways drives a young person to all kinds of emotional short circuits. In England recently a boy of sixteen shot one policeman between the eyes and wounded another. The case created a brief sensation. As a witness on the stand, the boy's father described his son as "a gentle boy." He was the youngest in a family of eight and attended school until he was fifteen.

Q.: In spite of that he never managed to read?

A.: No. He suffered from what I believe is known as word blindness.

Q.: As a result of that, the only reading matter he is familiar with is what are called comic books?

A.: Yes.

Q.: Eighteen months ago he went to a Bible class?

A.: Yes. But unfortunately he did not like that because he was very nervous of being asked to read a lesson and as he could not read, it would have been a very embarrassing experience for him, and for that reason he said he did not want to continue.


"Word blindness" constitutes a severe reading disability. According to my experience it can be greatly improved, and even cured, by competent therapy. Here then is a boy who has to struggle against a serious handicap. This creates a gap in his life which is filled for him by adult society with crime comic books. What he learned from them was apparent enough at the trial. It was testified that he had shouted at the policeman: "Come on, you brave coppers! Let us have it out!"

I can match this almost verbally: "Let's see you try to take me, you big brave coppers!" says a comic book on my desk.

This sixteen-year-old boy was sentenced to jail for life, his nineteen-year-old co-defendant, who was also illiterate and could not read anything except comic books, was hanged. It is, of course, easier to hang a boy than to give him remedial-reading instruction, and still easier to say he would have committed the crime anyhow. "Let us put out of our minds in this case any question of comics," said the judge. But who can say that the crime would have occurred if this boy's reading disability had been cured early and he had been given decent literature to read instead of comic books?

It is safe to say that it is almost impossible to exaggerate the havoc reading disabilities cause in a child's life. There is one redeeming feature. Reading disorders, of whatever cause, may be long-drawn-out affairs, but they need not be permanent. They are amenable to competent treatment. This must consist first of all in remedial-reading instruction, which preferably should be given three times a week, by trained instructors. It is not good enough if the newspapers carry an official announcement of a remedial-reading program giving teachers what is euphemistically called "intensive training" that lasts "one week"!

Competent remedial-reading teaching may show good results in a pupil even in four to six months. Not only does the reading itself improve, but often beneficial effects like the appearance of positive emotional attitudes may be observed. Sometimes the progress is stormy, with periods of increased aggressiveness and marked resistance. The children give up unfavorable attitudes eventually, though, and become aware of their ability to learn. Sometimes it is just as difficult to determine what makes these children well as to decide what caused the trouble in the first place. The relationship to the teacher and to the other children in remedial-reading teaching plays a big role. But the most important thing is the patient, competent actual remedial-reading training itself.

Only a very small percentage of the children who need it receive treatment. The United Parents Associations have estimated that there are 104,000 children in New York City schools who are poor readers and that of all these "only 2,500 are actually getting adequate remedial instruction." Even this is an optimistic statement. In 1943, before the establishment of the Queens General Hospital Reading Clinic I had a study made by psychiatric social service workers of the facilities available in Queens County for the many children there with reading disorders who could not afford private fees. The answers from the various authorities and public and private agencies were revealing in their vagueness. The result of this inquiry was the discovery that "there are practically no facilities"! This was true of a big, growing county in the richest city in the world.

The Queens General Hospital Reading Clinic, which employs one remedial-reading teacher, could of course take only a small number of children and quickly developed a long waiting list. It was the only reading clinic that was entirely free in the whole of New York City in the summer months.

Comic books harm the development of the reading process from the lowest level of the most elementary hygiene of vision to the highest level of learning to appreciate how to read a good literary book. Print is easy to read when the paper background is light and the printing a good contrasting black. Yet most comics are smudgily printed on pulp paper. The printing is crowded in balloons with irregular lines. Any adult can check on the eyestrain involved by reading a few comic books himself. We can produce the most beautifully printed books and pamphlets; every morning my mail has advertising matter expertly designed and handsomely printed on expensive paper. Yet to our children we give the crudest and most ill-designed products.

Reading the comic-book text is often difficult. For example, the reading material in the huge present crop of horror comics is hard to make out even for the average adult reader. But all the emotional emphasis of comics is on the pictures, and that is where they do the most harm to reading. The discrepancy between the easy appeal of the pictures and the difficulty of reading the text is too great to encourage anyone to try to follow what the characters are supposed to be saying.

Even the simplest comic book requires at least a third-grade reading ability. In the course of studying children with reading disorders who are at the same time great comic-book readers, I have found many who have developed a special kind of "reading," They have become what I call "picture readers." Later I learned that not only children with reading difficulties, but also those with good reading ability, are seduced by comic books into "picture reading." This is of course another point where comic books exert a pernicious influence on the general child population.

Picture reading consists in gazing at the successive pictures of the comic book with a minimal reading of printed letters. Children may read the title, or occasionally an exclamation when the picture is particularly violent or sexually intriguing. This kind of picture reading is not actually a form of reading, nor is it a pre-stage of real reading. It is an evasion of reading and almost its opposite. Habitual picture readers are severely handicapped in the task of becoming readers of books later, for the habit of picture reading interferes with the acquisition of well-developed reading habits.

The percentage of picture readers among children who read many comic books is large. Here is a typical example. Jimmy, a boy of fifteen, was referred to me on account of trouble in school. He was in the third term of high school. His reading grade level was 2.4. During one of the Hookey Club sessions, when the question of which children should be given working papers was being debated, he presented his own case: "I want to leave school. I'll be sixteen in January. I can't leave school until I have a job. I don't pay attention in school. I think it is boring. I was left back three times and put ahead twice. I would like anything but school."

Another Hookey Club member: "What was your last trouble in school?"

Jimmy: "I know I can't read. That's why I don't like school."

A third Hookey Club member gave him a schoolbook and asked him to read a few sentences. Jimmy, reading aloud, "... " He could not read a single simple sentence without making a mistake.

A girl in the group asked him, "Do you read comic books?"

Jimmy: "I don't read comics. I just look at the pictures -- Crime Does Not Pay, True Detective, Superman. I get the story by just looking at the pictures. Once in a while, when a good part comes, I read what I can, but the words I don't know I just pass over. When it is a short story and it looks interesting -- when it is bad and they shoot each other -- and when they get the woman -- then I try to read it."

Another eleven-year-old picture-reader has this to say: "I don't try to read them except once in a while if I know a word."

Schoolteachers and college authorities are becoming aware of increasing reading difficulties. Colleges have been forced to make reading classes available to their freshmen. Universities have instituted special courses which are actually nothing but remedial-reading courses, despite their high-sounding titles: "Communications," etc.

This low-grade literacy shows also in the fact that many people say they have no time to read a book, instead of giving the real reason: that they cannot read one. According to the Authors' League Bulletin, one-third of the people who leave school before high school never open a book for the rest of their lives.

The responsibility of comic books for reading disorders is manifold. They have prevented and are preventing early detection of reading difficulties, by masking the disorder and giving parents the impression that the child can read; they aggravate reading difficulties that already exist; they cause reading disorders by luring children with the primary appeal of pictures as against early training to real reading; they attack the child just at the age of six or seven when basic reading skills ought to be developed, and again at pre-adolescence when on a higher level good reading habits should be fostered. Discerning teachers are well aware of this.

There is not a single good psychological study based on scientific data that would show that comic books may help children to read. An article published by a member of the Board of Experts of the Superman publisher is based on elaborate word-counts and statistics. It comes to the conclusion that comic books "provide a substantial amount of reading experience" and "may have real value for the educator." What he describes as a "reading experience" is in fact mostly a non-reading experience. It evidently has not occurred to this Superman expert that most children do not read the many words which he has counted.

The general statement has been made that comic books might be helpful for children "who will not read anything else." That is certainly pedagogically unsound. Of course there are children who have been corrupted by comic books so that they do not want to read anything else, to the detriment of their ability to acquire proper reading habits. But is it sound to advise that addiction to comic-book reading be cured by addiction to comic-book reading?

While comic books harm children in acquiring the basic skills of reading, they harm them even more on the higher level of learning to appreciate and like the content of good reading matter. This has been recognized by literary critics and by librarians. Julia Todd Hallen, writing in the Tacoma Times, says, "Too many fail to realize that with a child's first books his appreciation of good books is begun."

In questioning hundreds of children I have found that comic-book reading and reading good books for pleasure are for all purposes opposites. Actually many children nowadays do not know what the word classic means; they think it means a "classics" comic book. For many children, the entire concept of book is concerned with comic books. I have yet to see a child who was influenced to read "classics" or "famous authors" in the original by reading them in comic-book versions. What happens instead is that the comic-book version cuts the children off from this source of pleasure, entertainment and education. Typical is the case of the eleven-year-old boy of superior intelligence, from a good social and economic background, who exhibited the "classics" comic-book version of Robinson Crusoe with these words: "Why should I read the real book if I have this? If I had to make a report I could use this. It would leave out all the boring details that would be in a book."

Image

Image

[The 10th Victim] [Olga] Not the classics, Marcello!

Image

[TV] The United Nations has decided ...

[Olga] Marcello, this is unacceptable. You must object!

Image

How can they take the classics? What will we read?

Image

[Man] Miss, this is a highly valuable collection, perfectly confiscatable.

Image

[Olga] Marcello, you talk to them.

-- Elio Petri: Notes About a Filmmaker, directed by Federico Bacci, Nicola Guarnei, and Stefano Leone



What is the experience of librarians? Ida M. Anderson, of the Providence Public Library, has written: "Many parents and educators have expressed to me their agreement with us on the stand that such reading of comic books has a pernicious effect on the reading habits of children .... That comic books encourage the reading of books is contrary to the experience of librarians. Circulation of juvenile books in libraries all over the country has decreased greatly since the reading of comic books has become so popular.... The representative of a comic-book publisher suggested that libraries have stimulated the circulation of children's books by posting a sign: 'Superman Recommends These.' The Providence Public Library tried this, but the chief result was a request for Superman rather than for the books listed."

What the comic books of "classics" and "famous authors" do shows our disregard for literature or for children or for both. In the comic books which go to millions of children, these mutilations are advertised with such phrases as "Told in the Modern Manner," "No longer is it necessary to wade through hundreds of pages of text ... preserve all the excitement and interest ... if it's thrills you want, then you'll find them a-plenty ... Ask your parents if they think you should read Shakespeare ..." Macbeth is offered to your child "Streamlined for Action," "... a dark tragedy of jealousy, intrigue and violence adapted for easy and enjoyable reading. Packed with action from start to finish ..." Shakespeare and the child are corrupted at the same time.

By looking at the pictures and reading sporadically a title or an exclamation, a child can follow to some extent the plot of one of these versions of "great stories," or at least what the editor and the child think the plot is. A fourteen-year-old boy in the eighth year at school, with a second-grade reading level, says that he has read the "classics" version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: "It is called The Mad Doctor. He makes medicine. He drinks it and turns into a beast. He kills a little girl. The cops chase him. Then he changes into a man. He comes to a famous home and falls in love with a girl. He keeps changing. Finally he gets shot. While dying he changes back to a human being. I like when he comes to the little girl and hits her with a cane."

On the highest level of reading, comic books influence the creative abilities of children. One can see that from the stories that gifted children write. Where good reading stimulates them to imaginative writing, under the comic-book influence their natural gifts are directed to a cheap killing-the-girl, electric-chair romanticism. In a recent school magazine edited and got out by the pupils themselves there is a typical story, showing comic-book influence. It tells graphically of a young man who rides in a car with his girl. Another car draws up alongside them and a man with a silencer on his gun shoots and kills the girl. The cab-driver thinks the young man did it, "the dirty rat," and calls the police. The young man escapes to Mexico. But he is arrested and charged with the murder. We leave him in jail waiting for the electric chair, although he is innocent. The story closes with this fittingly crude verse:

A flash of light,
The pull of a switch,
The chair in its might
Kills a son of a bitch!


Spelling in comic books is often faulty. "The Case of the Psycopathic [sic] Lady" is not good for children in either content or spelling. Comic-book writing is also extremely poor in style and language. It is no help to the child to learn such barbaric neologisms as suspenstories (the name of an "authorized" comic book). And the editorial comments are no better than the story text; e.g., this "cosmic correspondence":

"Greetings, humanoids! Drag over a cyclotron and crawl in! (If we'da known you were coming, we'da baked an isotope!)"

Comic books also have many words that are not words at all. For example, there may be a series of six pictures with violent scenes with no language, just sounds which have no real spelling. From one typical comic book alone, a Western endorsed by a psychiatrist on the first page, I have made this partial list:

OWW
ARGHH
OOOHHH
WHAM
GLURG
UGH
GLHELP
KURRACK
KAPOW
PING
THUNK
BLAM
YEOW
UNGH
BAM
ZING
AANGH
ARRGG
OOOOOO!
HAH!
GLUG-UGH


One Hookey Club boy called it "basic American."

Language reflects attitudes. In crime comics the language of criminals and their women companions is glorified. I have had referred to me quite a number of unruly children who expressed at home or in school a typical disobedient, arrogant, impudent, smart-alecky attitude. I found that one can help these children, and that many of their expressions were merely a superficial copying of the corresponding typical attitude repeated over and over again in comic books.

In one comic book is a sexy picture of a blonde female dressed in a string of beads and a scrap of material. She says: "A gentleman, he never blackjacked a woman. He hit them with his fists." Millions of children have been taught that this kind of thing is the smart thing to say.

All clean fun, say the spokesmen for the industry. But what children have told me does not bear this out. There are always some who absorb these attitudes. How insensitive must adults be not to realize that this language itself expresses an unfortunate attitude -- the attitude of the crime comic book.
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Re: Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 2:55 am

6: Design for Delinquency

The Contribution of Crime Comic Books to Juvenile Delinquency

"'We do not know the cause.' Is it not absurd to think of 'the' cause? Should we, over that, neglect the facts we have? -- Adolf Meyer, M.D.


The case was handled with the utmost secrecy. "The F.B.I.," the papers later proudly reported, "took no chances." Over twenty Federal agents armed with the latest weapons were strategically posted among bushes and along the road, ready to shoot it out with whatever violent enemies of society had sent the extortion note, with a threat to kill, to a Vanderbilt. They were waiting for the deadline, when the extortion money was to be handed over.

When it came, a slim schoolboy appeared from his hiding-place. In his pocket he carried a toy pistol. Quickly he was surrounded by the armed might of the United States Government which -- without being aware of it -- was fighting juvenile delinquency.

The boy was fifteen years old, was questioned three hours, was found "guilty of juvenile delinquency" and sentenced to six years in a Federal correction institution where, in the judge's words, he would be able "to adjust himself satisfactorily."

This is by no means an isolated instance. The fight of the armed might of the law against children has become routine. One Sunday night a patrolman in New Jersey reported to police headquarters that he had seen some suspicious movement in a meat market. Two squad cars sped to the scene and came to a screeching stop. Six policemen rushed out of the cars with drawn guns and surrounded the store. Then two of them entered it, ready for battle. Their quarry turned out to be -- a handsome, blond, curly-headed little boy of six. His companions, who had fled when the rope snapped as they were lowering him through a skylight, were twelve and thirteen. The little boy, too young even for a juvenile delinquency charge, had started his career as a burglar at five, rewarded by his companions with a steady supply of candy and crime comic books.

In California two police cars pursued an automobile in a mad chase. The car had been stolen, evidently by criminals who had previously broken into a store. As the cars were speeding along, the police fired a salvo of shots. When the car came to a stop, the policemen, guns in hand, walked up to it cautiously. Huddled in the seats were -- six children. The youngest was eight, the oldest thirteen.

The authorities are fighting juvenile delinquents, not juvenile delinquency. There is an enormous literature on juvenile delinquency. One might think that society hopes to exorcise it by the magic of printer's ink. It would seem that the real scientific problem is conveniently overlooked. Juvenile delinquency does not just happen, for this or that reason. It is continuously recreated by adults. So the question should be, Why do we continuously re-create it? Even more than crime, juvenile delinquency reflects the social values current in a society. Both adults and children absorb these social values in their daily lives, at home, in school, at work, and also in all the communications imparted as entertainment, instruction or propaganda through the mass media, from the printed word to television. Juvenile delinquency holds a mirror up to society and society does not like the picture there. So it goes in for all kinds of recrimination directed at the children, including such facile high-sounding name-calling as "hysteroid personality," "hystero-compulsive personality," and "schizophrenic tendencies."

I have seen many children who drifted into delinquency through no fault or personal disorder of their own. When they wanted to extricate themselves they either had no adults to appeal to or those who were available had no help to offer. One evening at the Lafargue Clinic a thirteen-year-old boy came to see me. He was the head of a gang and, as a matter of fact, it was one that had lately been involved in a fight with a fatal shooting. I found out later that while he was in the Clinic he had two much bigger boys stationed in the corridor and at the street entrance to function as bodyguards in case a rival gang might appear. He was much concerned: "I want to stop the bloodshed," he said. There had been some friction between his boys and some boys of another gang. At this particular moment, he told me, "the school is the most dangerous place," for that is where the boys would meet. "I am afraid they will fight with knives. We have our own meeting-place -- nobody can find it. It is in an abandoned house." He wanted some of his boys to stay away from school for a while and during that period wanted to arrange a real peace. "But," he said, "it can't be done because the truant officer gets you and, of course, you can't explain it to him, and you can't tell it to the teacher, and you can't tell it to the police, and you can't tell it to your parents."

When we checked the situation later we found that what he said was precisely true. Had any adult in authority been as earnestly concerned about these gangfights as this boy was, they could have been stopped. The secret meeting-house, incidentally, was stacked full of textbooks for violent fighting -- crime comics.

Delinquent children are children in trouble. Times have changed since the famous Colorado juvenile-court law of 1903. Now delinquency is different both in quantity and quality. By virtue of these changes it has become a virtually new social phenomenon. It has been reported that juvenile delinquency has increased about 20 per cent since I first spoke about crime comics in 1947. It is, however, not their number but the kind of juvenile delinquency that is the salient point. Younger and younger children commit more and more serious and violent acts. Even psychotic children did not act like this fifteen years ago. Here are some random samples of what today's juvenile delinquents actually do. A great deal that has been written and said about juvenile delinquency is invalid because the writers are obviously not familiar with today's cases:

1) Three boys, six to eight years old, took a boy of seven, hanged him nude from a tree, his hands tied behind him, then burned him with matches. Probation officers investigating found that they were re-enacting a comic-book plot.

2) A girl of eight, her six-year-old brother and a boy of thirteen threw a rock at the face of a three-year-old boy and beat him with a stick. Among other injuries the boy had "cuts inside his mouth."

3) A boy of eleven killed a woman in a holdup. When arrested, he was found surrounded by comic books. His twenty-year-old brother said, "If you want the cause of all this, here it is: It's those rotten comic books. Cut them out, and things like this wouldn't happen." (Of course, this brother was not an "expert"; he just knew the facts.)

4) An adolescent tortured a four-year-old boy, kicking him severely in the eye so that hospital treatment was necessary. Reason: "I just felt like doing it."

5) A seven-year-old girl broke into four homes and stole money, watches and jewelry.

6) A train was derailed by three boys, one of whom was eight, another ten.

7) A boy of thirteen committed a "lust murder" of a girl of six. After his arrest, in jail, he asked for comic books. "I refused, of course," said the sheriff.

8) A boy, who had participated when a group attacked and seriously stabbed another boy, was found with a knife which had a legend inked on the sheath: "KILL FOR THE LOVE OF KILLING."

9) A boy of twelve and his eight-year-old sister tried to kill a boy of six. They threatened to knock his teeth out, stabbed through his hands with a pocketknife, choked him, kicked him and jumped on him. The police captain said, "It is the worst beating I've ever seen, child or adult."

10) A ten-year-old boy hit a fourteen-month-old baby over the head with a brick, washed the blood off the brick and then threw the baby into the river.

11) A fourteen-year-old crime-comics addict killed a fourteen-year-old girl by stabbing her thirteen times with a knife. He did not know her.

12) Four boys, two of fourteen, one fifteen, one sixteen, carried out a comic-book classic. They beat the sixty-eight-year-old proprietor of a little candy store with a hammer and while he was lying on the floor one of the fourteen-year-olds drove a knife into his head with such force that the hilt was snapped off.

13) When a well-to-do surgeon received an extortion note demanding $50,000 and threatening harm to his young daughter, experts deduced from the note that it was the work of an "adult male psychopath under emotional strain." It turned out to be a fourteen-year-old girl.

14) There have been whole series of cases where children threw rocks and bolts and fired air rifles at passing trains, and automobiles. One eleven-year-old boy who informed the police about this got such severe comic-book torture-by-fire from a group of boys that he had to have twenty-three skin grafting operations and twenty-six blood transfusions.

15) At the age of eleven, one boy attacked another with a switchblade knife. Later he organized a "shakedown racket," demanding money from children at knife point. If a boy resisted, the miniature racketeers would knock him down and their chief would stab him several times in the chest and back. At fifteen this boy instigated an attack on another boy. "The victim lay on the ground, beaten to a bloody pulp, and died." When they found no money on him, they stripped clothing from his body, while he lay in his death agonies.

16) A boy of eight who led three other boys in nine safecracking expeditions had bought himself a new pair of sneakers after one job so the detectives could not trace his footprints.

17) Typical story: a fourteen-year-old boy shot a policeman with a shotgun.

18) While their parents were away, two boys, nine and eleven, hit their little sister (two years and eight months old) with a hoe handle and trampled her to death.

19) In one city within a few months there were five separate instances where very young children were tortured by boys from five to eight years old in comic-book fashion: a four-month-old had a rope tied around his neck and pulled tight until he was unconscious and his face was pierced with safety pins in several places; a little girl was found by a truck driver unconscious and bleeding, being poked with sticks and kicked by a group of young boys.

20) Two fourteen-year-old girls robbed a taxidriver while he was stopped for a traffic light. One of them pressed a knife into his back and demanded his money. Then the other grabbed the ignition key from the dashboard and both fled.

21) A boy of eleven poured kerosene over a boy of eight and a girl of twelve. He lighted the kerosene with a paper torch and burned the children to death.

22) A nine-year-old boy killed a five-year-old girl by stabbing her more than one hundred times.

Let us also lift the lid a little bit to show what is going on in some schools:

In a public school heroin is sold on the premises. (It also was sold on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital where juvenile drug addicts are detained to cure them of their drug addiction.) In two other schools, police officers circulate on the grounds and in the corridors to prevent violence. A mathematics teacher in still another school who had to give an examination needed a policeman present in the classroom to guard her. In several schools, pupils threatened younger ones with beating and maiming them, collecting money from them either once or regularly and taking their watches and fountain pens. Often the young victims do not dare to tell the names of their tormentors. In one such school when two victims were asked by the teacher they refused to answer, saying, "We don't want our eyes cut out!" In this particular school, one boy was beaten with a broken bottle from behind and cut so severely that seven stitches had to be taken around his eyes.

In still another school, a fourteen-year-old girl pupil was actually raped during the lunch recess in one of the corridors on the sixth floor. In a girl's school, a woman teacher was attacked and beaten by six girls aged twelve to fourteen. Police and radio cars had to speed to another school where two thirteen-year-old pupils attacked a teacher, one with a long stick and another with a picture taken down from the wall.

A regular race riot occurred in a metropolitan school. One teacher was punched in the eye, a police officer was struck and scratched. A police detail had to be sent to keep order in the building and the neighborhood. There are schools where one out of every five boys has been in Children's Court. To several high schools detectives have been sent disguised as porters or pupils to check drug addiction and/or violence. Wire-tapping equipment has been installed by police in school buildings.

In a letter to Time magazine (1953), James A. Michener, the well-known author, draws attention to a school where women teachers always try to stay near the door. Otherwise, as one of them put it, "the big boys might trap her in a corner and beat hell out of her." In a junior high school known to me, women teachers do not dare to go on the staircase alone for fear of being attacked or robbed by pupils. A policeman is permanently assigned on duty in this school. When questioned about his easy assignment, he answered, "Sometimes it gets real rough!"

In one school a pupil always functions as a monitor and is stationed next to a toilet. A teacher questioned about this routine answered that she did not know whether the monitor is supposed to suppress violence, sex acts, vandalism or drug addiction. The type of vandalism that occurs is exemplified by the high school where children ripped out a toilet and threw it out of the window.

A thirteen-year-old boy stabbed an attractive young woman teacher eight times in the back and again in the face when she had fallen to the floor. Authorities were bewildered by the behavior of this boy, who came from a good home background.

I could continue this list almost indefinitely. There is nothing in these "juvenile delinquencies" that is not described or told about in comic books. These are comic-book plots. In comic books, usually these crimes remain unpunished until the criminal has committed many more of them. Children are not so lucky. They face severe punishments whenever they are caught. Educated on comic books, they go on to a long postgraduate course in jails (with the same reading-matter). To every one of these acts correspond dozens of lesser ones, hundreds of minor ones and thousands of fantasies.

Up to the beginning of the comic-book era there were hardly any serious crimes such as murder by children under twelve. Yet there was a world war and a long depression. So we adults who permit comic books are accessories. Speaking of just such crimes, however, a Municipal Court judge defends crime comics in Parents' Magazine with these three standard hypocritical arguments: "First of all, censorship would be worse"; "second, there is danger in overprotecting our children"; third, "violence and brutality are a part of the pattern of our lives."

It is becoming more and more apparent that what all delinquent children have in common is unprotectedness. I have found in every delinquent child that at one time or another he had insufficient protection. That implies not only material things, but social and psychological influences. Of course children get hurt at home and by their parents. But the time when children in the mass are most defenseless, when they are most susceptible to influences from society at large, is in their leisure hours. And children's leisure is on the market.

Nobody knows exactly how many juveniles under twenty-one commit murder in the United States. But it is two or three a day. According to Federal statistics in 1948, about one in every eight persons arrested was a minor. The Federal Government does not have accurate statistics as to the number of homicides committed by children in the pre-adolescent and pre-teen group.

How unprotected children are is shown by the glib use of the word teen-ager in talk about juvenile delinquency, putting into one category such different age groups as that of a boy of thirteen and that of a young man of nineteen. One of the best-informed members of the judiciary, Judge Samuel Leibowitz, pointed out in a paper on "Crime and the Community" that "the defendants in crimes of violence in recent years are getting younger and younger, and nowadays they include mere children who should be in knee pants -- at the age when in former years they would have come into contact with the law only for swiping apples or upsetting pushcarts."

A New York magistrate stated in open court that "it is fantastic the way mere children are being brought into court." After having published over the years innumerable optimistic handouts from interested public and private agencies, the New York Times said in 1953: "It is difficult to think of children as burglars, gangsters, drug addicts or murderers. Such has become the reality, however."

Juvenile delinquency is not a thing in itself. It can be studied only in relation to all kinds of other child behavior. And it is a mass phenomenon which cannot be fully comprehended with methods of individual psychology alone. Children do not become delinquents; they commit delinquencies. The delinquency of a child is not a disease; it is a symptom, individually and socially. You cannot understand or remedy a social phenomenon like delinquency by redefining it simply as an individual emotional disorder.

It is on the basis of such an approach, however, that important mass influences on the child's mind have for years been completely overlooked. And it was precisely in this way that the comic-book industry could take over a large part of the time, the minds and the money of children from five to sixteen.

When I first made known the results of my studies about comic books, most people, including psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, psychologists, teachers and judges, had paid no attention to their effects on children. A billion times a year an American child sits down to pore over a comic book. What is the attraction? As late as 1951 a liberal magazine, The Reporter, carried an article on "The Comic Book Industry" in which it gave what it thought was the answer: Children are charmed by comic books because in them they can follow "the fortunes of cowhands and mice." That is how we deceive ourselves and others. "Cowhands" do occur in Western comics; but Western comics are mostly just crime comic books in a Western setting. Animal comics may feature "mice"; but animal comics are only a small part and are not habit-forming.

The average parent has no idea that every imaginable crime is described in detail in comic books. That is their main stock in trade. When questioned more closely even experts who have defended the industry did not know what an endless variety of crimes is described in detail in story after story, picture after picture. If one were to set out to show children how to steal, rob, lie, cheat, assault and break into houses, no better method could be devised. It is of course easy and natural for the child to translate these crimes into a minor key: stealing from a candy store instead of breaking into a bank; stabbing and hurting a little girl with a sharp pen if a knife is not handy; beating and threatening younger children, following the Superman formula of winning by force.

The way children transpose adult crime into their own sphere is illustrated by the protection racket so often described in comic books, where small shopkeepers have to pay to gangsters to keep their shops from being damaged. At a Hookey Club session a fourteen-year-old boy said,

"There was one fellow, he was a friend of mine. He got the bright idea on the protection racket. He got it from crime comic books. I know he read them a lot. He used to say, 'You know what would be a good business? Making protection out of shoeshine boys.' He put that scheme into working. There are about twenty-five shoeshine boys in that district. He figured this would be the perfect setup. He used to make them pay a dollar a week and if they did not pay, their boxes or other equipment would be broken. He asked me to go in on it. I didn't because it was pretty cheap. He kept it up for several months. Two or three boys worked with him. One had a zip gun, the other had a stiletto. He was the chief, he had nothing. In other words, he was smart. If they caught him he would be empty-handed. He learned that from comic books, too. One of the boys who was paying protection told his mother. They went down to the station house and told the police the setup."

The contempt for law and police and the brutality of punishment in comic books is subconsciously translated by children into conflict with authority, and they develop a special indifference to it. Gerald, a boy of eleven, stole from stores with a group of older boys. One night after such an exploit two policemen followed them. Gerald had a B.B. gun, turned around and shot at one of the policemen. He was charged with armed robbery. When the whole group was in Children's Court the judge talked to them very seriously. Gerald told us all about that. "Didn't you feel strange in court?" he was asked. "No," he replied. "I read the comics and I feel I am used to it."

Taking into account every conceivable possibility, comic books present the details of how to commit crimes, how to conceal evidence, how to evade detection. how to hurt people. In a recent comic book which has the "Seal of Approval of Comics Magazine Publishers," and is sold in New York subways, you learn that after a robbery you can escape more easily if you shoot out the source of light; you learn how to trade in guns; how to hijack ammunition; how to impersonate regular soldiers (I have had several cases of young people doing just that); and, of course, how to torture and kill a "squealer."

Anyone who has studied many truancy cases knows that children are tempted to use medical alibis. I know some who got the idea and even the methods of execution by transposing into their own childhood setting the lessons of comic books. In one which has the "Seal of Approval of Comics Magazine Publishers" young men fake disease to get out of the army. Coming out, as it did, during the Korean War, this lesson was directly useful to upper teen-agers and indirectly to schoolboys.

"Didn't I bluff my way out of the army?" says the hero-criminal. "Got a medical discharge without having anything wrong except indigestion! If you work it right, no doctor in the world can prove you're bluffing!"

A comic book appropriately entitled The Perfect Crime describes "an old and nearly foolproof scheme" to be worked on drugstores. You select one where the owner works alone, telephone him and ask him to deliver something for an emergency case. While he is out you rob his store.

"Pickin' a name from the phone book of somebody who lives in the neighborhood puts real class into this little gimmick! Hah!"

Variations of this theme are also described in comic books and of course quite often enacted in real life. In a case I am familiar with, a young man called a store to ask them please to stay open a little longer so he could buy something. Then he came late, when there was only one man in the store, and held it up.

One Western comic gives an illustrated lesson in foul fighting (he "chopped a powerful rabbit punch") and brutality (he "rammed his knee into Mossman's face with a sickening thud" and then, when his victim was on the ground, kicked him in the face).

One story gives a price list for hurting people in the protection racket:

EYES BLACKED: $ 4.00

ARM OR LEG BROKEN: $ 10.00

WHOLE JOB: $ 100.00 up


Another comic book shows how a youngster can murder for profit. He gets a job as a caddy, loses the ball, then kills the player when he goes searching for it.

Many comic books describe how to set fires, by methods too various to enumerate. In some stories fire-setting is related just as a detail; in other stories such as "The Arson Racket" the lesson is more systematic. There are other sidelights, like how to break windows so you cannot be found out; all this highlighted by the philosophy of the character who says: "From now on I'm making dough the easy way -- with a gun --! Only SAPS work!" That lesson, incidentally, is true of crime comics as a whole: glamour for crime, contempt for work.

"Fixing" of sporting events has recently been front-page news. I have one accused boy under psychotherapy right now. In comic books that is old stuff: "Here's 500 now, and you'll get 500 when it's over!"

Of course playing hookey from school is one of the smart things described by comic-book characters:

"But we better hurry or we'll be late for school!"

"Aw, the heck with school, Harvey! I'm not goin' today. Brains will never get you any place. It's MUSCLES that'll do it! Look at the easy duce-spot [sic] it made me just now!"

So varied are "the fortunes of cowhands and mice!"

In the spring of 1951 a teen-ager driving a stolen car tried to run down a policeman who had stepped out of his radio car to arrest him. People wondered at such cold-blooded brutality. How can a young boy get such an idea? For comics readers this is a lesson of the elementary grades, described and illustrated over and over again.

Junior may be too young to wish to forge checks, but many children whom I have seen have forged their parents' signatures for school purposes. Forgery is, of course, also described in comic books. The preferred method is to pick up a blotter which has been used and copy the signature with the aid of a mirror.

Stealing of automobiles has become a great nuisance. Any young boy who succumbs to temptation in this direction, although he may have been brought up not to do it, has seen in detail just how to go about it. Comic books describe it often and fully, from incidental thefts to the "hot-car racket."

From one book you can learn how to cut through the glass and break into a store and how to stop the noise when you do break in: "Pile the blankets on to smother the noise!"

In countless books, it is brought home that it is wrong not to kill -- because the victim may tell. Nothing is overlooked in these crime comics, however mean. One book shows how to steal the money box from the blind man who runs the newsstand. Of course, as in the vast majority of criminal acts depicted in comic books, this particular act is successful and not punished.

The very title of some stories makes it clear that there is a lesson in the story, and what the lesson is. For example: "Lessons For Larceny," with a sub-title, "Watch for Trouble when a Swindle Backfires."

I have seen many children, delinquent and not so delinquent, who kept their school report cards or absence notices from their parents. Comic books give visual aid about "the mailbox angle" used for stealing checks. In an apartment house "with self-service elevators" you let the elevator go to another floor. But how to get the letter out of the mailbox? "Yeah! It's coming out! This pencil and gum did the trick!" I have seen several children who did exactly that -- taking mail from their parents' mailbox -- and who had learned it from this source.

Many comic books explain in word and picture how to throw knives. In fact, I have learned from them quite a bit about the tricks of it myself. And lest the child might think -- as naively as the adult public which permits all this -- that the stories are just stories, not applicable in the next neighborhood gang fight, millions of comic books have illustrated advertisements:

THROWING KNIFE. Properly shaped and balanced for throwing ... Penetrating point ... Tool Steel ... Thrilling stunts ... Hard hitting ... Easy-to-throw ... 7 inches ... ($1.98)


Children who have thrown such knives have got into serious trouble. The adults who advertise them, supply them and show how to use them have not in a single instance been charged even with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In the comic-book syllabus stealing of every variety is amply covered. A man's pocketbook is stolen on the subway. Millions of little boys learn how to do that: "Did someone shove a newspaper in your face? And were you shoved from the rear at the same time? I can see that's what happened. The pickpocket got it while you were upset by the shove." Lesson completed.

How to steal a woman's pocketbook is outlined, too. According to the stories it may be done skilfully and peacefully, but if that does not work, just hit them over the head. This sort of thing has been done by a number of children.

In some comic books it is shown how the youngest tots are picked up bodily, held upside down and shaken so that the coins will fall out of their pockets. Not only do I know from boys that they have practiced this, but similar cases have been reported, like the one where children invaded a settlement house, stabbed one of the workers, smashed equipment and "turned boys upside down to get the pennies from their pockets."

Often comic books describe real crimes that have been featured in the newspapers. In adapting them for children the following points are stressed: the daring and success of the criminals is exalted; brutal acts are shown in detail; sordid details are emphasized; if there are any sexual episodes they are featured. In 1952 three men escaped from a penitentiary. They stole cars, evaded the police, kidnapped people, held up a bank, and were finally caught in New York where they were living with three girls. A real children's story! In the first picture there is an unmade bed, a half-nude man and a girl. The prison break is described like a heroic feat. The ease with which you can steal cars in the country from a farmer is pointed out to youngsters who do not know that yet. One of the criminals boasts to a little boy that he has killed fifteen or sixteen people, "I lost count."

The girls living with the criminals are featured, two of them hiding behind a shower curtain. There are seventy-six pictures of exploits; in the seventy-seventh picture the police take over with a cheap wisecrack.

All this is only a small sample from my collection and an infinitesimal part of the whole story. Juvenile delinquency is not just a prank nor an "emotional illness." The modern and more serious forms of delinquency involve knowledge of technique. By showing the technique, comic books also suggest the content. The moral lesson is that "innocence doesn't pay."

If it were the aim of adults to tempt children as persistently, as clearly and as graphically as possible, they would have to invent the comic-book industry. When I first announced my findings that these comic books are primers for crime, I was greeted with these arguments:

1) It is not true. Only the rarest comic book does that.

2) It is not true any more, though it may have been true in the past. Now that is all changed.

3) If true, it was always thus.

4) Crime comic books have no effect at all on children's behavior.

5) Crime comic books are a major force in preventing juvenile delinquency.

6) Crime comic books are not read by children, but only by adults.

7) Comic books affect only "emotionally unstable" or "insecure" children and not the average child.

All these arguments have influenced the public. That they are self-contradictory was evidently overlooked or forgiven.

What is the relationship of crime comic books to juvenile delinquency? If they would prevent juvenile delinquency, there would be very little of it left. And if they were the outlet for children's primitive aggressions, this would be a generation of very subdued and controlled children.

Our researches have proved that there is a significant correlation between crime-comics reading and the more serious forms of juvenile delinquency. Many children read only few comics, read them for only a short time, read the better type (to the extent that there is a better type) and do not become imbued with the whole crime-comics atmosphere. Those children, on the other hand, who commit the more serious types of delinquency nowadays, read a lot of comic books, go in for the worst type of crime comics, read them for a long time and live in thought in the crime-comics world. The whole publicity-stunt claim that crime comics prevent juvenile delinquency is a hoax. I have not seen a single crime comic book that would have any such effect, nor have I ever seen a child or young adult who felt that he had been prevented from anything wrong by a comic book. Supposing you wanted to prevent promiscuous, illegitimate sexual relations, would you publish millions of books showing in detail where and how the man picks up the girl, where they go, the details of their relationships in bed and then how the next morning somebody breaks into their room and tosses them out of bed? A comic-book defender would say this teaches that "Sex does not pay."

The role of comic books in delinquency is not the whole nor by any means the worst harm they do to children. It is just one part of it. Many children who never become delinquent or conspicuously disturbed have been adversely affected by them. Pouring sordid stories into the minds of children is not the same as pouring water over a duck's back. One would think that this would be the most elementary lesson in child guidance. But child experts have overlooked this for years without really studying children's comic-book reading.

How can a doctor discover that a man's diet is a contributing factor to his illness when he omits to ask the man what he eats, approves of what he is eating (without looking into what it really is) and does not know what these foodstuffs contain? This type of guidance has been practiced on children for years.

In 1951, Harper's magazine, in a piece attempting to refute my comic-book conclusions, quoted triumphantly the statement of a judge that he "never came across a single case where the delinquent or criminal act would be attributable to the reading of comic books." Should not such a statement carry tremendous weight in my investigations? How could I disregard it if I wanted to be thoroughly scientific?

So I did look into it. I checked. How many juvenile delinquents had come into this judge's court, altogether? One single case! Could he really defend the millions of crime comic books as they are? He had this to say, "I am firmly convinced that children should not be permitted to read the more lurid type of comic magazines, those which portray crime, violence, killing and sex situations. I am opposed to those books which are sadistic in tone. An unrelieved diet of violence and crime can do no good even to those children who are well-adjusted. Some children might readily obtain ideas of violence from comic books. Many children lack in maturity and judgment to control their actions after reading such books."

What about this judge's probation department? One of his chief probation officers was asked whether they ever inquired of any defendant about his comic-book reading. He replied, "The subject played no part in our thinking of any great consequence, any more than the reading of the average run of publications such as Life."

Superintendents of reformatories also made the "not a single case" statement. What about them? Not only do their records show that they made no examination in this respect, but some institutions are filled to the brim with the worst kind of comic books which keep the inmates occupied and quiet.

Comic-book reading in child-care institutions and reformatories is particularly harmful because these children are so restrained otherwise. Superintendents may not take official cognizance of it, or may have the illusion that only Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse are available in their particular institutions. A boy of thirteen was brought to me. He had just spent two years in a model reformatorylike institution. (Reformatories do not like the name reformatory, but they cling to reformatory methods.) This boy had got into trouble for stealing. He was a great comics reader, but in the reformatory "they would not allow the murder and mystery ones." The boy himself told me that the real practice was somewhat different from the rule. Reading crime comic books was "the only fun" he had had while in the institution.

Crime comics are certainly not the only factor, nor in many cases are they even the most important one, but there can be no doubt that they are the most unnecessary and least excusable one. In many cases, in conjunction with other factors, they are the chief one.

Edith was a delinquent girl of fourteen. Over the years the family had had contact with some twenty-five social agencies. It was a history of illness, vocational dislocation, disruption and financial difficulties. The girl, good-looking and anxious to get help, had serious aspirations to make something of her life. Surely in such a case one cannot disregard the social conditions, nor can one ascribe delinquency directly to them. One must search for the particular in the general, the individual in the social, and vice versa. There is no such thing as abstract frustration leading to abstract aggression.

What goes on in the mind of such a girl? Where does the rationalization come from that permits her to act against her better impulses? Her ideal was Wonder Woman. Here was a morbid model in action. For years her reading had consisted of comic books. There was no question but that this girl lived under difficult social circumstances. But she was prevented from rising above them by the specific corruption of her character development by comic-book seduction. The woman in her had succumbed to Wonder Woman. By reading many comic books the decent but tempted child has the moral props taken from under him. The antisocial suggestions from comic books reach children in their leisure time, when they are alone, when their defenses are down.

An official psychiatric report on a nine-year-old delinquent had summed up the situation as follows: "It is felt that the mother is neurotic and has been unable to afford Alfred the needed depth of feeling required for him to achieve a firm personality structure." This is the typical high-sounding doubletalk so widely employed these days with regard to troubled children. I saw his much harassed mother, who had been fighting a losing battle to protect her son from bad influences on the street and in the crime comics. What had society given him to provide him with a "firm personality structure"? Crime comics in an endless stream.

Judge Jacob Panken has observed three separate cases where children got hold of lighter fluid, saturated another child with it and set him afire. He found in these three instances that these children, coming from different boroughs, favored a particular comic book which has on its cover a burning human being in flames. He felt that in each instance the comic book shared the responsibility, that "it is the straw which breaks the camel's back."

A fifteen-year-old boy was accused of having shot and killed a boy of fourteen (the authorities chose to consider this accidental), of having thrown a cat from a roof, of having thrown a knife through a boy's foot, of sadistic acts with younger children, of having shot at a younger girl with a B.B. gun. After a full study of the psychological and social background, we came to the conclusion that the fact that he was an inveterate reader of comic books was an important contributing factor. His favorite comic book, read over and over, contained no less than eighty-one violent acts, including nineteen murders.

Even if the Howard Lang case had been the only one -- there were many others -- it should have been enough to make adults take steps against crime comics. This thirteen-year-old boy killed seven-year-old Lonnie in a dreadful fashion. In a lonely wood he stabbed him many times with a pocket knife, choked him, stamped and jumped on him, and then dropped on his face -- four times -- heavy blocks of concrete. After this, with the help of another boy, he hid the still-living victim under a heap of leaves. Lonnie lived another twelve to fourteen hours before finally dying in agony. The judge in the case, Judge Daniel A. Roberts, commented especially on the influence of crime comic books on Howard. He took judicial notice of twenty-six of the boy's comic books and stated that they showed "the homicidal, near-homicidal and brutal attacks upon the persons of the characters depicted by means of knives, guns, poison, arrows and darts, rocks off cliffs, etc." "It was testified," he went on, "that the defendant had observed or read these comic books since before he could actually read." Judge Roberts further characterized these comic books as "startling in the extreme, and nauseating and degrading to the moral sense. That these publications are permitted to be sold to the youth of the country is a travesty upon the country's good sense. The crime and horror comics are extremely ugly in appearance, caused by their creators' diabolic twist of mind ... sordid killings and gruesome plottings ... something must be done ... by law if the publishers will not properly censor their own work."

Glenn R. Winters, editor of the Journal of the American Judicature Society, a leading publication on jurisprudence, commented on Judge Roberts's observation that it "may be verified by an examination of practically any copy of any of the magazines." Mr. Winters further wrote in this connection that people are entitled to the cherished right to believe that comic books "had nothing whatever to do with making a potential murderer out of Howard Lang and that he would have been as likely to go the same way on a literary diet of The Bobbsey Twins and Pilgrim's Progress, but millions of American parents deeply concerned about surrounding their children with proper influences will not be so convinced."

At the retrial of the case Judge John A. Sbarbaro also referred specifically to the bad influence of comic books. The judge said, that in his opinion: "After much consideration of this evidence the Court feels it to be his duty to make certain specific suggestions for much needed legislation ... regulatory statutes restricting publication and distribution of harmful features of so-called comic books."

Despite all this, little Lonnie seems to have been forgotten and his horrible comic-book death has been in vain.

A very experienced youth counsellor in the course of group therapy in an institution asked two groups of delinquent boys whether and what they had learned about delinquency from comic books. From the first group, composed of nine boys from thirteen to fifteen, everyone said that he had received helpful suggestions from comic books:

1) Now listen to this. If you see a bathroom window lit up you know someone is at home. If it's still lit next day, no one is at home. They leave the key in the mailbox, under mats or in corners. If you see a milk bottle and a note in it, the note gives you a pretty good idea of the house. If you keep up with the notes, you know everything.

"Another thing: after a bride and groom get married they have a lot of presents they keep in the house, so the only thing you have to do is get two tickets to a show like Oklahoma, cost about $5.50 apiece. You send them to the bride and groom and they're pretty sure to go. On most tickets they have a date, so that you know when they go. When they're gone, you go in and take your time and help yourself.

"As smart as I am, I never thought of this. I got it all from the comics."

2) "I got my bad ideas from the comics, stabbing, robbing, stealing guns and all that stuff. In a comic book I read two kids rob a store and steal guns and get away and grow up to be bank robbers. So I did the same thing -- only I didn't grow up to be a bank robber -- yet!"

3) "I read about a perfect robbery and used parts of it. This was in a crime comic magazine and it said these three men were still at large and didn't get caught, so I figured I could pull the same stuff."

The second group was made up of ten boys, twelve to sixteen. Except for one boy, all described the delinquency lessons of comic books:

1) "In the comics I saw a cat kicked by a man so I kicked the cat because I saw it happen that way."

2) "I saw how to carry a gun in a suitcase and a shopping bag. If I ever had to do it, that's the way I'd do it."

3) "I learned how to break a seal off a freight car from the comics and how to put on another so you don't get caught."

4) "I learned how to rob cars from the comics. They tell you, if the door's open, how to switch wires."

5) "I got this from the comics. The patrolman would make his beat. We'd find out what time he goes past and back. We saw how they take a strip from a window and take out the window, and we did the same. Another idea we got was taping the windows and cracking them. Then you take the tape off and pick the glass out. When a train goes past, like the Third Avenue El, we'd crack the window with our fist. We got all this from comics."

Some members of the Hookey Club described some of their delinquencies which had not been found out. One boy told how he had snatched purses from women. "In the comic books it shows how to snatch purses. You should read them if you got the time [To me.]. It shows a boy going to a woman and asking her where the church is. She naturally drops her arm and goes waving. So you just grab the purse and run. Usually they can't run after you. She has the bag in her hand, waving to a certain place. You just grab her arm. It was in different comic books. They all build that stuff up. You pick desolate places, where nobody is around." If such delinquent fantasies are stirred in hundreds of thousands of children, it is inevitable that some of them will carry out their fantasies in fact.

There is no doubt that the impulse to commit a delinquent act is important. What counteracts the impulse, however, is equally important. In the children I have studied, I have endeavored to determine what perspective of life the child had and what it came from. Children, like adults, are impelled in different directions, good or bad. It is up to us to determine the factors which in the individual case tip the scales. To disregard the comic-book factor is unfair to children, particularly in the light of the severe punishments they so often receive, after they have become delinquent. A little attention beforehand would do away with a lot of detention afterwards.
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Re: Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Postby admin » Tue Dec 03, 2013 11:20 pm

7: "I Want to Be a Sex Maniac!"

Comic Books and the Psycho-Sexual Development of Children

"Give me good proofs of what you have alleged; 'Tis not enough to say -- in such a bush There lies a thief."

-- Shakespeare


A small boy who had made ample use of the reading and entertainment we provide up plentifully for children was once asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. His instant reply was enthusiastic: "I want to be a sex maniac!"

To describe the morbid aspects of sex as purveyed in stories which have no artistic justification may sound obscene. But it can hardly be objected to in this book for adults since it is the common subject matter of what we give children to read.

Does comic-book reading influence the sexual development of children? The question of sex education has been much discussed. Some preach almost unlimited openness and frankness, even at an early age. Others feel sex education must proceed very slowly, that it is best to begin with the birds and flowers. No correct answers can be given to such questions as, should sex instruction be given at home or in the school? because the questions are wrong. Children get it anyhow, and in both places. The problem is that what they get is so often wrong instruction. And even if nothing is said about sex, that is a form of sex instruction too. The greatest error is to think of sexual problems in isolation. They are part of life. They influence other aspects of life and are in turn themselves influenced.

One starting-point for a discussion of sex education should be the fact that sex in its subtle and crude aspects often causes a great deal of mental anguish to children. They could often be spared such painful preoccupations, worries, inferiority feelings and guilt complexes as frequently occupy them. Education has not only the positive aspect of imparting knowledge, but also the preventative aspect of warding off harmful influences. If harmful influences are widespread in the population, a formal course of sex instruction, separated from everything else, can achieve little.

Pre-adolescence and adolescence are manifestly the most difficult periods in children's sexual development. This is so not only on account of the maturing of the sexual instinct, as is commonly supposed, but also because of the awakening of social feelings at that time. All human beings have to learn a rationale of controlling, disciplining and, if you will, sublimating sexual impulses. Only a decent social orientation can lead to a decent sex life, for practically all psychological sex problems are ethical problems. In sexual education as in other education, one should also not forget that we are bringing children up not to be children, but to be adults.

Contrary to the opinion of unprogressive progressive educationalists, children like to be guided. When we adults disappoint them by not giving them any worthy models to follow, we theorize that children resent authority. They do not. Actually they have a natural need to be led and directed.

With the progress of scientific research, a road on which the names of Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis, Freud, Stekel and Kinsey are signposts, we have learned more and more that sexual behavior varies widely and that many patterns which used to be regarded as serious crimes, extremely immoral conduct or severe abnormalities do not deserve to be so seriously regarded. And yet education for a happy life must take into account that sexual irregularities in one way or another may spell great unhappiness and suffering. A liberal-minded attitude appropriate in dealing with fully grown adults is unfair when used as an excuse for not warding off harmful influences from children.

Comic books stimulate children sexually. That is an elementary fact of my research. In comic books over and over again, in pictures and text, and in the advertisements as well, attention is drawn to sexual characteristics and to sexual actions. As one boy expressed it to me when I was discussing with a group what is good and bad in comics, "The sexism is bad, but to tell you the truth, I like that most!" There are children -- and very young ones, too, according to our researches -- who get stirred up by this "sexism." That is not the free development of children, that is a sexual arousal which amounts to seduction.

One might speculate that children in good circumstances with strict ethical education would be immune against such temptation and seduction. But that is a naive and amateurish view although the comic-book industry has been able through its scientific spokesmen to put it over on the public. We studied, for example, comics reading in 355 children, boys and girls, from a parochial school. In this school ethical teaching played a large part and all the children had undergone this uniform influence. Economically, they came from better than average homes. Their grades ranged from 5B through 8B. Their identity was fully protected so that they felt completely free to express their real opinions.

The authorities of the school, who were very co-operative and interested, had opinions about comic books that differed from mine. They assumed that their children do not read the "bad" ones and that comic books were getting better and better, with fewer bad ones and those bad ones improving. They thought that if their children should see bad comics, their moral training and teaching would prevent them from reading them.

Our findings, based entirely on what the children themselves said, showed that, like most other adults, the school authorities had misjudged the comic-book situation, and that under their very eyes many of these children are being seduced by the industry. A large number "read" comic books from the age of four or four and a half, long before school age. Many know and read the "bad" comic books which we had found to be the most disturbing to ethical development. They named as "bad ones": Crime Does Not Pay, Mr. District Attorney, horror comics like Vault of Horror, Superman, Jungle Comics, crime, murder and mystery comics, Crime busters, Captain Marvel, Western Comics, Classics, Tales of the Crypt, True Love.

Their comments are revealing. One boy said about Superman, "It teaches 'crime does not pay' -- but it teaches crime." Another said, "Superman is bad because they make him sort of a God." Still another, "Superman is bad because if the children believe Superman they will believe most anything."

A ten-year-old said, "I think they're bad, but good to read!" What they mean by "bad" is interesting. One boy said, "Some are dirty, some give you bad thoughts." This was a common comment. A number of the children include love comics among "bad ones," thereby expressing much better ethical judgment than their elders.

Quite a few of the children indicated plainly that comic books affect them sexually. Many used the expression of a ten-year-old who said, "Some comic books lead us into sin." They used such phrases as "impure dress," "some have no clothes on," "indecency," "naked," "they are not modest." Many children have received a false concept of "love," thinking of it as something "dirty." They lump together "love, murder and robbery."

From comic books these children get just the opposite of what they learn at school or at home. They are taught, "Lead me not into temptation," but temptation in the form of comic books is offered them everywhere. Even if the ethical teaching they get should prevail, we place on them the burden of an intense emotional, moral conflict. An eleven-year-old jungle-book reader said that "comic books are very exciting and very bad and dirty." How is a child to distinguish between the excitement approved by the Child Study Association of America as good for children and the bad thoughts not approved by the parochial school?

Since I have written about comic books I have heard from quite a number of young adults who told me that their childhood emotional masturbation problem was started or aggravated by comic books. This has been borne out by our studies of children. Masturbation is harmless enough. But when accompanied by unhealthy -- especially sado-masochistic -- fantasies it may become a serious factor in the maladjustment of children. When I have presented my findings for discussion, I have often been told that children who had such comic-book sex fantasies were not at all harmed by them. But is it not one of the elementary facts of modern psychopathology. that childhood experiences very often do not manifest themselves as recognizable symptoms or behavior patterns in childhood, but may crop up later in adult life as perverse and neurotic tendencies?

One of the stock mental aphrodisiacs in comic books is to draw girls' breasts in such a way that they are sexually exciting. Wherever possible they protrude and obtrude. Or girls are shown in slacks or negligees with their pubic regions indicated with special care and suggestiveness. Many children miss that, but very many do not. In other run-of-the-mill comic books, as was first pointed out to me by adolescents who collected them, special emphasis is given in whole series of illustrations to girls' buttocks. This is a kind of fetichism and in some individuals leads to rigid fetichistic tendencies either in fantasy or in actual life later. Such preoccupations, as we know from psychoanalytic and Rorschach studies, may have a relationship also to early homosexual attitudes.

At some of the sessions of the Hookey Club, when there were only adolescent boys present, no younger ones and no girls, discussions about comic books were sometimes pretty outspoken. One boy discussed the comic book, Crimes by Women. "There is one that is sexy! Her legs are showing above her knees and her headlights are showing plenty! She has a smoking gun in her hand as though she had already shot somebody. When you see a girl and you see her headlights and she is beaten up, that makes you hot and bothered! If she will take a beating from a man she will take anything from him." Another boy defended Crimes by Women and showed a copy of Penalty which he said was worse. "It shows how to commit burglaries, holdups. A gangster has a hand on a girl's shoulder. He is working his way down to her headlights."

The keynote of the comic books' sexual message, drummed into children from a tender age on, is the admixture of sensuality with cruelty. The illustrations are, as the Art Digest called them, "perverted." It is a special perversion that they cultivate most of all, sadism. Sadism is defined as "the gratification of sexual feeling by the infliction of or sight of pain" (William White).

In very young children comic books set up confusion and create a sadistic interpretation of sex. Ronnie, a six-year-old comic-book addict attending the Clinic, often played with a boy a year or so older who lived downstairs in the same house. One day this playmate took a little girl and Ronnie into his room and proceeded to take off the girl's clothes. Ronnie watched a bit, then ran upstairs excitedly, told his mother all about what he had seen and asked her, "What's he going to do to her -- choke her?"

The short circuit which connects violence with sex is a primitive pattern slumbering in all people. It can easily be released in children if it is drilled into them early enough and long enough. It is to these primitive layers of the undeveloped mind, to this weak spot, that comic books appeal. The stories and pictures arouse vague yearnings and suggest ways in which sadism can be practiced or daydreamed about. Children transpose sadism into their own sphere. A fifteen-year-old boy who for a considerable time was given psychotherapy at the Clinic used to speed close to girls on his bicycle. Then he would stretch out his arm suddenly and hit them on the breast.

Running over a young girl on the sidewalk is described in a comic book. John, a boy of nine, put this sequence into practice, and deliberately knocked over a girl with his bicycle. He told me about it, "I got a thrill out of it -- a thrilling sensation ..."

Graphic description of sexual flagellation on the buttocks is frowned upon by the Post Office -- if it occurs in adult books. But in a typical comic book for children such erotic scenes are described in detail. The villain (a foreigner, of course) has the half-nude girl in his power. As an appetizer, she is hit in the face. Then: "I know that you shall love me and shall be loyal after you have taken a dozen or so lashes across your beautiful back!"

She is taken to the cellar, bound by the wrists to a tall post, her breasts conspicuously drawn, and pleads for mercy. The man stands behind her with a coiled whip in hand.

In Western comic books, the erotic spanking of a girl by a man is frankly featured. Beatings with a sexual connotation occur in many comic books.

A boy of twelve was brought to me a while ago because "he forced his sister to get undressed and tried to have sex relations with her." The sister was nine years old. Such occurrences are less rare than is generally assumed. And frequently one can straighten out a child like this if one diagnoses the whole situation. After I had seen this boy a number of times, he told me about it spontaneously. He said he had threatened to break his sister's arm if she told anybody. This is not the kind of thing that boys used to tell their little sisters. To break people's arms, or to threaten to do so, is one of the comic-book devices. It is even represented on comic covers.

If a medical student had to write a paper for his psychopathology class on the varieties of sadistic fantasies and sadistic acts, he could cover the whole field by studying just what is in our children's comics. In a comic book, typically full of blood, violence and nudity, the erotic hanging theme is exploited. The average reader, of a generation not brought up on comics, may not realize the connection between sex and hanging, with one of the typical perverse fantasies for wishing to hang an undressed girl and watch her struggles. But this is made abundantly clear to children in their daily reading matter. In one story a man "kills for sport." There is a sequence with illustrations of half-nude girls where he makes this comment:

"Ho-Ho! What a hangman I make! The police are blundering fools! But I am an artist!"

"My noose will fit around that pretty's neck!"

In the next picture the blonde girl, clad in a noose, a bra and Bikini trunks is hanging from a tree. And you see her again, hanging "in a death struggle."

There are individuals who suffer from the truly dangerous perversion of wishing to hurt or kill couples making love to each other. The comic-book industry obliges by describing such cases in detail. So, the child who had never had such an idea before will learn it; the one who had any idea at all, however faintly, will have it nourished and given form. One picture shows a couple in an automobile, both the young man and the girl with blood streaming all over their faces from bullet holes in their heads. In the story the murderer was never caught.

Some comic books describe sexual sadism with its most morbid psychological refinements. In a recent comic book a man makes love to a married woman, while her husband, whose leg has been injured by the lover, has to look helplessly on. The lover kisses the girl, taunting the husband all the while. The girl gets sexually so excited by this perverse situation that she exclaims: "STOP! I can't stand it any more!"

Another morbid fantasy is the idea of drawing blood from a girl's veins in order to overpower her completely. Outside of the forbidden pages of Sade himself, you find this fully described and depicted only in children's comic books.

We have traced the effect of this seduction to sadism. Children's spontaneous drawings are one good indicator. In one such drawing, a girl is tied nude to a post. A handkerchief is stuffed into her mouth. On the floor are her discarded panties. In front of her is a boy heating some torture instruments over a fire. On his chest is the S of the superman.

Several young men who gloated over these sadistic comics stories as adolescents have told me that during sexual relations they have to rely on the fantasy that the girl is bound and tied down in one way or another.

Certain kinds of books and magazines of pornographic or semipornographic character for adults are called "high-heel" literature. This has to do with the erotic character that high heels have for certain men. Psychiatrists know that there are men who collect shoes with high heels, as a kind of fetich for erotic pleasure, and that other men have such fantasies as having women with very high-heeled shoes step on them. In the ordinary comic book for children exaggeratedly high heels are introduced and appeal to these latent fetichistic tendencies. In one comic book with a story on "the man who shanghaied more than 1,000 men from the San Francisco docks," there is suddenly -- unrelated to the story -- an illustration showing large in the foreground only the lower part of a girl's legs, in net stockings and very high-heeled red shoes. The young boy who called my attention to this told me he and his friends got a kick out of it. This type of picture, showing only legs and extremely high heels -- and interrupting a story of action to do so -- is a repeated motif in different comic books. Several boys have told me that they collect these comics illustrations and use them for sexual fantasies, with or without masturbation.

A nineteen-year-old boy told me about his high-heel fantasies: "You are the first one I tell it to. I think of girls twisting their heels on my chest and face." His first complete sexual stimulation had come from masochistic scenes in comic books at the age of about ten or eleven. "This woman had a castle and in order to generate the electricity all the men had to push something. The women, who were glamorously dressed, would hit the men, who were in various stages of undress."

The average adult may not know much about the fact that there are men who are masochists and indulge in fantasies of a strong woman to whom they must act as slaves and who whips them if they do not carry out all her whims. Books for adults with detailed descriptions of sexual masochism and without artistic merit are considered pornographic. Masochism derives its name from the novelist Sacher Masoch who wrote such stories. Typical masochist fantasies that could be straight out of Sacher Masoch are offered to little boys and girls by the comic-book industry. In one story a baroness has two male slaves. They "obeyed her every whim while she lorded it over them with a savage tyranny!" The accompanying picture shows the baroness, whip in hand. She talks about forcing a man "to come to me on his knees" and speaks of him as "my willing slave." In one scene which might be from a case history by Krafft-Ebing you see her whipping a man who is crouched on the floor: "So! You dare to kiss me, do you, you dog? Take that! and that!"

Many years ago, as a postgraduate medical student, I listened to lectures on the psychopathology of sex. I did not think then that one day I would have so much difficulty in convincing people that what I learned there about sick adults was not the best reading matter for healthy children!

There are men who have a desire to see undressed girls tied to posts or with their hands bound behind their backs or above their heads, or confined in chains. Such deviations of psychosexual development usually have their origin in some early chance experience either seen, heard or read. American children are given every opportunity to develop these psychopathic tendencies.

A twelve-year-old sex delinquent told me, "In the comic books sometimes the men threaten the girls. They beat them with their hands. They tie them around to a chair and then they beat them. When I read such a book I get sexually excited. They don't get me sexually excited all the time, only when they tie them up." The difference between the surreptitious pornographic literature for adults and children's comic books is this: in one it is a question of attracting perverts, in the other of making them.

There is a lot of loose and irresponsible talk about children's sadistic reading being a help to them in getting rid of their aggression. I have yet to see a single adolescent who had sadistic fantasies and wishes and got rid of them by reading sadistic comic books. Nor have I found a single published case.

A group of Hookey Club boys from twelve to fifteen discussed what they thought was good and bad in comic books and spoke about "torture" as a bad feature. Most of them agreed they liked books showing it, though. I asked the boys whether any of them, if they actually had a little girl in a lonely place, would really like to tie her up, beat her and torture her. I wondered whether any of them would admit to that and asked for a show of hands. Everybody smiled -- and every hand went up. They had learned their comic-book lessons well. It is frequently overlooked that long before the age of puberty children may have very elaborate sexual fantasies which do them no good. The sexualized brutality of crime comic books leads not infrequently to a connection between the thrill of suspense and that of sexual arousal -- a kind of anxiety stimulation. Sometimes this may go far enough to produce orgasm. "I think sex all boils down to anxiety," one boy told me. In some cases, more often in girls but also in boys, this arousal is closely related to masochism.
There is a special kind of cruelty mixing crimes against property and sexual exploits which I have hardly ever encountered in juvenile cases before the comic-book era. Nowadays it is not at all uncommon.

A boy from a well-to-do family was referred to me for psychotherapy after he had become very inattentive in his studies. During treatment he told me once that he and three other boys, fifteen and sixteen years old, used to go to a candy store in the neighborhood where they ate ice-cream cones, bought comic books and talked big. One evening in one of the boy's parents' car they drove from the suburb where they lived to Broadway. There they picked up a young prostitute and took her to the home of one of the boys whose parents were away. Two of them had intercourse with her and various sexual experiments were tried out, the girl being very co-operative. They paid her five dollars each. After that, all four went out with her in the car to drive her back to Broadway as they had promised. On the way they had a bright idea. They stopped the car, pounced upon the girl and while one held her forcibly around the neck the others beat her unmercifully about the face and body. They went through her handbag and took out all her money. One boy, hitting her in the face, said to her, "You are too independent!" The girl did not fight back. She just sat and cried and said it was not fair after she had been so nice to them. Then they left her at a subway station, with just enough money to pay her fare. This is comic-book stuff.

Comic books create sex fears of all kinds. In girls the identification of sex with violence and torture may cause fear of sex, fear of men and actual frigidity. A Western with a picture of Tom Mix on the cover has in one story no less than sixteen consecutive pictures of a girl tied up with ropes, her hands of course tied behind her back! She is shown in all kinds of poses, each more sexually suggestive than the other, and her facial expression shows that she seems to enjoy this treatment. Psychiatrically speaking, this is nothing but the masturbation fantasy of a sadist, and it has a corresponding effect on boys. For girls, and those boys who identify themselves with the girl, it may become the starting-point for masochistic fantasies.

Some of the ordinary comic books have illustrations revealing crude sexual details if you look at them in a certain way. The shoulder of a man with a red scarf around his neck shows a girl's nude body. This is so clear that it can induce the immature reader to look for such things and stir him up sexually.

Love comics do harm in the sphere of taste, esthetics, ethics and human relations. The plots are stereotyped, banal, cheap. Whereas in crime comics the situation is boy meets girl, boy beats girl; in love comics it is boy meets girl, boy cheats girl -- or vice versa.

Adolescent girls are not helped by this bit from a love comic: "How long can a beautiful woman wait for love? Is it a crime to take passion where it is found -- regardless of mocking faithfulness? (For the thrilling answer see page 17.)"

Love comics, like crime comics, play up the angle that what they depict is real life. "These girls are real people with real problems and real dramatic confessions," says a typical issue. What do these "real" girls want? "More than anything in the world I wanted glamor, money, adventure ..." What are their problems? The titles of the stories give the answer:

FALLEN WOMAN

RUNAWAY PASSION!

PRICE OF PRIDE

FORBIDDEN LOVE

MY FOOLISH MISTAKE!

MUST I REVEAL MY PAST?


In crime comics normal sexual life is repressed, whereas violence is shown in detail. In love comics it is just the reverse. Homicide is usually prevented at the last moment, while fornication is completed:

"Violent passions smouldered in my heart! I burned with love for a man who could never be mine. In a moment of weakness I surrendered to a tragic impulse and grasped at a forbidden love!"

Or: "Naive, innocent fool that I was, I thought he was asking me to marry him! But I found out different fifteen minutes after we checked into the hotel!! My folks hushed it up of course ... and I learned to forget...."

Or, again: "One moment of sin ... The ugliest sin in the world ... would it bring her a lifetime of happiness?" (sic!)

There are no good modern studies on childhood prostitution, although the case material for such a study is unfortunately not lacking. The whole subject is hushed up, just as juvenile drug addiction was until recently. Childhood prostitution is always due to neglect by the family (which often cannot help itself) and by social agencies. It is on the increase at present. Comic books do their share in laying the psychological groundwork.

Annie, aged ten, engaged in sex play with men for which she received money. Like most children she was very suggestible. From comic books she absorbed fantasies of violence and sex, but the few constructive things she saw, like the movie about Sister Kenny, stimulated her to the constructive fantasy of becoming a nurse. "I fooled around with men, young men and old men. They gave me a dollar. I don't have my period yet. They just took down my pants. I meet the men on the docks. They did it in a shady house, a house that has all kinds of tools in it -- hammers. I went over there four times a week. I don't like it. Girls don't like it. I did it for the money. Sometimes I would get half a dollar, sometimes a quarter. Some men don't give you anything. Cheap, ain't they!"

This girl read about twenty comic books a day. Some of them she read over three or four times. After she saw the Sister Kenny movie she formed the ideal of becoming a nurse who "cures the people." But one good movie could not prevail over hundreds of comic books.

Other varieties follow the pattern of adult organized prostitution, except that the girls get younger and younger and sometimes the purveyors do, too. A girl of seventeen supplied schoolgirls of twelve to fourteen to middle-aged men. She had about twenty-five girls. The official investigation, which was far from thorough, estimated that at least fifty adult men were involved. The seventeen-year-old girl got $1.50 to $2.00 from each customer. But she gave the girls only a quarter or fifty cents.

There are quite a number of obscure stores where children congregate, often in back rooms, to read and buy secondhand comic books. The proprietors usually permit the children to spend a lot of time in their establishments and to pore over the comic books. In some parts of cities, men hang around these stores which sometimes are foci of childhood prostitution. Evidently comic books prepare the little girls well.

Homosexual childhood prostitution, especially in boys, is often associated with stealing and with violence. For all these activities children are softened up by comic books. Their superego formation with regard to sex is interfered with in a subtle way: everything is permitted to men in comic books and there is constant sex stimulation. Charles was studied at the Quaker Emergency Service Readjustment Center. At the age of twelve he engaged in regular prostitution. He did not play hookey, but followed this occupation after school hours. He said, "I meet the men in office places or places of business. They give me a dollar or fifty cents. I wondered how they'd be so generous. Some men are about thirty-five." The outstanding feature in this boy's examination was his moral confusion. Comic books contributed to this. "I usually read comic books, Gangbusters or True Comics, about ten or fifteen a week, about two a day. I trade them."

More has been printed on the subject of homosexuality than on any other sexual phenomenon. This would indicate not only a preoccupation with the subject, but also that our understanding of it is still incomplete.

Comic books, like other books, can be read at different levels, with different people getting out of them different things. That does not depend only on differences in age; it is affected also by more subtle factors of constitution, experience, inclination and unconscious susceptibilities. To determine them, I have let children draw, write and make up stories; have studied their dreams and asked them directly or in playroom observation what they got out of these stories, what they dislike, how they thought the stories would affect other children -- especially younger ones.

Many pre-adolescent boys pass through a phase of disdain for girls. Some comic books tend to fix that attitude and instill the idea that girls are good only for being banged around or used as decoys. A homoerotic attitude is also suggested by the presentation of masculine, bad, witchlike or violent women. In such comics women are depicted in a definitely anti-erotic light, while the young male heroes have pronounced erotic overtones. The muscular male supertype, whose primary sex characteristics are usually well emphasized, is in the setting of certain stories the object of homoerotic sexual curiosity and stimulation. This, incidentally, is increased by the male "art nudes" featured in advertisements in millions of children's comics, which correspond to the athletic male art nudes appearing in certain magazines for adults so often collected by homosexuals.

In an issue of a popular comic there is on the back cover a full-page colored picture. It shows a stalwart youth, nude except for a well-filled loin cloth. No young man or adolescent in the upper-age groups whom I asked to describe this picture in one word used any expression except "fairy." The boy has long blonde hair falling over his shoulders and bound with a red ribbon over his forehead. On both wrists are green bracelets, and graceful ribands twist around his ankles above his bare feet. He wears a bare dagger coquettishly fixed in front of one hip. He has big blue eyes and a beautiful suntan. His expression, to quote one of the boys who commented on it, is "sissy and sappy."

Many adolescents go through periods of vague fears that they might be homosexual. Such fears may become a source of great mental anguish and these boys usually have no one in whom they feel they can confide. In a number of cases I have found this sequence of events: At an early age these boys become addicted to the homoerotically tinged type of comic book. During and after comic-book reading they indulged in fantasies which became severely repressed. Life experiences, either those drawing their attention to the great taboo on homosexuality or just the opposite -- experiences providing any kind of temptation -- raise feelings of doubt, guilt, shame and sexual malorientation.

The term pederasty does not mean -- as is often erroneously believed -- a crude physical relationship between men. It comes from the Greek word pais meaning a youth or boy, which is also the root of such words as pedagogy. Pederasty means the erotic relationship between a mature man and a young boy.

Several years ago a California psychiatrist pointed out that the Batman stories are psychologically homosexual. Our researches confirm this entirely. Only someone ignorant of the fundamentals of psychiatry and of the psychopathology of sex can fail to realize a subtle atmosphere of homoerotism which pervades the adventures of the mature "Batman" and his young friend "Robin." Male and female homoerotic overtones are present also in some science-fiction, jungle and other comic books.

Just as ordinary crime comic books contribute to the fixation of violent and hostile patterns by suggesting definite forms for their expression, so the Batman type of story helps to fixate homoerotic tendencies by suggesting the form of an adolescent-with-adult or Ganymede-Zeus type of love-relationship.

In the Batman type of Comic book such a relationship is depicted to children before they can even read. Batman and Robin, the "dynamic duo," also known as the "daring duo," go into action in their special uniforms. They constantly rescue each other from violent attacks by an unending number of enemies. The feeling is conveyed that we men must stick together because there are so many villainous creatures who have to be exterminated. They lurk not only under every bed but also behind every star in the sky. Either Batman or his young boy friend or both are captured, threatened with every imaginable weapon, almost blown to bits, almost crushed to death, almost annihilated. Sometimes Batman ends up in bed injured and young Robin is shown sitting next to him. At home they lead an idyllic life. They are Bruce Wayne and "Dick" Grayson. Bruce Wayne is described as a "socialite" and the official relationship is that Dick is Bruce's ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases, and have a butler, Alfred. Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown. As they sit by the fireplace the young boy sometimes worries about his partner: "Something's wrong with Bruce. He hasn't been himself these past few days." It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together. Sometimes they are shown on a couch, Bruce reclining and Dick sitting next to him, jacket off, collar open, and his hand on his friend's arm. Like the girls in other stories, Robin is sometimes held captive by the villains and Batman has to give in or "Robin gets killed."

Robin is a handsome ephebic boy, usually shown in his uniform with bare legs. He is buoyant with energy and devoted to nothing on earth or in interplanetary space as much as to Bruce Wayne. He often stands with his legs spread, the genital region discreetly evident.

In these stories there are practically no decent, attractive, successful women. A typical female character is the Catwoman, who is vicious and uses a whip. The atmosphere is homosexual and anti-feminine. If the girl is good-looking she is undoubtedly the villainess. If she is after Bruce Wayne, she will have no chance against Dick. For instance, Bruce and Dick go out one evening in dinner clothes, dressed exactly alike. The attractive girl makes up to Bruce while in successive pictures young Dick looks on smiling, sure of Bruce. Violence is not lacking in these stories. You are shown Batman and Robin standing in a room with a whole row of corpses on the floor.

In a study of over a thousand homosexual cases at the Quaker Emergency Service Readjustment Center we found that the arousal of homosexual fantasies, the translation of fantasies into fact and the transition from episodic homosexual experiences to a confirmed fixation of the pattern may be due to all sorts of accidental factors. The Batman type of story may stimulate children to homosexual fantasies, of the nature of which they may be unconscious. In adolescents who realize it they may give added stimulation and reinforcement.

In many adolescents the homoerotic, anti-feminist trend unconsciously aroused or fostered by these stories is demonstrable. We have inquired about Batman from overt homosexuals treated at the Readjustment Center, to find out what they thought the influence of these Batman stories was on children and adolescents. A number of them knew these stories very well and spoke of them as their favorite reading. The reply of one intelligent, educated young homosexual was typical: "I don't think that they would do any harm sexually. But they probably would ruin their morals."

One young homosexual during psychotherapy brought us a copy of Detective Comics, with a Batman story. He pointed out a picture of "The Home of Bruce and Dick" a house beautifully landscaped, warmly lighted and showing the devoted pair side by side, looking out a picture window. When he was eight this boy had realized from fantasies about comic-book pictures that he was aroused by men. At the age of ten or eleven, "I found my liking, my sexual desires, in comic books. I think I put myself in the position of Robin. I did want to have relations with Batman: The only suggestion of homosexuality may be that they seem to be so close to each other. I remember the first time I came across the page mentioning the 'secret bat cave.' The thought of Batman and Robin living together and possibly having sex relations came to my mind. You can almost connect yourself with the people. I was put in the position of the rescued rather than the rescuer. I felt I'd like to be loved by someone like Batman or Superman."

A boy of thirteen was treated by me in the Clinic while he was on several years' probation. He and a companion had forced a boy of eight, threatening him with a knife, to undress and carry out sexual practices with them. Like many other homo-erotically inclined children, he was a special devotee of Batman: "Sometimes I read them over and over again. They show off a lot. I don't remember Batman's name, but the boy's name is Robin. They live together. It could be that Batman did something with Robin like I did with the younger boy.... Batman could have saved this boy's life. Robin looks something like a girl. He has only trunks on."

The Lesbian counterpart of Batman may be found in the stories of Wonder Woman and Black Cat. The homosexual connotation of the Wonder Woman type of story is psychologically unmistakable. The Psychiatric Quarterly deplored in an editorial the "appearance of an eminent child therapist as the implied endorser of a series ... which portrays extremely sadistic hatred of all males in a framework which is plainly Lesbian."

For boys, Wonder Woman is a frightening image. For girls she is a morbid ideal. Where Batman is anti-feminine, the attractive Wonder Woman and her counterparts are definitely anti-masculine. Wonder Woman has her own female following. They are all continuously being threatened, captured, almost put to death. There is a great deal of mutual rescuing, the same type of rescue fantasies as in Batman. Her followers are the "Holliday girls," i.e. the holiday girls, the gay party girls, the gay girls. Wonder Woman refers to them as "my girls." Their attitude about death and murder is a mixture of the callousness of crime comics with the coyness of sweet little girls. When one of the Holliday girls is thought to have drowned through the machinations of male enemies, one of them says: "Honest, I'd give the last piece of candy in the world to bring her back!" In a typical story, Wonder Woman is involved in adventures with another girl, a princess, who talks repeatedly about "those wicked men."

In the Black Cat stories, the superwoman in ordinary life is a young girl like any other. But when she goes into action, she is "Black Cat" and has donned a sort of Superman uniform. In a story called "Mr. Zero and the Juvenile Delinquent" a little boy is mercilessly beaten and is about to be kicked, as he lies helplessly on the floor, when Black Cat intervenes. On an educational page in the same book she gives good advice for violence as instruction for self-defense:

"Swing the upper part of your body forward while slamming the edge of your left hand against his larynx. The impact will knock him down." At least!

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A comic-book baseball game. Notice the chest protector and other details in the text and pictures. [So now you know, fiends. Now you know why there is a ball game being played in the moonlight at midnight in the deserted Central City ball park. Look closely. See this strange baseball game! See the long strings of pulpy intestines that mark the base lines. See the two lungs and the liver that indicate the bases ... the heart that is home plate. See Doc White bend and whisk the heart with the mangy scalp, yelling ... "Play ball ... batter up! Let's go Philly, Boy! Pitch it in ...." See the batter come to the plate swinging the legs, the arms, then throwing all but one away and standing in the box waiting for the pitcher to hurl the head in to him. See the catcher with the torso strapped on as a chest-protector, the infielders with their hand-mits, the stomach-rosin-bag, and all the other pieces of equipment that once was Central City's star pitcher, Herbie Satten ...]

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Corpses of colored people strung up by their wrists.

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Comic-book philosophy.

[Kid Melton, The Killer Without a Friend!
"I don't need nobody! I'd stick a shiv in my best friend's back if it would get me an easy buck! Friendship is for suckers! Loyalty -- that's for jerks!" So spoke Kid Melton, Cincinnati's most hated criminal and he backed his words with bullets until he learned his lesson the hardest way of all!]

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[Phantom Lady]
Sexual stimulation by combining "headlights" with the sadist's dream of typing up a woman.

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Children call these "headlights" comics.

["This is a shame, but orders is orders!"
"Help! Help!"
"Hold her still, will ya?"]

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An invitation to learning.

["Where ya goin' on a night like dis, Tony? Ya ain't gonna shoot anybody with dat rod, are ya?

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Giving children an image of American womanhood.

["Lousy!!! Filthy!!! I'll tear ya ...

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Children told me what the man was going to do with the red-hot poker.

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Outside the forbidden pages of de Sade, you find draining a girl's blood only in children's comics.

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Cover of a children's comic book.

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Pity was the keynote when Homer described a dead body dragged behind a war chariot. Dragging living people to death is described without pity in children's comics.

["A couple more miles oughta do th' trick!"
"It better! These **** Gravel roads are tough on tires!"
"But ya gotta admit. There's nothing like 'em for erasing faces!"
"Superb! Even big Phil will admire this job if he lives long enough to identify the meat!"
Then Little Mike Turk would come roaring back!]

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What comic-book America stands for.

[Jo Vanna ran far -- he ran to America! He recalled the names his father had mentioned! He knew where to go -- to this fence -- to that gun seller! It wasn't long before Joe Vanna acquired a reputation ...]

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A sample of the injury-to-the-eye motif.

["Yes Mary Kennedy ... you try to square things with the big boss!"
"P-put th needle down!! NO!

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["But John Raddow doesn't pull a license out of his pocket ..." "AIEEE!" "BANG!" "You asked for it!"]

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Treating police contemptuously is a comic-book commonplace.

["The next instant, a gas shell bursts amidst the police ..." PING! ZING! SHUSS!

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["Stand! Draw not your blood in sight of the killer heads. They will live!"
"Aye, five will live, but one shall remain silent --"]

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["Jeepers! A dame -- and she's been croaked!"]
A girl raped and murdered.

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How to hurt people.

[VULNERABLE Eyes: Finger jab or thumb gouge
Nose: Heel of hand blow or pressure
Chin: Heel of hand or fist blow
Throat -- Adam's Apple -- Carotid arteries -- wind pipe: edge of hand, finger jab or hand pressure
Temples: Kick or extended knuckles blow
Bridge of Nose: edge of hand blow
Lips: Edge of hand blow or pinch
Heart: Fist blow or Kick
Solar Plexus: extended fingers, fist or kick
Pit of stomach: fist blow or kick
Knees -- Front, Inside and Outside: Kick or counter joint movement.
Shins: kick
Ankle and foot: Counter joint movement
Arch: Heel stamp
FRONT.
One of the secrets of defensive tactics is this: there are certain spots in the body more sensitive than the rest of the body area. By concentrating your attack on those spots you can easily gain the advantage over any attacker regardless of his apparent superiority in weight or size. These charts, made for the use of government agents in training, show just where those spots are and what personal weapons to use against them.]

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["He screamed as I drove it in. I felt it tear flesh, crunch against cartilage. I raised it and stabbed again and again ..."]

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[I pointed to the spot below Lon's chest ... below the torn flesh and blood ...
"Look. navel. He had a navel."
"Incredible! He ... He was a mammal!"]

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["Where he came from, the superior race is the mammal, which bears its young alive ... attached to the mother by an umbilical cord."
"And here ... we lay eggs! We have no navels!"]

A young girl on her wedding night stabs her sleeping husband to death with a hatpin when she realizes that he comes from a distant planet and is a "mammal."

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[CRIME DETECTIVE REAL POLICE CASES "But -- I tell ya! I came here becuz I was thinking about my mind!"
"Yeah, horseface -- we know you were thinking -- we smelled rubber burning -- c'mon -- let's see what the judge thinks!!"
PSYCHIATRIST]

Caricature of the author in a position comic-book publishers wish he were in permanently.

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Children's drawing found by police on boy-burglars.

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["We gotta time it just like a football play. I've rented this vacant store for our ambush spot --"
"It's a perfect spot for me and the chopper."]

MODERN JUVENILE DELINQUENCY INVOLVES KNOWLEDGE OF TECHNIQUE.

Comic-book map for crime.

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[John Evans' scheme of murder ...
1. Boards train, 8 p.m.
2. Leaves to kill Mike, 8:14 p.m.
3. Flies to meet train, 12 midnight.
4. Arrives Boston, 1 a.m.]

How to prepare an alibi.

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Diagram for housebreakers.

[Diagram of Denzer's device for locking window inside from outside ...
He looped doubled string under bolt handle. Ends of string (A & B) led up over top of open window to outside window surface. He left through window.
Outside, he reached in, grasped window, slammed it towards himself, closing it. Then pulled both strands (A & B) through sprungcrack (C) locking bolt in cradle.
He next released strand B, pulled on strand A, and reclaimed entire string.]

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["I'll teach you! I'll teach you to do as you're told!"
"Oh-h-h!"]

The title of this comic book is First Love

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["He's dead all right, professor Reid! He was strangled by some brute hands! Look at his face ... fear is written all over it!"
"But look at his mouth! His tongue ... it's been ripped out!"]

Children are first shocked and then desensitized by all this brutality.

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["Jeepers! I better call the cops!"]

The wish to hurt or kill couples in Lovers' Lanes is a not uncommon perversion.

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Stomping on the face is a form of brutality which modern children learn early.

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["This'll maybe help you to grow up faster'n anythin' I know about."
"Rick, you -- ouch! -- put me down! Do you hear? Put me down this instant! Oh, I've -- ouch! -- never been so insulted in my life! I'll have the sheriff on you, Rick Dennison! I'll -- I'll -- (SOB) -- Oh!"]

Erotic spanking in a Western comic book.

Image

[With plenty to offer ... ]

Indeed!

Image

[But as she bites into his neck and he feels a burning poisonous venom seeping through his veins paralizing his every muscle ... he realizes the answer to it all!]

Sex and blood.

Image

[The graphic story of boys and girls running wild in the violence-ridden slums of today!
Reform School Girl!
They succumbed to temptation!
This is the story of youth gone wrong ... and of the penalty hundreds of pretty girls have to pay when they allow themselves to fall victim to unscrupulous men, their own wayward emotions, and the other hidden pitfalls of a sensation-crazed society!]

Comic books are supposed to be like fairy tales.
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Re: Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

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8. "Bumps and Bulges"

Advertising in Comic Books

"But they have raised no cry, I wonder why."
-- Countee Cullen


One is apt to forget that besides delinquent and emotionally disturbed children there are many children who are just plain unhappy. That is particularly true of adolescents. If you gain their confidence and give them a chance to talk to you under suitable circumstances you will find that one of their most frequent and serious worries has to do with the growth of their bodies.

Writing about the health problems of adolescents, Dr. J. Roswell Gallagher, one of the country's leading student-health specialists, gives first place to worries about health and development: "To the adolescent boy they are matters of vital concern. ... To be abnormal in growth or development is (to him) a very serious matter." He goes on to point out that parents and teachers often misunderstand that "among perfectly normal adolescents" there are great variations in height, weight, size and maturity from the standard average pattern.

Biologically these variations in physical development in boys and girls usually have little significance. They become worries and plague the children in their social context. Unsuitable reading, chance remarks by adults, kidding by other children, over-concern of parents, incautious remarks by doctors and so on are apt to set off worry and unhappiness over being "different" or "abnormal." Sexual maturation, mental and physical, may add associations, guilt feelings and fantasies. It is usually the same areas of the body that are involved in these worries. In boys it is the face (complexion and hair), the body build in general (muscular strength, height and weight) and the primary sexual characteristics. In girls it is the face, the general body build (fat distribution and weight) and the area of greatest psychological sensitivity, the breasts.

In psychotherapy of children with all kinds of difficulties I have found that one of the main goals has to be to raise their self-confidence. Adolescents with these hypochondriacal growth worries can be helped provided they come to the attention of an experienced adult. But for prevention, efforts directed at the individual child are not enough. Attention must be given to the adults who exploit these anxieties of children commercially.

No better method could be evolved to cause such worries or to aggravate them than the advertising in childrens' comic books. I understand that there are advertising associations or advertising councils interested in keeping products advertised, as well as the manner of their advertising, on an ethical level. If that is true, they must have looked the other way with regard to the stupendous amount of advertising in comic books. In any case, they "raised no cry." Advertising is, or could be -- quite apart from its selling aspect -- a wholesome educational influence. That in comic books is not only anti-educational, but has done untold harm to children from the point of view of public health and mental hygiene, not to speak of common human decency.

There are different types of adolescents, the Stanley Hall type, the Thomas Wolfe type and others. Whatever their social status, their native ability, they are all more or less susceptible to the worries and anxieties exploited by the scare advertisements in comic books. These advertisements are apt either to cause hypochondriasis or cater to it. In some children such hypochondriacal reactions assume serious forms. In the semipornographic, semiobscene magazines for adults sold at the newsstand, some of the same products and some of the same advertisers can be found. Sometimes the names of the firms are different, but the addresses are the same. When these advertisements are in comic books they are slanted to children and adolescents.

Advertisements in comic books have caused decent boys and girls many tears. This advertising brings the comic-book industry an enormous revenue. In the Journal of the American Medical Association Dr. Harry F. Dietrich, writing from the point of view of pediatrics, said that "parents must be shown that pimples and pounds are relatively unimportant problems." He spoke of "puerile worrying about temporary cosmetic blemishes, guilty worrying about juvenile masturbation, and competitive worrying about their children's ounces and inches" as "all this wasted emotional effort." But what chance do parents have when by mass advertising campaigns children are inveigled to worry about these very things and encouraged to keep away from doctors and secretly buy expensive, phony and sometimes harmful remedies?

I have seen a number of cases where pre-adolescents or adolescents have fallen for these advertised products which of course did not help them. The advertisements merely stimulated their hypochondriasis and increased their mental anguish. I have on different occasions openly drawn attention to this public-health violation. It is a matter which the Federal Trade Commission could have taken up. Since the claims in advertisements are often exaggerated, misleading and false, the Post Office could• have prosecuted for fraud. Nothing happened, except that the advertisements got more brazen and shameless. Only one health department, one of the biggest and best in the country. took up the matter at all. Its report stated that it found large quantities of "dangerously misleading advertisements" in comic books, and that "many thousand comic books contain ads promoting the sale of bogus patent medicines." It pointed out how these advertisements were especially directed to adolescents: "The comic books grow worse each year in accepting flagrantly misleading ads. The pity of it all is that teen-agers are very conscious of their appearance. They send for these phony-and-harmful skin cure-alls without telling their parents." Nothing was done, however, even after this outspoken confirmation of my findings by an official public health agency. The charmed existence of the comic-book industry evidently extends to its advertisements.

In order to guard youth against overconcern about skin or figure, and to help when they are plagued by fears of abnormality or ugliness, one must try to make them less self-conscious. Dr. Gallagher points out from his experience that one must assure them that there is no cause for shame. And he warns that one should not even use the word problems in this connection because it "has much too gloomy a sound."

Millions of comic books do exactly the opposite. They especially play up these very words which should be avoided. Advertising people tell me that in the profession this is called the "emotional appeal." And that is precisely what it is -- ruthlessly playing on the emotions of children. They ask children whether they are not "self-conscious" about one minor or fancied ailment or another, thereby, of course, deliberately making them self-conscious or unhappy. They promise to help them if they are "ashamed" about some little, or perhaps even nonexistent, blemish, thereby, of course, causing them to feel unnecessarily ashamed. They frighten the girls by insinuating to them that they have "problem bosoms." This phrase alone thrown at twelve- or thirteen-year-old little girls is enough to precipitate a severe and distressing hypochondriacal reaction. No wonder they are willing to spend money on all kinds of pills, ointments and gadgets!

Even girls without neurotic trends are apt to be sensitive about their breasts during and before adolescence. Some girls mature earlier than their classmates and go through agonies because they fear they are conspicuous. The opposite may of course occur, too. There are all kinds of folklore superstitions that the growth and shape of the breasts has something to do with past or future sexual life. Usually it is difficult for a woman, and much more so for an adolescent girl, to tell even a doctor about such secret preoccupations. A genuine sexual hypochondriasis may center around the breasts in very young girls, with anxiety, fear dreams, preoccupation with sex and guilt feelings.

Here is fertile soil for the comic-book "breast ads." They promise certain help for "problem bosoms," "NO MATTER WHAT SHAPE BOSOM YOU HAVE" ($5.95). A typical full-page advertisement in a comic book addressed to "Junior" has two photographs of girls, one average, the other with markedly protruding comic-book-style breasts, The caption says:

DO MEN CHOOSE MARY OR ALICE?


and goes on:

When Tom H- met Mary W- and Alice B-, folks wondered who the lucky girl would be. Both girls were pretty and charming, and grand fun, and enjoyed the same interests Tom did. But, somehow, it was Alice whose lips Tom bent to in the moonlight . . . it was Alice whose "I do" rose breathlessly at the altar ....

Tom's choice was not surprising. For it is the woman with a beautiful, alluring bust contour who most often wins the admiration, popularity and affection every woman desires. And there can be no COMPLETE feminine beauty without a warmly rounded, lovely bust contour, symbol of woman eternal. Look through history. Look around you today. It is the woman with graceful, appealing figure lines who enjoys social and romantic triumph. Yes, there are many lovely Marys whose wit, charm and friendliness cannot compete with the natural law of man's attraction to beauty fulfilled completely.

The _____ Ritual . . . may be able to improve the handicap of unappealing figure lines . . . which may mean the difference between loneliness and thrilling romantic fulfillment! Formerly $2.00 ... Don't let skepticism or discouragement deny you the opportunity for happiness ... Be fair to yourself, to your future as a woman.


One must always remember that an issue of such a comic book has an edition of hundreds of thousands of copies. In such a large number, a percentage of unfortunate girls are bound to fall for it, worry themselves sick, keep their worries a secret, and send for the advertised merchandise.

Suppose a girl does not fall for these photographs and the accompanying text. Other advertisements suggest a test even more apt to give her inferiority feelings and' make her think she is not as other girls. "BREASTS LOSING FIRMNESS?" screams another ad (on the same page on which a doll is advertised). This one promises to lift your breast "into a vital-beautiful form," It tries to persuade the adolescent girl that there are three kinds of inferiorities: first, "those with normally firm bosoms who want that added lift and separation that make the difference between an ordinary appearance and real figure beauty"; second, those whose breasts lack "firmness"; third, girls with "PROBLEM BOSOMS" ($1.98).

But maybe even these pictures, their text and the "firmness test" do not make enough girls worried. Then there are full• course lessons in hypochondriasis. In a comic book with stories of love's frustrations there is a full-page advertisement (found in many other comic books, too) with sets of photographs: "Before" and "After." The "Before" look like average girls; the "After" have noticeably protruding breasts. Accompanying these pictures are three sets of diagrams, each purporting to show profiles of women's bust lines. Any girl, of course, especially after she has been alarmed by the text, can identify herself with at least one of these diagrams and brood about the corresponding information: "SELF-CONSCIOUS ABOUT YOUR FLAT-LOOKING BUST LINE?" ($2.49). Some advertisements are especially directed to growing girls whose busts are just starting to develop and lead off with screamers: "SMALL BUST." They promise a "secret patent-pending feature" for "UNSHAPELY SMALL BUSTS." Such advertisements have caused inferiority feelings in countless children, some of whom will carry this emotional burden with them through life.

The ultrabosomy girls depicted as ideal in comic-book stories and the countless breast and figure advertisements make young girls genuinely worried long before the time of puberty. These very young girls become entrapped by the sex appeal of comic-book pictures and the "emotional appeal" of their advertisements. Laura's case is a good example. One day her mother came home unexpectedly. Laura was nine years old at that time. As her mother told it to me, "she put tissue paper inside of her dress so that she would have a bosom. She must want to grow up too fast. She wants to grow up and be fixed up beautifully." I asked Laura's mother to tell me more about the girl. "There is nothing wrong with her," she said. "She reads comic books all the time. She reads Jumbo, Archie, Jeanie, Millie the Model, also Nellie the Nurse. One day my husband picked up a comic book. He said, 'Who the h___ reads this?' I said, 'Laura does.' He said, What, all those naked women?' I said, 'Well, that is all they sell for the children, what can you do?'" The psychiatric social worker to whom I turned Laura over for guidance reported to me later that the girl had absorbed all the breast lore from comic-book pictures and advertisements.

Some adolescents, depending on their type of constitution, pass through phases of growth when they are apt to be chubby. Is that something unimportant, which most of them will outgrow? No, comic-book ads say. There are "valuable secrets on how to get the most out of your life! DISCOVER HOW TO BE HAPPY ... LOVED ... Do something positive about your unsightly superfluous fat" (tablets, $1.98).

There are other "secrets," too, to help the adolescent girl once she has become sufficiently self-conscious about her figure: belts, girdles, creams, pills, tablets, books, reducing contraptions, massage, etc. In the unending stream of advertisements it goes like this:

I lost 70 lbs. in 5 months

Lose fat fast. 10 lbs. in 10 days ($2.98)

Reduce safely ... Take off 7 lbs. the first week! Lose ugly fat now ($2.50) -- (This one is in a comic book endorsed by a psychiatrist.)

How an unhappy fat girl became a happy slim girl ... 5 lbs., 10 lbs., 20 lbs. -- even more, as many as you want! (Full month's supply, $2.00, three months', $5.00) Not sold in drugstores.


No matter what part of her body a girl may be sensitive about, skillful advertisements take care of every eventuality and scare her with the supposed ugliness and serious import of "BUMPS AND BULGES" ($2.98). Special attention is drawn to "buttocks":

You have nothing to lose but weight ($2.00)

It helps restore the right curves in the right places ($2.00)

Don't suffer humiliation and ridicule by being fat! ($2.00)

The only known food product listed in medical dictionaries as an aid in reducing! ($4.00)


Modern medicine has definite scientific knowledge about weight reduction. Expert medical authorities have clearly expostulated this knowledge to other physicians in medical journals. And in popular writings addressed to the non-medical public, it has been made available to adults. But to children we teach exactly the opposite of the well-established scientific truth.

Dr. Frank H. Krusen, chairman of the Council on Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, at the request of the Council on Foods and Nutrition, wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "No form of external manipulation is capable of removing adipose tissue from a particular region of the body. Massage will not reduce local deposits of fat.... " Speaking of "spot reducing," he states that the value of "these devices is absolutely nil." His article makes it perfectly clear that "there is no 'easy way' to reduce fat. Proper reduction of the intake of food is the only logical method of reducing weight."

The excellent pamphlet, "Overweight and Underweight," put out by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, contains genuinely scientific information: "Massage will not take off pounds.... There is no way to reduce safely without eating less.... No easy way is safe." Unfortunately the number of adults who read this pamphlet is infinitesimally small in comparison with the millions of children and adolescents who learn the opposite in comics advertisements:

GREATEST BENEFIT IN REDUCING BY MASSAGE

The method is so simple and so easy: NO EXERCISE OR STRICT DIETS. Scientifically designed reducer. Your own private masseur at home.

Apply over most any part of the body-stomach, hips, chest, thighs, buttocks, etc. USED BY EXPERTS. Thousands have lost weight this way. Can be used in the privacy of your own home ($8.95 plus postage)


Of course adolescents who pass through a slender growth phase are not forgotten:

Skinny Girls are NOT Glamour Girls!

Ashamed of your skinny, scrawny figure?

-- can help you to add pounds and pounds of firm attractive flesh to your figure

Checked by our medical director, a well-known New York practicing physician . . . ($2.00)

If ... you are ashamed of your skinny scrawny figure ... a doctor-approved formula ... So don't let them snicker at your skinny, scrawny figure. A skinny scarecrow figure is neither fashionable nor glamourous. Remember, the girls with the luscious seductive curves get the dates. ($2.00)

SKINNY GIRLS DON'T HAVE OOMPH!

You will want those extra pounds that "bring out" your natural eye-catching curves. Take _____ faithfully for a week. See if you can't actually feel the difference. ($2.00 plus C.O.D. charges)


Some perfume advertisements try to make girls anxious and discouraged. "Do people talk about you? Are you alone? Unhappy? Discouraged? Are you a girl who just can't seem to find the right man?" (Gossip perfume, $2.00 plus postage). Others stimulate girls to erotic fantasies and arouse sadistic-masochistic wishes: "Do you want to make men obey you? ... Do you want to make him obey your every command? (Chez-Elle perfume, $2.00 plus postage).

Or:

Dear Friend: ... the same double power she used when she took a husband away from his wife or a sweetheart away from the arms of his loved one ... (Diablo's secret perfume, $3.00 plus postage)

Men killed each other just for her favors and when she beckoned men leaped to obey ... (Fury perfume, $3.00 plus postage)

Can you make strong men weak? Do you dream of THRILLING moments of LOVE and ECSTASY? ... Let Blue Passion help bring him into your arms ... (Blue Passion perfume, $2.00 plus postage)

All my life I dreamed that some day I would find a perfume that would raise a man's ardor ... (Man-Trap perfume, $2.00 plus postage)


Skin conditions are another field for comic-book scare advertisements. Acne. pimples, blackheads and complexion troubles of all kinds are a cause for worry, inferiority feelings, anxiety and, on account of superstitious beliefs, guilt feelings about sex. This effect they are apt to have not only on insecure children, but on the rank and file of children in general. "Acne affects adolescents at the time of life when their appearance is of most importance to them," writes Dr. Marion Sulzberger. "It often produces feelings of inferiority and psychologic and emotional damage which may be permanent and which often color later life." The main trouble with these mild skin conditions is that they upset people, especially children, so seriously. Comic-book advertisements do all that they can to make boys and girls extremely self-conscious about their skin, and to feel miserable when there is the slightest blemish. They promise instant, miraculous cures.

A full page advertisement begins with this dialogue:

"Ask your friend Tom."

Tom, why don't Sis and I get invited to proms and parties?"

"Frankly, Jim, it's those ugly blackheads."


Then follows the indoctrination with fears and shame:

What a "black mark" is the blackhead ... according to men and girls popular enough to be choosy about dates!

"Nobody's dreamboat!" "Nobody's date bait!" And that's not all that's said of those who are careless about blackheads. But blackheads ARE ugly! Blackheads ARE grimy! And they DON'T look good in close-ups!

So can you blame the fellow who says, "Sure, I meet lots of girls who look cute at first glance. But if, on that second glance, I see dingy black -- it's good night!"

Or can you blame the girl who confesses, "I hate to go out with a fellow who has blackheads, if he's careless about that you're sure he'll embarrass you in other ways, too!"

But you -- are YOUR ears burning? Well, you've company, and, sad to say, good company. There are lots of otherwise attractive fellows and girls who could date anyone they like if they'd only realize how offensive blackheads are and how easily and quickly they could get rid of them, If they want to! ... The "he-man" who's also clean-cut, will get the breaks wherever he is! . . . Even cute girls get careless.... So don't take chances, cute though you may be!


Another statement in the advertising is, "Those ugly blackheads give others such a wrong impression of you!" Some boys take this as a reference to masturbation and react with worry, guilt feelings and withdrawal. The advertised cure is to use a gadget to extract blackheads mechanically ($1.00).

Children read these skin ads very closely. A fourteen-year-old girl said in the Clinic, "I had one pimple once. I read all about it in the pimple ads. I wondered how it would come out if I put something on it." Many boys and girls have more pimples and buy the "remedies" on the strength of such advertisements as these:

Your good qualities -- intelligence, character, dignity -- all go to nought, are completely cancelled out by a skin that nobody loves to touch ... To remove the distressing embarrassment of these skin blemishes ... ($1.98)


Many of the advertisements give the children the impression that buying such a product is like going to a doctor, thereby keeping them away from real medical advice which might either reassure them quickly or really help them. For example, a big ad directed to girls concerned about pimples says:

STOP Losing Your Chances for Dates ...

It's so easy that a few weeks from today you won't believe your mirror! ... PLANNED BY DOCTOR. ($2.00)


A full-page advertisement with four pictures of schoolboys and girls starts with a blazing headline:

I WAS ASHAMED OF MY FACE

"I just want to be alone!" ... The skin doctor's formula ... works wonders ... ($2.00 plus postage)

Now while the memory of prying eyes deepens your misery ... save your present and your future ... Special Note to Girls ... Embarrassed by periodic pimples? ($2.00)


Some children get so worried about acne and the repeated failure of the costly comic-book cures that they withdraw socially to such an extent that they look like -- and have been diagnosed as -- incipient schizophrenia. The unwary physician who does not remember that one has to gain a youngster's confidence first and make the diagnosis afterwards may fall into this error. I have seen a number of such cases of skin-sex hypochondriasis. All examinations and tests ruled out schizophrenia. A high school student was presented to me at the Clinic by one of my assistants with a history of liking to be by himself and brooding. He had been previously diagnosed as incipient schizophrenia. I elicited that what he had were not irrational worries, but very understandable and comic-book-ad inspired ones: "Ever since I was getting out of public school I worried about it [acne]. I read the full-page ads in the comic books and I did what they said, but it didn't help. There are times when I withdraw completely. I can see myself standing there in front of the mirror. I scratched this -- I can't remember ... [weeps]."

A thirteen-year-old girl showed me an advertisement which made her deeply concerned about some minor cosmetic blemish. It has a big photograph of a girl, her head lowered on her arms, her face contorted, evidently from crying, a handkerchief clutched in one hand. Above it in enormous capitals:

STOP crying about PIMPLES

($3.00 plus postage charges)


Concern about hair is not overlooked in comic-book ads:

Here is thrilling new hope. Do you want longer hair? ... Your hair to become softer, silkier, more lustrous than it has been before -- in just one short week! ... ($1.00)


Advertisements for boys cover different areas, but appeal to the same kind of susceptibility to juvenile hypochondriasis as those for girls. The concern of boys with growth and body build is exploited in advertisements illustrated with photographs of supermuscular he-men (often with big genitals like some of the comic-book heroes). I have seen a number of cases of boys who were developing more slowly than some of their friends, who were only mildly concerned about it until comics ads made them feel downright ashamed. These advertisements go like this:

How to Make YOUR Body Bring You FAME instead of SHAME! Are You Skinny? Weak? Flabby? ... I know what it means to have the kind of body that people pity! ... I don't care how old or young you are or how ashamed of your present physical condition ... I can shoot new strength into your old backbone ... help you cram your body so full of pep, vigor and vitality that you won't feel there's even standing room left for weakness and that lazy feeling! ...


A full-page advertisement illustrated with photos of muscular he-men says:

From a SKINNY WEAKLING to a MIGHTY MAN ...

I gained 53 lbs. of MIGHTY MUSCLE. 6-1/2 inches on my CHEST; 3 inches on each ARM. You can do it in 10 minutes a day!


Presently the same advertisement appeared (December, 1953) in a super-endorsed comic book with a public service page of the National Social Welfare Assembly. Now "Skinny" gains "70 lbs." of mighty muscle, his chest grows "7 inches" and his arms "3-1/2 inches each"!

The large art photos of male nudes wearing only scanty trunks are a special comic-book feature. Of course there are boys who look at them admiringly because they are interested in body development. But he must be an inexperienced psychologist indeed who does not know that these photos of supermales serve also other purposes. Boys with latent (and sometimes not so latent) homosexual tendencies collect these pictures, cut them out and use them for sexual stimulation. One of my patients started to cut out these photos at the age of eleven. One ordinary children's comic has no less than fifteen such photographs!

Many children get hurt in two ways by these he-man ads: They get disappointed when they do not get results, and they get homoerotic fantasies from the photographs. One ten-year-old boy was treated at the Clinic because he had prostituted himself to men. He looked a little too small for his age. He told us how he studied comic-book ads to correct this: "I have one of those books at home. It is no good. I got several. I started doing it for thirty-five days and nothing happened. I tried it for my arm -- you know, 'mighty arms.' I thought I could be strong, but it didn't work. All I did was keep the pictures of the wrestlers and boxers and photographs of strong men and muscle men."

Comic-book advertisements give children the idea of scrutinizing themselves in a mirror, to look for anything they should worry about. One ad has a big balloon:

Hey SKINNY! Yer ribs are showing!


and continues farther down the page:

When you look in the mirror ... practice in the privacy of your own room ... just watch your scrawny chest and shoulder muscles begin to swell ... those spindly arms and legs of yours bulge ...!


Some of these advertisements hint at worries and guilt feelings based on the superstitiously supposed effects of masturbation.

BUNK! Nobody is just naturally skinny! Girls snickered at me behind my back. Are you always tired? Nervous? Lacking in confidence? Constipated? Suffering from bad breath? Do you want to gain weight?


Another ad advising you how to become "an all-around HE-MAN" says "Prove it to yourself in one night!"

Emphasis on the region of the "crotch" in some ads directs attention to a similar line of thought, as do "supporter" ads ($2.98) and remedies for "itching" which "may go ... to the crotch of the legs." ($1.00). It is not only a fraudulent claim, but an invitation to sexual hypochondriasis when an ad says:

Do the best science knows for you to do to GROW MORE VIRILE HAIR IN 30 DAYS.


For all these artificially created or aggravated inferiority feelings, the comic-book ads offer one emotional outlet: overcompensation in brutality. Under the thin disguise of self-defense, full-page ads are permitted to tell millions of children:

I BROKE HIS HAND LIKE A MATCH!

It was easy! He was helpless. He howled with pain! ... Method of Offensive Defense, based on natural, instinctive impulse-action ... Smashing, crashing, bone-shattering, nerve-paralyzing method ... 70 BONE-BREAKING SECRETS . . . ($1.00 -- formerly sold at $5.00)


Besides all these "health," body building, complexion, "bumps-and-bulges," he-man and brutality advertisements there is a stupendous amount of advertising which deserves to be called a childhood armament program. Comic-book advertisements use any device known to advertising writers to fascinate children with weapons. Children have been supplied with arms through these comic-book ads or have learned from them how to make their own weapons, some of them deadly. In one radio discussion about comic books the time-worn argument was raised that Grimm's fairy tales are violent, too. John K. M. McCaffery, newscaster and literary critic, interposed that he had seen lots of weapons advertised in comic books, but had yet to see an edition of Grimm's fairy tales with advertisements of crossbows.

In millions of comic books, ads make all kinds of weapons attractive to children. There are premiums for boys and girls "consisting of genuine .22 cal. rifles" (of course, with an illustration of the rifle). This is a deadly weapon and only the other day a fourteen-year-old boy killed an eighteen-year-old with one of them.

All kinds of "toy" guns and pistols are advertised in comic books. A typical advertisement has a big picture of a gun:

Amazing new gun. Shoots like a real gun.


An accompanying sequence teaches how the gun might be used to threaten people:

You fooled us, kid, I thought that gun was a real one!


Other guns can be transformed into dangerous weapons. An eleven-year-old boy who knew his way around told me about one of them: "They can make it snap faster with an elastic. They shoot little round pebbles. You get the pebbles from puzzles they sell in stores. They fall in little holes when the puzzles are jiggled around."

A great role in the advertising is played by B.B. and air guns. Some shoot B.B.'s, some, steel darts. They are considered harmless by some people -- but not by children who have been injured or by those who have lost an eye when shot by them.

Medical journals and public agencies have drawn attention to the many serious eye accidents from B.B. and air guns. I inquired of one public agency, which knew of a number of cases blinded by these weapons, what they were going to do about it. They answered that they were "planning a campaign to reach all children in school about the horrors of B.B. guns." Dr. James B. Bain, of Washington, D.C., reports twenty-nine eye injuries, in five of which an eye had to be removed -- all caused by B.B. guns in one single year in Washington alone. As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Society for the Prevention of Blindness of the District of Columbia reports nine B.B. eye injuries in three months and asks for laws prohibiting the sale of B.B. guns to children under eighteen: "The only effective way of preventing these injuries is to ban the sale, use and possession of air guns."

According to statistics from 421 hospitals all over the country, reported by Pathfinder, there were from Christmas, 1949, through January, 1950, 275 air gun injuries; 164 of them were eye injuries, with permanent impairment of vision in sixty-four and eye removal in twenty-five. Philadelphia pioneered with a humane ordinance banning air guns. The results were spectacular, a lesson to those who do not realize that progress in preventive medicine is helped by laws. Where there had been seventeen air rifle eye injuries treated at Wills Hospital in Philadelphia in the short survey period, in the twenty-five months following enactment of the ordinance there was only one. A similar observation was made in Pittsburgh, where in 1951 an eye injury from B.B. guns occurred once every twelve days; when the use of these guns was restricted there was only one such injury in 1952. No wonder that the National Society for the Prevention of Blindness suggested in 1953 an ordinance, which among other things would prevent the sale of air guns to minors.

All this is a good illustration of the social problems of comic books: On the one hand adults and children are warned against these guns; at the same time glamorous advertisements in comics seduce more and more children into wanting, buying and using them. Children's real interests seem to count for little. While the experts in ophthalmology know the danger of these guns and have advocated the only real method of prevention, there are experts in child psychiatry and education who do not draw the line at endorsing comic books which have ads with big pictures of these guns:

Strap this sweet-shootin' -- on your bike ... Only $6.95

Shoot regular steel BBs ... ($6.95)


Dr. William C. Menninger has called the pre-adolescent period "the golden age for mental hygiene." It seems also to be the "golden age" for comic-book publishers, advertisers and experts. Text, pictures and medical endorsements blend to lead both child and parent astray. Take a 1953 endorsed comic book which contains the story of "Superman when he was Superboy." It has a full-page colored advertisement for an air rifle in which a newspaper editor says about an air rifle program: "The police like the idea -- so does the school superintendent -- so do the ministers." The ophthalmologists do not!

After one of the instances when a boy was killed in an adolescent gang fight, John E. Cone, chief of the Kings County District Attorney's homicide bureau, made a full investigation which verified my findings on comic-book advertising. He reported:

"We collected a veritable arsenal of home-made weapons, switch-blade knives, milk can handles converted into brass knuckles, and so forth. We found out pretty much of their ideas were obtained from comic books. For instance, in one book a lad showed us how to change a converted cap gun into a lethal weapon. And these lads also purchased a number of guns as a result of the advertisements contained in these crime comic books. Many times they will say that comic books are for adult consumption, whereas actually the advertisements would never appeal to an adult."

Knives of different kinds are advertised in comic books, too. How far has the armament program for children progressed in the knife category? A search of a single school yielded 141 knives! The attitude of the authorities towards knives in the hands of children seems to be this: Let's permit adults to advertise and sell to juveniles as many knives as possible; then, when they buy and use them let's punish the juveniles as severely as possible. In some neighborhoods detectives and policemen have been instructed to bring to the station house any youth who carries weapons. Weekly checks for dangerous weapons in places where children are apt to meet have been announced. A national magazine had an article about the dangers of switchblade knives sold to and used by children, with the rather cynical comment that the toll up to now was "relatively small -- a few dozen children killed, somewhat more wounded." This article concluded: "Don't let your son be smart-alecky about a knife. De-glamorize knife-carrying to him." What possible good can such suggestions do when at the same time enticing comic-book advertisements offer these very switchblade knives for sale to even the youngest child? And while the ads supply the knives, the stories describe their use for skilled violence. You see the young boy, with his hand in his pocket where the switchblade knife is carried, talking to a grown-up. Suddenly he whips out the knife (and you see the exact way to hold it, with your thumb on the button): "Make a move and I'll whittle you down to half my size!"

Despite the facts that according to police authorities switchblade knives are "one of the worst weapons out," that their sale to children under sixteen is forbidden, that in New York alone teen-agers and switchblade knives were involved in some one thousand stabbings, that switchblade-wielding teen-agers have been held in bail of $100,000 each, millions of comic books carry illustrated advertisements:

"FLINGS OPEN FAST." "Big size! Only $1.65."


Juvenile gangs sometimes spring up quickly. Gang leaders have told me about the problem of arming them. Here comic-book advertising has proved a great help. A full-page advertisement offers a:

10-PIECE KNIFE SET

8-inch blade roast slicer
8-inch blade ham slicer
7-inch blade butcher knife
5-inch blade sandwich knife
4-inch blade vegetable knife
4-inch blade utility knife
3-inch blade paring knife
4-inch blade grapefruit knife
8-inch sharpeningknife


The question of the kitchen-set knife ads came up several times in Hookey Club sessions. Once a thirteen-year-old boy said, "This knife set in the comic books is disguised as a kitchen set, but of course the kids immediately know what to use them for. They buy them and split them up. In the schools where I was, the boys use them. They have straps and strap them on their legs. See the point there? They specify the point so that you know how you can use it. But they make out it is for meat! Naturally the boys are not going to buy them for cutting meat and so forth!"

One type of advertisement I call the "arsenal ad." It consists of a whole page of illustrations and text offering guns, pistols, rifles, throwing-knives, leather whips, slingshots, fencing-sets and other useful toys for children of the comic-book era. Police have found whole arsenals of weapons in children's hiding-places and traced some of the arms back to these ads.

Comic books have other dubious advertisements of miscellaneous character. I have examined and treated a number of youths after they had been arrested for prowling about trying to look in windows to see women undressing. Most of them were rather harmless and responded readily to common-sense forms of psychotherapy and guidance. One of them told me about "peeping Tom ads" in comics and other boys confirmed their suggestive significance. There are telescope ads, for example, offering: "Real power and up-close clear view! A 1,000 thrills are yours with this powerful imported telescope. Enjoy life! ... Bring some scenes so close you feel you can touch them!" Another advertisement, for binoculars:

You'll get the thrill of a lifetime when you take your first look through these powerful binoculars. It's positively amazing how well you can see ... You'll be able to see people and wild life from a distance and watch what they're doing when they can't see you. Enjoy front row seats from way back!


Boys in New York, Boston or Chicago who buy these binoculars are well aware that there is no "wild life" on city streets. They also know what else these optical instruments can be used for. Some ads point this out:

... Bring in distant people with amazing clarity and sharp detail ... See without being seen ... ($3.94)


In some ads it is especially pointed out that you can look into "neighbors' homes" and the illustrated telescope points to a half-nude girl.

Many "human relations ads" are not exactly helpful to juveniles. One is for a course for boys on getting along with girls:

It's Easy to Win Her! Women are funny -- Put psychology to work. No more clumsy mistakes for you ... Don't be a Faux pas!


This last phrase would indicate that the retooling for illiteracy has made headway even among advertising copywriters!

There are courses for girls on how to handle boys, too:

Learn once and for all how to get along with men in this amazing handbook


Comic-book stories teach violence, the advertisements provide the weapons. The stories instill a wish to be a superman, the advertisements promise to supply the means for becoming one. Comic-book heroines have super-figures; the comic-book advertisements promise to develop them. The stories display the wounds; the advertisements supply the knives. The stories feature scantily clad girls; the advertisements outfit peeping Toms.
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Re: Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Postby admin » Thu Dec 05, 2013 11:39 pm

PART 1 OF 2

9. The Experts for the Defense

The Scientific Promotion of Comic Books

"But when you notice the intent, You are dismayed at what is meant."
-- Schiller


The direct effect of comic books on children through their pictures, text and advertisements is reinforced by an indirect influence: endorsements and writings of experts. They affect the child through parents, teachers, doctors, clergymen, adults in general and public opinion.

The comics industry took hold of the minds of children unobserved. Those whose function it would have been to watch what happens to children took no notice of comic books, or if they did, regarded them as trivial; at any rate, did not read them. When through sporadic cases it came out that comic books had harmed children, the conquest of American childhood by the industry was already an accomplished fact. The children, many of them despite guilt feelings, accepted the comic books, and the adults, many of them against their better judgment, accepted the opinions of the experts.

The experts for the defense function primarily on two fronts: first, to counteract the healthy reaction of parents against crime comics in all their disguises; secondly, to combat the criticism voiced by professional people once they begin to look at samplings of comic books children have been reading for years. The activity of these experts for the defense came in two waves. One, in the early forties, followed the disclosure of what comic books really are by the literary critic, Sterling North. The second, in 1948, came after I first presented the results of my studies of comic books in Washington and demonstrated their actual sadistic marrow. These two peaks are well documented by the two special comic-book issues of the Journal of Educational Sociology, both edited by Professor Harvey Zorbaugh of New York University's School of Education. Their special pleading in the guise of "dispassionate scrutiny" represented an all-time low in American science. But as publicity for comic books these issues were well-timed and immensely successful.

From magazines, newspapers and the radio, and from the endorsements on so many comic books, one may get the wrong impression that there are many scientific experts defending comic books. Actually the brunt of the defense is borne by a mere handful of experts. Their names occur over and over again. They are connected with well-known institutions, such as universities, hospitals, child-study .associations or clinics. That carries enormous weight with professional people and, of course, even more so with casual lay readers and parents all over the country.

In their actual effect the experts for the defense represent a team. This, of course, docs not mean that they work as a team. They work individually. But their way of reasoning, their apologetic attitude for the industry and its products, their conclusions -- and even their way of stating them -- are much alike. So it is possible to do full justice to them by discussing them as a team rather than individually. There is little danger of quoting them out of context, for what they have to say is so cut and dried that one quotation from the writing of one expert fits just as well into that of another.

Of course they contradict one another occasionally, or contradict themselves between one paper and another. That is not really their fault, but part of the impossible thesis they defend. One expert who has endorsed an enormous number of crime comics, for example, will point out the great vital appeal they have for children, while another proclaims that "crime comics are read mostly by adults." One writes: "Comic-book readers like their comics in large doses," while another is proclaiming that "an excess of this reading suggests a need for deeper study not of the reading, but of the child." Or one will say that comic-book stories are only fantasy and the children know it, while another is saying of comic-book characters, "To their readers they are real flesh and blood people." Or, to take an example of self-contradiction from a rather sketchy article by another of the experts: He writes that only 36 per cent of adults unqualifiedly approve of comic books as reading for children and that the objections refer to the most serious areas a parent can be concerned about, the "danger to character and mental health." Despite this, he draws the contradictory conclusion that "on the whole American adults approve the comics as a medium of entertainment for children."

One expert writes about the fact that children, while they may neglect their other possessions, "hardly ever deface or lose a comic book. These books are treasured, they are objects of barter, they become collector's items," Another expert writes that the fact that comic books are "cheap publications which may be destroyed or bartered without compunction makes the comics comparable to stories told by storytellers of old," In other words facts do not make much difference to these experts; comic books are good anyhow.

The question of why children become excessive crime-comics readers is also answered both ways by the experts. On the one hand they say that this excessive reading is, in each individual child, the sign of a separate disease, On the other hand, they state with equal confidence that it is part of the normal stages of childhood. Actually, of course, the stages of childhood do not unfold automatically, independent of social influences. Excessive comic-book reading is an adult-induced condition, to which, for a number of reasons, some children are more susceptible than others, although none is immune.

Comic books, one expert writes, "may be used as an introduction to reading of the originals -- particularly of the Bible." Another team-expert will inadvertently admit the opposite, that "one of the most unfortunate things about comic books is that ... children are not so apt to read better books which might of course influence them to higher ideals."

The names of experts for the defense and of the institutions with which they are connected have been printed in millions of comic books and/or full-page comic-book advertisements in the Saturday Evening Post and the Saturday Review of Literature and/or in statements by the publishers or their spokesmen. The chairman of the Section of Criminal Law of the American Bar Association, commenting on the writers in the two special comic-book issues of the Journal of Educational Sociology, found it "disappointing" that in a "purportedly objective study" experts do "not make a complete disclosure of their interests." He further mentions that when he wrote to one of the experts to enquire about this, "she did not respond." [1]

In quoting experts for the defense in this chapter I am referring to those specifically mentioned in the Kefauver Report as having or having had connections with the industry. There are, of course, sporadic experts who have defended comic books without any such connection. I do not consider them as members of the defense-team.

Speaking in a very different connection of "impartial" studies made by experts economically connected with an industry, the Commissioner of Investigation of the City of New York has taken the view that such studies should be discounted: "You do not bite the hand that feeds you." The New York State Joint Legislative Committee to Study the Publication of Comics, in seeking the opinions on crime comics from a wide variety of experts, including psychiatrists, judges and educators, discounted testimony by any of these team-experts. This may well be a proper attitude to take in order to ascertain the true facts for judicial or legislative purposes. But since I was carrying out a scientific investigation I took a different course, and studied all the team-experts carefully as if their opinions had been expressed gratis. I cannot agree with some of the experts that the fact that comic books are so widely read proves them to be all right. To my mind it only shows that they are deserving of study. In the same way, I do not believe that because the opinions of the experts for the defense are so well circulated, they must be all right. To me that indicates that they, also, are a proper object of study.

As my inquiry proceeded, I wanted continuously to criticize my own conclusions in the light of the opposing views. So I took all the experts very seriously, at least until I had analyzed their arguments. The devil can quote scripture for his purpose. What would these experts quote? I found them mentioning Aristotle, Freud and the brothers Grimm. According to Newsweek's "Platform," "at least half of all comic books" in 1949 "were devoted entirely to crime or supermen, in their assorted guises." (In actual copies read, the number is much larger, and by 1954 the proportion was very much higher.) Can there be any scientific theories to justify that? Paid partisanship is not the complete answer. The influence of the experts for the defense is to be explained not only by the fact that the public is being misinformed about comic books, but that it is exposed to wrong ideas about children. On that soil both comic books and their experts flourish. So the little comic book, with its pictures, text and advertisements and expert endorsers is an indicator of a generalized reaction of society.

The writings and speeches of the experts for the defense have many features in common. They always shy away from telling what is actually in comic books, what the plots are, what the characters really say and do. They do not want to call attention to the books, they prefer to put all the blame on the child, or his mother. As one of them writes in one of those "neutral" articles in a national magazine: "We must look not at the comics but at the child." Why should I as a doctor look only at the child and "not at the comics"? Why not look at both? This same expert notes, not without sarcasm, that comic books "grew to considerable dimensions before the 'guardians of our culture' were aroused by them." But should not the guardians of our children have been aroused first?

Here is an example to show how impossible it is to get any idea of what comic books really are from these writings by defense experts. In an article on comic books widely circulated by the Child Study Association of America, purporting to be a "survey" of the whole comic-book field, only the following titles of comic books are even mentioned:

1) Superman (whose publisher employs the writer of the pamphlet)

2) Mickey Mouse

3) Donald Duck

4) Mutt and Jeff

5) Moby Dick

6) Three Musketeers

7) True Comics

8) Blondie

9) Li'l Abner

10) Jungle Comics (described with the classical understatement that "sometimes women are featured in these stories, as captives or intended victims")

This is supposed to be a survey! One need only glance at any newsstand to discover that the most important part has been left out. This misrepresentation goes so far that the same expert writes, "There is a considerable amount of humor in the comics" (she means comic books) and she tries to make parents believe that the sexy wenches in the jungle books are just "fair maidens"!

The experts for the defense do not tell you what children get out of these stories, either, what they actually say, what is reflected from comic books in their minds. Instead they write about the good things that comic books are supposed to have done, be doing or will do in the future, about how educational they are or could be, and to what good uses they could be put. One states, for example, "History is often a dull subject. ... Through comics it could be made a fascinating study. ... American history would become a popular study in school.... " Unquestionably it is fascinating to learn that George Washington needed the help of Superboy to cross the Delaware. But do you want to direct the child's attention to the personality of the father of American democracy or to the exploits of a uniformed superman-youth? Similarly, it must be admitted that a lesson about anthropoid apes is less "dull" when accompanied by a picture of the animal about to rape a girl.

Pooh-poohing their bad effects, one expert points out that he knows a hospital where "comic books are used specifically to calm down troublesome" juveniles. He does not mention that this is the only psychiatric hospital in the country where troublesome juveniles sent there for observation and treatment got so out of hand that the police had to be called to "calm them down."

The team-experts like the word deep. It occurs over and over again in their writings, e.g. "the appeal of comic books is deeply rooted in our emotional nature." They use this word as an answer to any objection that is raised. The reply that things are "deep" or "deeper" or "far deeper" is supposed to answer everything. In one short paper the word occurs four times: "The motivation toward unsocial acts lies much deeper than any casual contact with ideas on a printed page"; the language habits of children "derive from deeply rooted home and school standards and not from any casual contact with any entertainment medium"; these "comic book characters are deeply human"; only if a child is "in deep emotional conflict he may be further burdened or disturbed by his comics reading."

One hopes to find in these writings at least one case where a comic-book addict seemed to be adversely influenced by comics in which it was proved that not comic books but something "deep" was the real cause. But in all the writings of the experts I found not a single case like this. Instead there are again and again flat statements like this: "the roots of delinquency and crime are far deeper," or "... the roots of [the] difficulties lie in ... his life ... rather than in the storybooks that he reads." Who then has gone to the root of the problem? One expert tells us: "Superman strikes at the root of juvenile delinquency" and apparently this is "deep" enough.

Those who have studied comic books seriously know that comic books have to be differentiated from newspaper comic strips. Dr. Richmond Barbour, director of guidance of the city schools of San Diego, writes: "The easiest way to study abnormal psychology these days is to read the unfunny crime comic books. Don't mistake them for the comic strips your paper prints. Papers wouldn't dream of printing the stuff.... " Yet the experts in their writings speak unspecifically of "comics" and seem to be trying to mix comic books with newspaper comic strips, much to public confusion.

Without exception all these experts have in common one trait that is not in agreement with the best established usage of scientific writing. If a scientist wishes to prove that a special virus is not the cause of a virus disease, it is obligatory that he at least refer to the literature which says the opposite. But these comic-book experts continuously quote each other and try to bury in complete silence some of the studies that have been made demonstrating the harmfulness of comic books. So it is necessary to get acquainted with samples of this literature which are never mentioned.

Dr. George E. Reed, director of a large psychiatric hospital affiliated with McGill University, in a paper read before the American Psychiatric Association, reported on a study of the effect of comic books on normal children from seven to fourteen. He proceeded in a strictly scientific manner, using among other procedures a "game technique." He determined the latent as well as manifest meaning of the pictures to the child. It is noteworthy that his observations were made before crime comics came to full bloom in the blood-and-bra formula. In contrast to the experts for the defense, Dr. Reed said what the comic books are about: "Violence is the continuous theme, not only violence to others but in the impossible accomplishments of the heroes, heroines and animals." He found undue stress on superdevelopment of hero and heroine: "... any variation from this 'norm' is the subject of suspicion, ridicule or pity." He noted that "distorted educational data are common"; that "direct action" by the hero is "superior to the dumb and incompetent police"; that race hatred is taught: "... foreigners are all criminals"; that "scantily clad females [are] man-handled or held in a position of opisthotonos [exaggerated intercourse-like position]." It was his opinion that juvenile delinquency is in part dependent on environment and that "comic books are of increasing importance as a part of children's environment." With regard to sexual development he drew this important conclusion: "The repeated visualization of women being treated violently by men can do nothing but instill an ambivalent emotional attitude in the child toward heterosexual contacts." In other words, he pointed to a profound disturbance of normal psychosexual development of children through the medium of comic books. As a result of his studies he regarded it as "fallacious" to consider comic books as a substitute for mythology or folklore, or to regard them as a normal emotional outlet for normal children. In vain will you look for any mention of this carefully weighed psychiatric report in any of the writings of the team-experts professing to express both sides and enlighten the public.

Sister Mary Clare, a trained and experienced teacher, published a study of the effect of comic books on children under eleven. She found that the innocuous comic books of the humorous and animal type that parents know about form "an insignificant minority." She found that comic books have "their greatest appeal during the years when the children's ideals are being formed, that is, from 3 or 4 to 12." She sums up the relation of comic books to delinquency: "Children want to put into action what they have learned in their comics: thinking they can have the thrill that is theirs only vicariously as they read. Sometimes they set out to imitate the hero or heroine, sometimes it is the criminal type that appeals, and of course they are sure that they will not fail as the criminals did in the magazine story, for 'getting caught' is the only disgrace they recognize." She deplores particularly the harm comic books do to children's eyes. Another effect of comics on young children is excessive daydreaming along unhealthy lines. One of her observations is that "scenes of crime, fighting and other acts of violence are "among the items most noted and best remembered by even the youngest children." She relates this to her finding that in adventure comic books there is a "disproportionate emphasis on crime, sadism and violence."

One of her cases highlights what comic books do to the minds of many children. She asked a nine-year-old boy which comic book he liked best and he answered without hesitation: "Human Torture."

"You mean 'Human Torch,' don't you?"

"No," he said positively, "Human Torture."

Dr. B. Liber, experienced psychiatrist and author of a textbook of psychiatry, states that "abnormal thinking and behavior may be due to other causes as well, but the comic books contribute their share." He cites the case of a nine-year-old boy: "His gestures with arms and legs and his motions with his entire body illustrated the crimes which he feared and enjoyed at the same time -- 'strangling is like this and like this...'" This boy described his fears and thrills: "Then there is the natives. They tear a guy apart. In two halves ... I like the Superman. . . . I like stabbing a tiger ... I like Nero fiddling Rome with some fire." Dr. Liber sums up his opinion like this: "The problem of the comic books has not been solved and will not be as long as somebody can make much money through their existence and popularity. Their source is fiendishness, viciousness, greed and stupidity. And their effect is foolishness, mental disturbance and cruelty."

A sociologist, Harold D. Eastman, carried out an analysis of some five hundred comic books and with the aid of his sociology students studied several hundred high school pupils from three high schools, thirty-five children at the fourth-grade level, pupils from a rural school and inmates of two institutions for the treatment of juvenile delinquents. In experiments with the fourth-grade children he found that over half of them wanted to play the part of the villain. As far as the relationship of comic-book reading to delinquency is concerned, he found that crime comics and generally not acceptable comics were "the most desired reading for the juvenile delinquents." Crime comic books were listed as first choice by more than 90 per cent of the inmates of both institutions for delinquents. With regard to the question of imitation he cited the case of a fourteen-year-old high school girl who stated that "she didn't like comic books because her boy friend read them all the time and tried to make love to her as he imagined Superman would do it and she didn't like that at all."

He analyzed ten comic-book heroes of the Superman type according to criteria worked out by the psychologist Gordon W. Allport and found that all of them "may well be designated as psychopathic deviates."

In another study, by Mary Louisa McKinney, who has studied comic books and lectured to PTA groups in Tennessee, the reactions to comic books of seventy-five children aged ten, eleven and twelve were studied. There were some who spent up to fifty hours a week on them. Her outstanding finding was that although children realized that comic books made their "pleasant dreams turn bad," they kept on reading them.

What do the experts for the defense have to say? We can disregard their remarks that there are comic books which are read only by adults. One expert herself admits that "wherever there are comic books you will most certainly find children."

The experts say children do not imitate what they see in comic books. As Governor Smith used to say, let us look at the record:

1) A boy of six wrapped himself in an old sheet and jumped from a rafter. He said he saw that in a comic book.

2) A twelve-year-old boy was found hanged by a clothesline tossed over a rafter. His mother told the jury that she thought he re-enacted a scene from comic books which he read incessantly. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and scored comic books.

3) A boy was found dead in the bathroom, wearing a Superman costume. He had accidentally strangled himself while trying to walk on the walls of the room like his hero.

4) A boy of ten accidentally hanged himself while playing ''hanging."

5) A fourteen-year-old boy was found hanging from a clothesline fastened over a hot-water heating pipe on the ceiling. Beside him was a comic book open to a page showing the hanging of a man. The chief of police said, "I think the comic-book problem can't be solved by just a local police ban. It will require something bigger."

6) A ten-year-old boy was found hanging from a door hook, suspended by his bathrobe cord. On the floor under his open hand lay a comic book with this cover: a girl on a horse with a noose around her neck, the rope tied to a tree. A man was leading the horse away, tightening the noose as he did so. The grief-stricken father said, "The boy was happy when I saw him last. So help me God, I'll be d___ if I ever allow another comic book in the house for the kids to read!"

7) A boy of eleven was found hanged from a rope in the bathroom. He had the habit of acting out stories he had read in comic books.

8) A boy of thirteen was found hanged in the garage. On the floor was a comic book showing a hanging.

9) A boy of twelve was found hanging from a clothesline in a woodshed. On the floor was a stack of comic books.

10) A ten-year-old boy was found unconscious, hanging from a second story balcony. He got the idea from a comic book he had been reading.

11) A boy died after swinging in a noose from a tree. He had tried to show another boy "how people hang themselves." The City Council denounced the "mind-warping" influence of comic books.

12) An eight-year-old boy jumped from a second-floor fire escape "like Superman" and broke both his wrists.

One conclusion of the experts that has been widely accepted is that, as one of them puts it, comic books "are really the folklore of today," or that what is in them "is the folklore of the times, spontaneously given to and received by children ..." This seems to be a disarming argument. But is it true?

What is folklore? The term was introduced over a hundred years ago by the British scientist W. G. Thoms. It is now used in many other languages. Authorities seem to agree on the definition of folklore as "the oral poetic creations of broad masses of people." Folklore has intimate connections with other arts, from dances to folk plays and songs. In the history of mankind folklore has played an important role. It is one of the fountains of wisdom and of literature. Many writers -- among them the greatest, such as Shakespeare and Goethe -- have drawn on it. It does not require much thought to realize that comic books are just the opposite. They are not poetic, not literary, have no relationship to any art, have as little to do with the American people as alcohol, heroin or marihuana, although many people take them, too. They are not authentic creations of the people, but are planned and concocted. They do not express the genuine conflicts and aspirations of the people, but are made according to a cheap formula. Can you imagine a future great writer looking for a figure like Prometheus, Helena or Dr. Faustus among the stock comic-book figures like Superman, Wonder Woman or Jo-Jo, the Congo King?

When children act out comics stories, the results are destructive. But children's real nature comes to the fore when they are given the chance to act out stories from genuine folklore and children's folk tales. Frances C. Bowen has shown this in her wonderful Children's Educational Theater at Johns Hopkins University. "Overly exuberant children," she found, "learn to be co-operative and find a wholesome outlet for their energies."

Another statement by a comic-book expert that has gained wide currency is that comic books contain "a strikingly advanced concept of femininity and masculinity." In further explanation of this statement it is said: "Women in the stories are placed on an equal footing with men and indulge in the same type of activities. They are generally aggressive and have positions which carry responsibility. Male heroes predominate but to a large extent even these are essentially unsexed creatures. The men and women have secondary sexual mannerisms, but in their relationship to each other they are de-sexed."

If a normal person looks at comic books in the light of this statement he soon realizes that the "advanced concept of femininity and masculinity" is really a regressive formula of perversity. Let's compare this statement with the facts. One of the many comics endorsed by this child psychiatrist has the typical Batman story, the muscular superman who lives blissfully with an adolescent. Is it so advanced to suggest, stimulate or reinforce such fantasies? The normal concept for a boy is to wish to become a man, not a superman, and to live with a girl rather than with a superheroic he-man. One team-expert has himself admitted that among the three comic-book characters "most widely disapproved" by adults are Superman and Batman -- the prototypes of this "advanced concept of masculinity." Evidently the healthy normal adult rejects them.
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Re: Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Postby admin » Thu Dec 05, 2013 11:39 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 9 CONT'D.)

As to the "advanced femininity," what are the activities in comic books which women "indulge in on an equal footing with men"? They do not work. They are not homemakers. They do not bring up a family. Mother-love is entirely absent. Even when Wonder Woman adopts a girl there are Lesbian overtones. They are either superwomen flying through the air, scantily dressed or uniformed, outsmarting hostile natives, animals or wicked men, functioning like Wonder Woman in a fascistic-futurist setting, or they are molls or prizes to be pushed around and sadistically abused. In no other literature for children has the image of womanhood been so degraded. Where in any other childhood literature except children's comics do you find a woman called (and treated as) a "fat slut"? The activities which women share with men are mostly related to force and violence. I admit they often use language -- "advanced," I suppose -- which is not usually associated with women. Dr. Richmond Barbour mentions an example: "'Try this in ya belly, ya louse' the young lady says as she shoots the uniformed policeman in his midsection. Scantily dressed, thighs and breasts exposed, she is leading three similar gun-girls. One has been shot, and she is falling. Another girl shoots at the police with a revolver and mutters, 'Here's one fer luck!'"

The prototype of the super-she with "advanced femininity" is Wonder Woman, also endorsed by this same expert. Wonder Woman is not the natural daughter of a natural mother, nor was she born like Athena from the head of Zeus. She was concocted on a sales formula. Her originator, a psychologist retained by the industry, has described it: "Who wants to be a girl? And that's the point. Not even girls want to be girls.... The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman.... Give (men) an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to and they'll be proud to become her willing slaves." Neither folklore nor normal sexuality, nor books for children, come about this way. If it were possible to translate a cardboard figure like Wonder Woman into life, every normal-minded young man would know there is something wrong with her.

The experts claim that the theme of comic books is good conquering evil, law triumphing over crime. There are many more crimes in comic-book stories than crimes that are punished. Moreover, punishment in comic books is not punishment; it usually takes the form of a violent end. Melodrama instead of morality. Comic books direct children's interest not toward the right, but toward the wrong. In many stories the criminal wins to the very end, and you see the man who has murdered his wife triumphantly pouring the rest of the poison into the sink in the last picture. There are whole comic books in which every story ends with evil triumphant.

If the forces of law do win in comic books, they do so not because they represent law or morality, but because at a special moment they are as strong and brutal as the evildoer. The real message of the comic books to children is the equation: physical force equals good. As the author and critic, Marya Mannes wrote: "In twenty million comic books sold it would be hard to find a single instance where a character conquered only because he was kind, honest, generous or intelligent." Can there be a more serious indictment?

"Comic books," said Frances Clark Sayres of the children's department of the New York Public Library, "reduce everything to the lowest common denominator of violence, vulgarity and commonplace expression." That seems true also in the sphere of moral judgments. A comic-book publisher's advertisement embellished with names of some of the experts says: "It is on record that Cain killed his brother. And Peter Rabbit stole a carrot, if we remember rightly!" Murder as no more significant than taking a carrot! That is the ethics of the comic books, ethics with which the experts evidently have no quarrel.

The experts further claim that comic books are an aid for children in their general adaptation to life and, as one of them puts it, can serve as "mechanisms for personal experimentation with reality." It is not clear how children are supposed to do this. Are they supposed to play the hunters or the hunted? The torturers or the tortured? The rapers or the raped? Are they to fantasy that they stab wild animals or girls in the eye or that wild animals will come to their aid when they need help? Where does the reality of life come in? Adaptation to the reality of life consists in learning to use one's faculties for something constructive, to make an effort to apply oneself, to seek guidance from those who know better, to respect the rights and wishes of others, to learn self-discipline. The reality of life may consist in a struggle, but that does not mean a continual violent physical fight between those who are not allowed to kill and those who are permitted to kill.

In vain does one look in comic books for seeds of constructive work or of ordinary home life. I have never seen in any of the crime, superman, adventure, space, horror, etc., comic books a normal family sitting down at a meal. I have seen an elaborate, charming breakfast scene, but it was between Batman and his boy, complete with checkered tablecloth, milk, cereal, fruit juice, dressing-gown and newspaper. And I have seen a parallel scene with the same implications when Wonder Woman had breakfast with an admiring young girl, with checkered tablecloth, cereal, milk, toast and the kitchen sink filled with dishes draining in the background.

Mastery of reality is based on a normal and not an abnormal set of human values. What the comic books give children to "experiment with" is either the reality of the sordid or what Stephen Spender calls "glamorized unreality." What the experts are telling us is that children have to learn to accept violence as a part of life, not only violence in the name of a cause, but violence for violence's sake. Adaptation requires sustained effort. The only effort that comic books teach is to avoid errors if you don't want to be caught. That pervades even their slippery slogans: "Forget one detail and there is no perfect crime!"

There are children who suffer from frustration. One team-expert's advice is: "Superman symbolizes the modern attempt in dealing with these problems (of frustration).... If not Superman himself, some one of the many other characters such as the Batman, The Flash, Captain Marvel, and the Green Lantern." Is that the best we can do for children, that we teach them the Green Lantern will help?

Another apologia brought forth by the experts is that "anything in which children show such absorbing interest must meet some emotional need in the child." But, if a child shows any trouble, he presents "special problems which call for careful consideration not in relation to his reading alone but to more fundamental emotional needs." In other words, comic books supply the needs of children only if nothing goes wrong. If anything goes wrong, we are told that they do not supply the needs of children and that we must leave out comic books entirely and search for ever deeper needs beneath needs. This talk of deeper and deeper needs is science fiction rather than science.

This passage by one expert is often quoted by the others: "Much of what children find in the comics deals with their own unconscious fantasies. It is possible ... that they need this material as a pattern for their dreams to give them content with which to dream out their problems." This is the most derogatory statement about normal children that I have ever read. It confuses what a child needs with what he can be seduced to desire. Some comic books depict necrophilia. Does that supply a need in the child? Many comic books describe every conceivable method of disposing of corpses. Do children need that for their daydreaming? It is a fallacy to regard the aberrations of adults as the needs of children.

Children need action and comic books supply that, the experts say. But no instrumentality has ever been invented to keep children more inactive than comic books. Moreover action is not merely action. It has content, meaning and emotional interest. The kind of action depicted in comic books is not what children need, but what adults think will excite them and sell.

Do we really know so little about children's needs as these experts imply? Children need friendliness, they need a feeling of identification with a group, they need cheer and beauty. And they want and need honest and disinterested guidance, because it gives them a feeling of security. It is precisely here that the comic-book industry and its experts stab them in the back.

Closely related to the argument that comic books supply children's needs is the further one that the child has his own choice about comic books. He can select what he wants and the responsibility is therefore his. This claim goes so far that the children are held responsible even for the unsavory development of the comic-book industry: "It is their [the children's] selectivity and their standards which must in turn influence the comics, whose content and standards of quality and taste are shaped to meet the customer's demand."

How much choice does a child with ten or twenty cents in his pocket have? There are many stores in town and country which have only comic books and no other printed matter except perhaps newspapers and magazines of no interest to the child. With only comic books to choose from, children really have no choice. But even if they did have a choice, the principle of leaving it entirely to them which is so vociferously promulgated by the Child Study Association of America is wrong. It is our duty to teach the child to make choices. The librarian Mrs. Sayres points out that through comic-book reading the child "loses his ability to discriminate." Of course we should try to see things from a child's point of view, but as educators and doctors we must adopt a larger view, use our own judgment and not deliver children into the hands of those who exploit their inexperience.

A pretty piece often played by the symphonette of comic-book experts is on the theme that it was always so. Children always have had these psychological needs to escape from reality and to give vent to feelings of hostility and resentment, and they used to be satisfied by fairy tales, by dime novels -- even by Shakespeare. All these, the experts tell us, are just as cruel and just as violent as comic books, so why pick on comics?

They formulate this in various ways. "Children have always sought this kind of vicarious adventure.... Through our own dime novels, big little books and comics," says one. "Comic books [are] in a way parallel to some of the fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, and The Pied Piper of Hamelin, all of which could be pretty scary to children," says another. Or: "... psychologically the comics are the modern fairy tales." Only those who do not know what is in the comic books have fallen for this, for there never has been a literature for children so enormously widespread, appealing mostly through pictures and expressing, as Dr. Richmond Barbour put it, "savagery, murder, lust and death."

After his excellent and incontrovertible description in 1940, when he found that 70 per cent of comic books contained material which no newspaper would accept, Sterling North followed up the subject eight years later. He found that the average comic book had even lower ethical, artistic and literary standards than it had in 1940. Speaking of fantasy and crime comics, he commented that they were "almost without exception" guilty of what I, in the meantime, had called "obscene glorification of violence and sadism." As a literary critic he took up this question of whether it was always so and found:

To those who insist that we older Americans also read trash in our youth, I say go back and read Horatio Alger and even the dime novels, if you wish. Edward Stratemeyer's Rover Boys may have seemed a trifle too pure to be credible. But the effect that had on impressionable readers was to heap scorn on the cheat and honor on the boy who played to win but played fairly and modestly. Frank Merriwell, hero of countless tales of pluck and luck, may have been both too virtuous and too successful to be considered a probable characterization, but his influence on millions of young Americans was never such that it burdened the juvenile courts.

The trash of today is of an entirely different sort. It is even less well-written than the interminable tales of derring-do and virtuous adventure that filled my boyhood. And, unlike that earlier form of literature, it has added rivers of rape, arson, torture and hooded justice to youth's increasingly dim lexicon.


Marya Mannes has described how her eight-year-old son became addicted to comic books despite an abundance of good books and other entertainment in their home. "Each story," she said, "is a catalogue of force, a metronomic repetition of violence that has in it the seeds of aberration." And she added: "The reasonable may talk all they please about the lurid literature our fathers used to read in their youth; let them find examples -- books widely read by the young of other generations -- which can touch the comic books...."

As for fairy tales, have the most cruel of them, including some of those by Grimm, been so good for children? Dr. Wilhelm Stekel wrote: "I really consider fairy-tales unsuitable for children, at least in the form which Grimm, for instance, has given them. New editions for the various age levels should be printed, in which will be eliminated, or at least modified, all that is cruel. It is not absolutely necessary for the ogre to devour his own seven children, for torture and murder to occur wholesale."

So some fairy tales are not a very good alibi. But even if they were, comic books have nothing in common with them. Fairy tales have a magic of their own which is completely absent from comic books. In comics the solution is simple, direct, mechanical and violent. Fairy tales contain emotional conflicts; they cannot be reduced to who catches whom, who knocks out whom, who kills whom and how and who is going to torture whom. Dr. J. G. Auerbach, psychoanalyst at the Lafargue Clinic, who made comparative studies of the effect of fairy-tale and comic-book reading on children, concluded:

Why does the picture of Hansel and Gretel pushing the witch into the oven create no desire in the child for vindictive action against those who boss him? How does the bloody cutting open of the wolf's belly to let out Red Riding Hood's grandma differ from the knife attacks depicted in the comic books? ... I believe the answer lies in the fantastic element of the fairy tale, which depicts a world far removed from reality. The child may identify himself with the persons or animals in this fantasy world, which he makes his own. There he may allow his fantasy to soar as he wishes: it is his private empire in which he reigns. He knows the difference between the real and the imaginary; there is no attempt to bridge the gap. Another helpful characteristic of fairy tales is their poetic form, even in prose, which also tends to remove tragedy or mischief from everyday life. The less fairy tales obey these two laws, the more they are apt to instil in the child anxiety, or a desire to translate fantasy into reality.


Children who play fairy tales would have a hard time having someone actually eat Red Riding Hood. But they can and do try to bind, gag, and stick each other with sharp instruments as they see it so realistically depicted in comic books. Comic books are not dreamlike and not symbolic. If symbolism occurs it is coarsely sexual. In comic books no one lives happily ever after, as they do in fairy tales; in comic books some characters get eliminated by force, others go on killing. "The comics may be said to offer the same type of mental catharsis to its readers that Aristotle claimed was an attribute of the drama," says one of the experts. But comic books have nothing to do with drama, with art or literature. To invoke Aristotle in their defense is like invoking Beethoven in defense of street noises.

The experts claim that comic books are no worse than dime novels were. True, dime novels were subliterary; but they were earthy and indigenous and had overtones of literature. They had echoes of James Fenimore Cooper. They taught conventional values. Their vocabulary did not even contain swear words. The hero would say "something which sounded very much like an oath." No "lousy, stinking coppers," "dirty squealers," "fat sluts," "filthy bilge-rats" or "dirty rotten scum!" They did not have psychiatrists endorsing them. It was not necessary.

Richard B. Gehman, novelist and magazine writer, had this to say in his essay "From Deadwood Dick to Superman": "[Dime novels] never glamorize the robber nor the desperado . ... The hero's morals were impeccable .... The hero pulled himself up from poverty by hard work.... He honored and respected his parents."

A favorite argument of the comics experts goes like this: Children's troubles or delinquencies are complicated phenomena. How can you pick out only one single factor and even mention comic books? Aren't you guilty of oversimplification?

Nobody versed in clinical research would reason like that. You cannot put "factors" into a discussion of a child as you put eggs into a basket. The different factors that influence a child's life may accentuate, activate, counteract or negate one another. Or they may run side by side. You cannot at the outset reject any factor because on the surface it seems trivial. Sometimes the causes are near at hand and are overlooked for just that reason.

Of course there are other factors beside comic books. There always are other factors. That is true of tuberculosis, of syphilis, of automobile accidents. When a child reacts to something, whether it be comic books or a dog that bites him, a good doctor takes up the whole situation and does not leave out any factor, including the possibility that either the comic books or the dog may be virulent.

When it comes to prevention, the let's-not-blame-it-on-any-one-factor argument is totally inadequate. Take a tree. Its health and growth depend on many factors: its age, the soil, the water, the weather, the pruning, the nearness of other trees and vegetation, absence of injury from animals such as deer and mice and pests. All these factors combined make up the health of a tree. But when you study the health and life of trees concretely you find that one single factor, Endothia parasitica, regardless of all the other factors, beginning in 1904 wiped out all the native chestnut trees in the United States. The agricultural experts know that. But the comics experts would call it an "oversimplification."

Study of one factor does not obliterate the importance of other factors. On the contrary, it may highlight them. What people really mean when they use the let's-not-blame-any-one-factor argument is that they do not like this particular factor. It is new to them and for years they have been overlooking it. If they were psychoanalysts, they were caught with their couches up. They do not object to specific factors if they are intrinsic and noncommittal and can be dated far enough back in a child's life. They do not object to social factors provided they are vaguely lumped together as "environment," "our entire social fabric," "culture" or "socio-economic conditions." Comic books have been -- and still are -- considered beneath the dignity of scientific scrutiny and not a respectable causal factor. But science does not mean a closed system of respectable causes, it means a mind open to all potentialities.

One of the industry's experts writes: "The comic book situation acted merely as a precipitating factor in the production of symptoms by fitting the details of the child's psychic difficulties." Merely is the tip-off. Is it not important for us physicians if a condition which otherwise would not have broken out is "precipitated" by a psychological influence such as comic books?

In trying to deny the harm done by comic books the experts make it appear that comic books have no influence at all and represent merely "casual contact with ideas on a printed page." But when they pronounce on the effects of "good" comic books they suddenly forget that and write that comic books "exert tremendous influence."

The experts say: "Making a scapegoat out of comic books will not solve our basic social problems." Naturally. Another says: "The comics are an outgrowth of the social unconscious." I do not believe that comic books -- any more than slums -- come from the "unconscious." Both are kept alive by the same social forces.

If a child has any trouble that can be traced to comic books, the experts maintain that this child was "predisposed" or "unstable" beforehand. Of course this is a diagnosis made only after the child got into trouble. It amounts to no more than saying that the comic books are good and the children bad. I believe it is the other way around -- that the children are good and the comics bad.

To blame everything on "predisposition" or a supposedly preexisting "emotional disorder" means of course to deny the role of temptation and seduction. According to the experts, the trouble is always in the child, and not in the comic books. The fault is always in the child's mind, and not in the invasion of that child's mind from outside.

The experts say that only abnormal children are affected by comic books while normal children are supposed to be immune. If abnormality is defined with any degree of psychiatric accuracy, the opposite is true. Many severely abnormal children are not affected by comic books. They are wrapped up in their own morbid fantasies and imaginations.

The experts like to invoke early infantile experiences and say that what is pontifically called the "character structure" of the child is laid down finally in the first few years of life and therefore cannot be deflected later by such trivial things as comic books. Yet in their writings I have not found a single case of comic-book inspired nightmares, behavior disorders or delinquency where, by analysis, the comic books as etiological factor were disproved and causation by infantile experience was proved.

A child is not a stereotype of his own past. To blame everything on very early infantile experiences is not scientific but exorcistic thinking: Nothing could harm a child unless the devil was already in him. Comic books do their harm early enough. Children of three or four have been seen poring over the worst. Freud would not have considered that too late for harm to be done.

The idea that all children's difficulties begin and end with their very early family relationships has placed an enormous emotional burden on mothers. When children read comic books excessively, seduced by their ubiquity, their covers and their sex appeal, the experts tell us that it is also up to the parents. They are supposed to regard excessive comic-book reading as a danger signal, a "symptom of disturbance," "not to control or limit his reading" but to look for causes in the child and even seek "psychiatric help." If only half of the excessive comic-book readers were sent to mental hygiene clinics, some of which already have a waiting list for a year or more, these clinics would be occupied with only this for a century.

A star argument is that whatever a child does, he would have done anyhow, even if there were no comic books. With such an argument -- if it is an argument -- you can condone anything. It is true that many children read comic books and few become delinquent. But that proves nothing. Innumerable poor people never commit a crime and yet poverty is one of the causes of crime. Many children are exposed to the polio virus; few come down with the disease. Is that supposed to prove that the polio virus is innocuous and the children at fault?

Take the fourteen-year-old Chicago boy who strangled an eight-year-old girl. He left fifty crime comic books in the room with his dead victim. They depicted all kinds of ways of abusing girls and killing people, including strangling. The experts want us to assume that this is a mere coincidence, that the similarity between the details in the comics and the details of the deed committed have to be ignored, and that what we must look for instead are "far deeper" causes!

The causes of children's delinquencies are not like stones that fall into water. There is a delicate balance between impulse, rationalization and inhibition; temptation, seduction and opportunity; imitation, morality and guilt feelings; fantasy, self-control and a final precipitating factor.

The most insidious thesis of the experts is that comic books "serve as a release for children's feelings of aggression." Children, so the stereotyped argument runs, need vicarious violence to overcome frustration through aggression. If comic books make people get rid of their aggressions, why are millions of them given to young soldiers at the front whom we want to be aggressive? Comic books help people to get rid not of their aggressions, but of their inhibitions.

The experts not only justify sadism but advise it. One of them, a child psychiatrist, writes: "In general we have offered to the strip writer the following advice: 'Actual mutilation ... should not occur ... unless the situation can be morally justified. ... If such an act is committed by some fanciful primitive or by some enemy character it can be more readily accepted and used by the child.'" In its long and tortuous history, psychiatry has never reached a lower point of morality than this "advice" by a psychiatric defender of comic books.

The getting-rid-of-aggression-by-comic-books argument has no clinical basis. The children with the most aggressive or violent fantasies or behavior are usually the most habitual readers of violent comic books. Running away from home is one of the most typically aggressive acts of children. I have seen many children between the ages of eight and twelve who ran away and who were found "with a stack of comic books."

The crudity of the experts' reasoning corresponds to the crudity of the comic books. The concept of the release of aggression is applied far too mechanically. It would have to be shown in the individual case that aggressive tendencies are pent up or dammed up, thwarted or repressed. In young children one can sometimes determine that by the Duess Test. The next step is to find out whether blood, horror and violence are of any use in such a situation. We have found that they are not. Children do not need just an outlet, anyway; what they need is guidance to understanding, substitution and sublimation. Far from giving release, comic books make violence and brutality seem natural to children. Comic books give release to only one aggression -- that of the comic-book industry.

A number of years ago I had to examine a young man in jail in order to give an expert opinion about his sanity. He was in serious trouble, being accused of attempted rape. He had enticed a girl to walk with him past a vacant lot, had suddenly pounced on her and struggled with her. The girl had stated that there was no actual rape and that she got away from him bruised and with her clothes torn. I told him that I wanted to know more about his life and he told me the story.

Since childhood he had had fantasies of taking a girl and tying her up, especially tying her hands behind her. It started when he was about eleven and saw pictures of that in comic books. Then he looked for comic books where that was especially depicted, for example, those with girls tied in chairs with their hands fastened behind their backs. He cut out pictures and also drew them. They gave him sexual fulfillment. He had no intention of raping the girl, an act of which he would have been less ashamed. What he wanted was just to tie her up. The struggle to do it had given him full sexual satisfaction. This was one of the cases that made me resolve to study the comic-book question systematically.

We seem to have made a fetich of violence. A pamphlet distributed by the Child Study Association of America contains this outlandish statement: "Actually, hitting is one of the ways in which children learn to get along together." At a meeting of the National Conference of Social Work, the statement was made: "Brutality has always been a part of children's literature and life.... If your child destroys your furniture while imitating Superman or Captain Marvel, he's being motivated by impulses we shall need more of, if the world is to survive -- the impulse to annihilate an evil." The speaker did not explain what was so evil about the furniture.

Almost a decade after his first study, Sterling North wrote: "I have yet to see a clear, convincing, logical proof of the harmlessness of comics from any psychiatrist or psychoanalyst -- even those to be found on the payrolls of the comic magazines, where their true function is usually hidden under some such euphemism as 'consulting editor.''' One can sum up the scientific writings of the defense experts by saying that their relationship to real science is like the relationship of comic books to real literature. Since they think so highly of comic books, this comparison should be no offense to them.

We could learn from the specialists in agriculture. They teach you to let all plants and trees grow to their optimal development. They do not compromise with anything that might conceivably harm crops and they try to prevent harm by spraying trees early. They do not try to find something good in anything that interferes with growth; they do not say there must have been something wrong beforehand; they teach you how to cultivate the soil scientifically. They would know how to deal with the comic-book pest.

Psychiatry, I think, should be a science of the positive health of the mind. Its aim should be to help the individual to develop his true personality. It is not enough for a psychiatrist to say that he has not found that comic books cause nightmares, anxieties, morbid fantasies or violent acts, and that therefore they must be wholesome for children. Mental health has positive signs. A child needs positive factors: He needs ethical principles to live by, he needs the concept and experience of loyalty and solidarity, of beauty, constructiveness and productiveness, creative expression, the spirit of the family and love. If that is interfered with, his positive mental health has been harmed, whether he has symptoms or not. All these positive factors are absent from crime comics. If a rosebush should produce twelve buds and only one blossoms, the bush is not healthy and it is up to us to find out what is interfering with its growth. The chief content of a child's life is growth and learning. No positive science of mental health is possible if it permits such interference as the mass onslaught of comic books.

_______________

Notes:

1. According to the Kefauver Senate Crime Committee (Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce) the following persons, among others, who are thought of as independent critics by the public, have been or are employed by the comic-book industry: Dr. Jean A. Thompson, Acting Director, Bureau of Child Guidance, Board of Education, N.Y.C.; Sidonie Gruenberg, director of the Child Study Association of America; Prof. Harvey Zorbaugh, Professor of Education, New York University; Dr. Lauretta Bender, child psychiatrist in charge of the children's ward of Bellevue Hospital, N.Y.C.; Josette Frank, consultant on children's reading, Child Study Association of America. The amounts paid range to $300 a month over a period of many years. One expert, Professor Zorbaugh, served as "research consultant to Puck, the Comic Weekly." One comic-book publisher alone spends $750 a month on four children's experts who endorse his products.
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Re: Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Postby admin » Tue Dec 10, 2013 11:56 pm

10. The Upas Tree

Making and Makers of Comic Books

"Through its bark the midday sun Makes the fluid poison run, And darkness of the night conceals When the poison pitch congeals."
-- Pushkin: "The Upas Tree"

"This boundless upas, this all-blasting tree."
-- Lord Byron


Crime comic books are showered upon us in abundance. What is the tree on which this fruit grows? After the most careful study for many years I have come to the conclusion that it is not a tree which only occasionally bears poisonous fruit, but one whose very sap is poisonous.

Early in our investigation it became clear to me and my associates as we were analyzing the comic books themselves and their reflection in the minds of every type of child, that we should also have to study the making and the makers of crime comics. So for years we have taken every opportunity that offered, and created many opportunities ourselves. We have talked with publishers, writers, artists, middlemen between comic books and radio and television, publicity agents, lawyers whom manufacturers of crime comic books consulted, members of financially related industries such as the pulp paper industry or publishers of erotic magazines or books, technical and office employees. Some of them were very co-operative, especially when they talked about other firms than their own. And we noticed that the lower down we went on the financial-returns ladder of the industry, the more critical the employees were of the wares turned out. Most of them know very well what they are doing.

A penologist and writer, David Dressler, after making a survey of comic books and their makers, wrote: "At least this much ought to be accepted as fact: There are objectionable comic books. The publishers know it. The editors want it." He "questioned people who would be expected to take a view opposed to Dr. Wertham's -- publishers and editors of comic books. Many insisted ... that the publications of some other house definitely portrayed sex deviation." One of them told Dressler, "These other fellows, they know exactly what they're doing .... I don't know how they can look at themselves in a mirror."

Some of those connected with the industry in one way or another were kind enough to write me long letters, giving data and their own deductions. Others permitted me to take notes, sometimes even with a stenographer.

Although I am a psychiatrist -- or maybe just because I am a psychiatrist who recognizes a social, scientific problem when he sees one -- I was not interested in personalities. In this story, there are no single villains whose character would explain the picture as a whole.

One of the experts for the defense has said aptly that comic books "came upon us silently." That is exactly what happened. Children were reading crime comic books for years, millions of them, while parents, teachers and mental hygienists thought they were occupied with humorous reading. When Sterling North, and later the Lafargue group, drew attention to their real content and meaning, parents were confronted with a phenomenon for which nothing in their experience had prepared them. It is precisely at this point that the comic-book manufacturers did a magnificent job -- in public relations. One publisher stated publicly: "Criticize the comics as much as you wish. We like to have you talk about them." And they proceeded to instill into mothers what they should think. Never before, have child psychiatry, mental hygiene and child psychology been used with less substance and with more success in the interest of an industry. Comic-book publishers put out statements of their own or quoted statements of their hired experts with supreme disregard for the fact that the very excess of their wording or the very inconsistency of their arguments might be detected. They supplemented the mass appeal of their product with the mass appeal of their pseudoscientific demagogy. Here are three typical examples:

The studies of my group have shown us conclusively that children who read good books in their comic-book deformation do not proceed to read them in the original; on the contrary, they are deterred from that. Librarians all over the country have borne that out. Yet a comic-book publisher stated publicly that children who read classics in comic-book form "go on to read the complete story in its entirety." The phrasing alone gives away the intent.

Or a publisher quotes publicly the statement of one of the experts for the defense that children read comic books because of "the satisfaction of some real innermost need of their own." Again the wording is interesting. If it is really a need, why must it be a real need, and if it is a real need, why must it be an innermost need, and if it is an honest-to-goodness real innermost need, why the addition of their own?

Another publisher repeats publicly that juvenile delinquency is "far too complex" for such a simple thing as crime comic books to play any part in it. At the same time, in complete disregard for the intelligence of his readers or listeners, he states that his own crime comic books are "responsible for lessening juvenile delinquency."

The behavior of crime-comic-book publishers has some resemblance to the plots of their products: pious slogans and ruthless actions. After I had examined many comic books and their effect on many children I arrived at the formula which my further studies have confirmed, that crime comics represent an obscene glorification of violence, crime and sadism. This is not a characterization of some, but the formula of the bulk. It would therefore be incorrect and unjust to say that one crime-comic-book representative is more irresponsible than the other. Their common prayer seems to be: Suffer the little children to come unto me and I shall lead them into temptation.

From innumerable talks with children I got this image. Picture to yourself a typical American boy of nine or ten walking along the street. In his pocket is his spending money, or his weekly allowance, or his lunch money, or his movie money or candy money, or some of his saved money, or part of his earnings from after-school work or from a birthday or Christmas gift. A very small group of men is lurking behind him intent on getting most of that money away from him. They want even more than the money he has. They tempt him, they lure him, they show him how to steal, how to break into houses through the windows and how to sell stolen goods. They even sell him the weapons -- guns and knives. The profits from all this run into tens of millions of dollars. What do the children get in return? The Child Study Association of America says that they get "escape"; but what they really get is entrapment. They get no literary values they can take along into life, but merely temptation, corruption, and demoralization.

Men who guard a public building have to undergo a civil service examination, but anybody can become a crime-comic-book publisher and become part of an industry that at the present time has greater and more widespread influence on children in town and country than any other public or private agency. All he needs is enough capital to buy a special printing press, employ a good circulation manager, a shrewd editor, some hack writers, letterers and cartoonists and a few child experts to endorse his product. We have been told that he will get as much as 40 per cent return on his investment.

If you want to compare this with what the child receives for his ten cents in economic terms, buy a copy of a pocket magazine for adults which also costs ten cents. They are printed on excellent paper, they have many good photographs well reproduced, good reporting, alert editing, a great variety of subject matter. And yet their circulation is small compared to that of comic books. Moreover, the old or return copies of these magazines are valueless, whereas comic books continue to be sold, shipped abroad, traded secondhand, borrowed and studied, as long as they hold together. Old comic books never die; they just trade away. Just as children were taken advantage of in the field of physical labor, so now they are taken advantage of economically, as a market. In the matter of reading the adults get the best, the children the worst.

Against the child is concentrated the economic power of a large industry. It has been estimated that a third of all cheap pulp made in the United States and Canada is used by comic-book publishers. Even granting that many adults read these comic books, the proportion of adult and child readers is such that over a million dollars a week is taken out of the pockets of children.

We have found that the individual child spends much more money on crime comic books than adults familiar with their circumstances would assume.

I have seen many children who have spent over fifty dollars a year on crime comic books, more often than not without their parents' knowledge. Occasionally parents realize it to some extent. One alert parent wrote me: "This form of literature drains my children's pocket money." In one of the most critical surveys, made on 450 pupils in grades 4 to 6, it was found that the average child read 14.5 comic books a week. Two children claimed that they read a hundred a week.

The actual cost of production varies. Some books have royalties attached to them. A small comic book, such as one that Columbia University Press got out for educational purposes, costs about one and one half cents, but if done less carefully could be done for three fourths of a cent. A sixteen-page comic book such as those used for advertising or in politics costs no more than two and one fourth cents for an average edition of 650,000. The profits from comic books and the revenue from advertising in them are staggering. Crime does not pay, but crime comics do.

If I were asked what I have found to be the outstanding characteristic of the crime-comic-book publishers, I would say it is their anonymity, or semi-anonymity. This was an unexpected phenomenon. There are at present seventy-six major juvenile-book publishers. Their children's books bear the imprint of their firm. But with crime-comic-book publishers, mass purveyors of children's literature, you can't be sure who publishes what. A parent who would look casually over his child's comic books would think that almost every book has its own publisher. Actually a very small number of firms puts out most of the comic books, but does so under various names. Different reasons are given for this concealment. Income-tax policy is one of them. The fear of compromising the name of a whole firm by objectionable products is another. I like to think that some of the biggest publishers are ashamed to have their real trade names appear on such products.

Sometimes the publisher's name on the comic book and the name and contents of the book show a ludicrous discrepancy. For instance, one of the 1952 crop has on its first page a horrible picture of a man shot in the stomach, with a face of agonized pain, and such dialogue as: "You know as well as I do that any water he'd drink'd pour right out of his gut! It'd be MURDER!" The name of the publisher is: Tiny Tots Comics, Inc.

The names of comic books and their numbering are sometimes also anything but informative. If one comic book is criticized, the publishers may stop the series and start the same thing again with another title. If a comic book is designated No. 17 or No. 60 or No. 15 it may actually be No. 1 of that title. This I am told has something to do with Post Office regulations according to which they may change the name but must keep the number, to keep some sort of connection with the former product. So Crime may become Love; Outer Space, the Jungle; Perfect Crime, War; Romance, Science Fiction; Young Love, Horror; while the numbers remain consecutive.

After we had once penetrated the fog of "nameless horrors" and equally nameless publishers, we arrived at a simple, irrefutable conclusion: some of the biggest crime-comic-book publishers get out the worst and the most widely read comics. The little fellows, far from being more irresponsible, make an effort once in a while to get out less objectionable comics. But they have to return to the formula or, as some have done, give up publishing crime comics entirely. This is of course just the opposite of what many sincere adults have been led to believe.

Some comic-book firms are connected with related enterprises such as paper mills. Some firms of course publish other things beside comic books. A firm which published a family magazine published also what the New Yorker generously called "high-toned monthly comic books." Some firms published a national magazine on the one hand and some of the worst crime comics on the other, the readers of one part of this enterprise not knowing about the other.

From the point of view of the scientific study of the crime comic book as a social phenomenon, these connections are not without significance. National magazines whose publishers also publish comic books do not as a rule print articles critical of comic books. Several times we had a chance to see how this works. A writer asked the Lafargue group to give him some background material for an article on violence in children. We gave him some of our conclusions, including some of the lessons in violence in comic books, which he incorporated in his article. When he told me which national magazine he was doing the article for, I told him that since its publisher also published comic books his article would not be published there. He did not believe that such censorship existed. His article was never printed.

As a psychiatrist I was interested in what some of these publishers did before they published comic books for children. Some of them published semipornographic literature for adults.

The type of cynicism that we found in the dialogue of comic books parallels some of the published statements that comic-book publishers and their representatives have made off and on when confronted with public opinion. These are some examples:

"There are more morons than people, you know."

"I don't think comics hurt children because they grow out of it."

"Sure there is violence in comics. It's all over English literature, too. Look at Hamlet. Look at Sir Walter Scott's novels."

"I don't see a child getting sexual stimulation out of it. Looking at those enlarged mammary glands he'd remember that not long ago he was nursing at his mother's breast."

"We do it by formula, not malice. A cop, a killer, a gun and a girl."

Utterances of the editors are no less cynical. Richard B. Gehman, in "From Deadwood Dick to Superman," quoted one: "Naturally after a kid has identified himself with the crook in the beginning, and after he's followed him through various adventures, he's going to be a little sorry when the crook gets shot. Sure he'll resent the officer who does the shooting. Maybe he'll resent all cops. But what the hell, they sell. Kids like them."

The editor of the comic book The Killers and other similar ones said with disarming frankness: "The so-called harmless books just don't sell."

Another editor: "We are not selling books on the basis of bosoms and blood. We are business men who can't be expected to protect maladjusted children."

From my talks with editors and with those who work under them, it seems to me that they have three main tasks. They call a writer for a story, and often give him a check even before he writes it. They determine what are the "real innermost needs" of children. Thirdly, they watch public reaction to the small extent that this is necessary. When the editor receives a copy after the pencil-man, the ink-man and the letterer have done their work, he -- thinking of course of the "needs" of the child -- "makes final corrections, changing a word of dialogue or indicating in the margin that a girl's half-torn dress should show more of her left breast" (Gehman).

I learned that editors read some of my writings on comic books and discussed them at staff conferences. They reasoned that they did not have to worry too much and that public reaction against crime comic books would soon subside. I know of one company where the editor took my findings very seriously and tried to clean up his crime comic books -- and finally gave them up altogether as the only way to do it. This company published an educational comic book which was a financial flop and was discontinued. That is not so hard to explain. Suppose you give a man a highball for breakfast, two highballs for lunch, three highballs for dinner and some strong brandy in between. All the while you keep telling those with whom he lives that this is being done to satisfy his "innermost needs," help him get rid of his "aggressions" and give him a chance to "escape from the humdrum of his life." Would you expect him to be a good prospect for buying regularly tomato juice, ginger ale or milk?

The distribution of comic books is an extended and efficient operation. The wholesale distributors furnish them to newsstands, confectionery stores and many other places. Some newsstands receive shipments of from fifty to one hundred comic books every second day, others restock every two or three days with more than five hundred comic books. Millions of comic books are returned and their distribution is in itself a big industry. Their front covers are tom off, or they are otherwise marked, and they are sent to Europe or North Africa -- everywhere except to countries which guard their children against them by bans on importation. That they are sold in countries where the children cannot read English shows that they do not need words and that children "read" them just from the pictures.

My associates and I have spoken to many vendors. And very many of them do not like to sell crime comic books. They know they are not good for children and they would rather not handle them. The president of the Atlantic Coast Independent Distributors Association has estimated that three fourths of comic books are not "worthy of distribution" and the president of the National Association of Retail Druggists said at a convention: "It is a tragic fact that many retail druggists are peddlers of gutter muck. The charge can be held against them with justice; their only defense is that it has never occurred to them to check on the comic books."

When parents critical of comic books have realized how defenseless they are against them they have made two unreasonable demands of vendors in stands or stores. First they have asked them to read the comic books before they sell them! That is of course impossible, just as it is impossible for a busy housewife to read all her children's comic books first, though that has been suggested by some experts.

The second demand is that the small vendor should reject the most bloody and sadistic comics. But is it fair to ask these economically hard-pressed people to eliminate those comic books that sell best, when nothing is done at their source?

Comic books that don't "move" are a great headache to the small vendor. If he doesn't return them he has to pay for them. But returning them makes a lot of work bookkeeping, so sometimes he just keeps them and tries to sell them.

A number of these small storekeepers who know a lot about children's comic-book habits have given us valuable hints in the course of our studies. One man who owns a small stationery store told us that he sells many classic comic books. "The school is right next door. The kids come in and use them for their book reports." He also handles a lot of twenty-five-cent pocket books, but has no classics in those editions. "The children don't buy them as long as comic books exist." As for the business aspects, he makes five cents on each pocket book, a cent and three quarters on the classics comics and two and a half cents on a crime comic book.

I found a good opportunity to study what one might call the cultural role of comic books in small stores in very poor neighborhoods where immigrants or migrating minorities have moved into a section of the city. For example in a small candy store frequented almost entirely by Puerto Ricans who had moved into the district there is no other reading matter aside from comic books. But of them there is a large secondhand supply limited to the violent and gruesome and sexy kinds. There are always children around, including very young ones, and this is their first contact with American culture. They cannot even speak English, so of course they only look at the pictures. They have not yet heard that the experts of the comic-book industry have found that comic books teach literacy, so they don't learn to read from them. But here their little money is taken away from them. Late in the evening, and into the night, children collect at this store, which is also a place for that much hushed-up phenomenon child prostitution of the youngest and lowest-paid kind.

Many vendors objected to the block system of purchasing comic books. Again and again they have told me, "I have to sell comic books, although I don't want to. Otherwise I don't get any magazines." Or: "I have no choice. I am entirely dependent on block booking." The secretary of the Arizona Pharmaceutical Association has stated: "The druggists have not been selling these because of the profit. We have been compelled to take them to get the other magazines of the better class. Cases have been found wherein druggists who refused to accept certain comics found their supply of higher class popular magazines cut in half."

The proprietor of a small bookshop in New Jersey who had some good books on his shelves also carried a lot of crime comic books. When I asked him about it, he said, "I want to carry good pocket-size magazines for adults. The dealer said No, unless I took his comic books. I kept after him and then he reluctantly said I could have them, but I would have to fetch them myself. I would phone; then he would say, they are not in yet; then I would phone again and he would say they are all sold out. So -- I sell comic books." When the comic-book industry raises the cry of civil liberties and freedom of speech in connection with guarding children against the worst of the crime comic books, I am always reminded of the plight of these small business people who are forced to do something wrong which they do not want to do. The comic-book industry certainly does not give them freedom.

Actually these small dealers live in fear and do not want their names revealed. For example, I received a petition signed by six people, sent to me in the mistaken belief that I had some influence. "We are taking the liberty of writing to you as my friends and I have a problem which we do not know how to attack. The subject matter of the problem is such that we cannot take it to our ministers, as it is a delicate subject and one which we know has to be corrected at its source.... Our druggist says that he is dictated to in the matter of buying magazines for the reading public. He wished to dispose of some comic books, the tone of which he did not like, but was told that unless he bought all that the publishers offer he could not buy the magazines he wished. In a free country why does this have to be? Who is doing the dictating? ... I would like to ask, what is happening? ... We cannot stand by and see this happen .... Please don't use our names ... We don't want any libel trouble...."

The writers of comic books rarely want to be professional crime-comic-book writers. I have had letters from them and have spoken with a number of them. One firm may employ as many as twenty or thirty such writers. Their ambition is to write a "Profile" for the New Yorker, or articles or stories for national magazines or to write the great American novel. The scripts or scenarios they write for comic books are not anything which they wish to express or anything they wish to convey to their child public. They want to get their ten dollars a page and pay the rent. They do not write comic-book stories for artistic or emotional self-expression. On the contrary, they write them in the hope of finding eventually the chance for self-expression somewhere else.

The ideas for their stories they get from anywhere, from other comic books, from newspapers, movies, radio, even jokes. Believe it or not, some comic-book writers are good writers. And the paradox or the tragedy is that when you read a comic-book story that is a little better it does not mean that a bad writer has improved, but that a man who was a good writer had to debase himself. Crime-comic-book writers should not be blamed for comic books. They are not free men. They are told what to do and they do it -- or else. They often are, I have found, very critical of comics. They are the ones who really know what goes into them. They know the degenerate talk that goes on in some editorial offices. But of course, like comic-book vendors, they have to be afraid of the ruthless economic power of the comic-book industry. In every letter I have received from a writer, stress is laid on requests to keep his identity secret. I have one letter from a man, evidently a very intelligent writer, who mentions this three times in one letter!

There has been a great critical outburst about the ex-comic-book writer Mickey Spillane and his fictional hero. Spillane has sold some twenty million pocket-book copies. The critics object to his artless cynicism, his bloody sadism, his debasement of women. To me this criticism seems to be sheer hypocrisy. Mickey Spillane writes for adults and mostly for young adults who have been brought up on crime comic books. Why is Spillane with his paltry twenty million copies for adults more important than exactly the same thing -- with colored illustrations -- in hundreds of millions of comic books for children?

Malcolm Cowley has written an excellent analysis of Mickey Spillane. "Mike Hammer," he says, "takes a peculiar delight in shooting women in the abdomen"; "the characters have no emotions except hatred, lust and fear"; "sometimes in the story the fierce joys of sadism give way to the subtler delights of masochism"; "soon he is back in the high-powered car, ready to visit another incredibly seductive woman and start a new episode"; "he has strong homosexual tendencies." But all this is old stuff to American children. The abdomen is where you shoot a woman -- if you don't shoot her in the back. You kick a man in the face, or shoot him in the eye. And there is always a new episode coming up. This is the freedom of speech that the industry invokes when parents try to protect their children from crime comics.

If I were asked to express in a single sentence what has happened mentally to many American children during the last decade I would know no better formula than to say that they were conquered by Superman. And if I were further asked what is the real moral of the Superman story, I would know no better answer than the fate of the creator of Superman himself.

John Kobler has written one of his magazine articles about the rise of Superman. It has a photograph of Jerry Siegal, inventor of Superman, lying on an oversized, luxuriously accoutred bed with silken covers, in a room adorned with draperies. Here indeed is success. Kobler describes how Superman knocks out an endless procession of evildoers. "When a gangster rams Superman on the skull with a crowbar, the crowbar rebounds and shatters his own noggin." Kobler does not fail to point out that Superman comes to children highly recommended. A child psychiatrist declared that Superman "provides an inexpensive form of therapy for unhappy children." So Superman and his inventor were well launched.

Since then, in the course of our studies, we have often seen troubled children, children in trouble and children crushed by society's punishments, with Superman and Superboy comic books sticking out of their pockets.

How did the Superman formula work for his creator? The success formula he developed did not work for him. Superman flies high in comic books and on TV; but his creator has long since been left behind.

I am told that if I were to visit the National Cartoonists Society my reception there would lack chumminess. In fact, collectively they consider me to be a devil with two horns. Actually, when we extended our studies to include artists who make drawings for crime comic books, far from blaming them we found that they are victims too. I doubt whether there are any artists doing this work whose life ambition was to draw for crime comic books. From interviews, telephone calls and letters we found out that they are afraid too. This is the kind of thing I was told: "Please don't mention that I even spoke to you! I'd be blackballed; I'd be ruined!" Here I found the comic-book industry's conception of freedom of speech again. It is a strange part of the comic-book industry that its vendors, writers and artists are so afraid. Maybe they should take the advice of the industry's experts and read horror or supermen comics to get rid of their fears.

Quite a few of the members of the National Cartoonists Society draw for comic books. By and large it pays well, but it is not their artistic ambition. As a rule they are highly critical of what is drawn, by themselves and by their colleagues, for crime comics. One famous comics artist told me, "Of course you have to keep my name confidential -- but if I were you there are four hundred comic books I'd like to have taken off the stands." Ray Abel, an illustrator of children's books, is quoted by the Wilson Library Bulletin: "As for the comic book illustrator, I can speak for him, too, as I have done a few comic books in my time. There creative ability and imagination, the things that make an art form interesting, are completely blocked. The artist is a machine and his only aim is to attain a mechanical competence that will make him completely indistinguishable from the other 'machines' in the business. No, I can't say anything in favor of comic books."

The industry and defenders of comics like to mix up comic books and newspaper comic strips in the mind of the public. There are of course financial relationships. Some comic strips are made into comic books. A national weekly containing newspaper comic strips finances research on "comics" (which comes out favorable to crime comic books). Comic-book artists know that, as Stanley Baer ("The Toodles") expressed it in a radio forum at Northwestern University, "the syndicates as well as the feature editors of the various newspapers watch the strips very carefully. And it isn't the newspaper strips that are the ones that are severely criticized." E. Bushmiller ("Nancy") told the San Diego County Women's Clubs, "I wish you would differentiate between the newspaper comics and the comic books. Most newspaper comics are wholesome, but a large percentage of the comic books are cheap junk and just turned out for a quick sale."

It is in an artistic sense that these artists are victims. I know that quite a number of them are highly gifted; but they have to turn out an inartistic assembly-line product. That is what is essentially wrong with comic books: There are too many pictures. The mass effect of these stereotyped, standardized images is something totally different from and much inferior to the well-spaced illustrations in a good children's book. Instead of helping a child to develop his artistic imagination, they stifle it. Even if the drawings were good. which they are not, their numbers would kill their artistic effect.

Some artists have told me that they earn or did earn more money from crime comic books than from any other art work. But they realize very well that it does not help their artistic development. Aline B. Louchheim, reviewing an exhibition of the National Cartoonists Society, placed the political, gag and humorous cartoonists much higher than the comic-book artists. "Let us admit it," she wrote, "the general level of drawing is appallingly low.... Even the superb brickbat Krazy Kat tradition is gone."

Whenever the question of control of crime comics is raised, the industry starts to fuss about freedom of expression. It is only when one talks to artists and writers of comic books that one realizes fully the sham of this argument. Who wants to express what in this medium? The writers tell you frankly that what they want is to satisfy the editor -- to get their check. If they want to express something, as many of them do, they want to do it in a "legitimate medium." Text and drawings of crime comics are concocted, not created. And there is no freedom of concoction. One comic-book artist told me: "I feel very much like you do about the crime stuff. I did most of my work on assignment. They tell me: 'We want blood.' I used to get very much disturbed about it. They criticized my drawings because they were not sexy enough. My instructions were to make these drawings as sexy as possible. They told me to show as much as possible. For example, I had to draw two women fighting showing as much of the thighs as possible, seductive poses, cruel faces, and one or both flailing the air with a long blunt club. Or two men wrestling, or a man and a gorilla. Thigh muscles must be emphasized and emphasis on all body proportions -- you know what I mean."

He added that after these drawings were used in crime-comic books they were printed and catalogued according to sex and action and then sold to private customers who had strange erotic desires, for very personal reasons. Some wanted men, some wanted women, some wanted thighs, etc. All this was taken from drawings for comic books for children!

Experts for the defense are just as necessary for the industry as writers or artists. It could not possibly exist in its present form or extent without them. They are a commercial necessity. The many publishers of genuine children's books do not employ such experts. They do not need them. Neither do they need codes, codes forbidding -- after years of publishing -- blood, sadism, sex perversion, race hatred and so on. Nor do they need endorsements on their books. Were it not for the confusion spread so adroitly by the comics experts, the good sense of mothers would have swept away both the product and the pretense. The more we studied the industry, the more it was impressed upon us that it was mainly via the experts that the crime-comic-book industry has established such a firm hold on our social fabric. Nobody can understand the industry who does not understand that part of the problem.

I have sometimes indulged in the fantasy that I am at the gate of Heaven. St. Peter questions me about what good I have done on earth. I reply proudly that I have read and analyzed thousands of comic books -- a horrible task and really a labor of love. "That counts for nothing," says St. Peter. "Millions of children read these comic books." "Well," I reply, "I have also read all the articles and speeches and press releases by the experts for the defense." "Okay," says St. Peter. "Come in! You deserve it."

Every medium of artistic and literary expression has developed professional critics: painting, sculpture, drama, the novel, the detective story, the seven lively arts, musical recordings, television, children's books. The fact that comic books have grown to some ninety millions a month without developing such critics is one more indication that this industry functions in a cultural vacuum. Literary critics evidently thought that these accumulations of bad pictures and bad drawing were beneath critical notice. I have convinced myself often that they were ignorant of the material itself unless it was brought home to them in their own families.

One literary critic had been very permissive about comic books and had not included them in his other excellent critiques of life and literature. He changed his mind one evening when after reprimanding his children, aged seven and five, he overheard the older saying to the younger: "Don't worry. In the morning I kill both of them!"

There have been other excellent critics, but they came later. Marya Mannes has expressed her opinion tersely: "Comic books kill dreams." She discerned the monopoly position comic books had obtained among the educationally less privileged: "In one out of three American homes, comic books are virtually the only reading matter." John Mason Brown had this to say: "The comic books as they are now perpetually on tap seem to me to be not only trash but the lowest, most despicable and most harmful and unethical form of trash." When heckled by a comic-book publisher about what his own children think of his opinion, he made the classical reply: "They have been so corrupted by you that they love them."

The closest critics of the poison tree should be the parents. Gilbert Seldes has correctly seen as a key problem of comic books "the paralysis of the parents." In his recent book The Great Audience he says: ".... unlike the other mass media, comics have almost no esthetic interest." (I would question his "almost.") After quoting testimony that connects comic books with delinquency and evidence of their brutality and unwholesomeness he goes on: "Most of these outcries represent the attitudes of parents searching for a way to cope with a powerful business enterprise which they consider positively evil.... The liberal-minded citizen dislikes coercive action, tries to escape from corruption privately, and discovers that his neighbor, his community, are affected.... Year after year Dr. Fredric Wertham brings forth panels showing new ugliness and sadistic atrocities; year after year his testimony is brushed aside as extravagant and out-of-date. The paralysis of the parent is almost complete."

What causes this paralysis of parents? I do not think it is a real paralysis; it is helplessness. The vast majority of mothers have been outraged when they read the crime comic books their children read. But the moment they raise their voices they are knocked out by the experts for the defense and by an avalanche of pseudo-Freudian lore. Freud himself never saw a comic book. And I am certain that he would have been horrified -- and even more horrified to learn that his name is being used to defend them by some uncritical would-be followers.

The mothers are not complacent. They are put in a difficult position. They have been told not to worry about comic books, but to read them aloud with their children. Let's go along with Mrs. Jones as she tries to follow this advice. Her son is seven years old, so she selects a comic book which is obviously for children: it has full-page advertisements showing forty-four smiling and happy children's faces. This, she thinks, must be just the thing to read aloud to her child. So she starts with the cover, The Battle of the Monsters! She describes the cover to her son. It shows an enormous bestial colored human being who is brandishing a club and carrying off a scared blonde little boy in knee pants. Then she goes on to the first story:

"LOOK!! Their bodies are CRUMBLING AWAY!!"

"KILL! K-AARGHH!"

"YAIEE-E-E!!"

Mamma has some difficulty in pronouncing these speeches. But her difficulties increase when in the course of the story a man encounters a big serpent: "WH-AWWGG-HH-H!! YAAGH-H-H-H!!"

She goes on, however, and comes to a picture where a yellow-haired man mugs the dark-hued monster from behind: "AARGH-H-H!!!"

Mrs. Jones thinks perhaps she had better switch to another story. So she turns a few pages and begins "Whip of Death!"

"REVENGE!"

"AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!"

There is a picture of a boy tied to a mast with the captain lashing him so furiously that his bare body is criss-crossed with marks. The boy dies of this beating.

Mrs. Jones gives up. She realizes that she will never comprehend the new psychology which defends comic books and she decides that if the child-psychiatry and child-guidance experts say Bobby needs this to get rid of his "aggressions" he has to go through with it alone. She can't take it.

Suppose for a moment that a girl of nine is physically violated by an adult. Democratic justice demands the most rigorous determination: Did this violation occur? Is it established beyond a reasonable doubt that it was this adult who did it? But do we give this man the right to address the parents of the victim, expounding his view that from his investigations he has found that the girl liked it; that it satisfied a "real innermost need" of her own; that struggling against him helped her to get rid of her own "aggressions"; that in her "humdrum" home and school life this was a way of psychological "escape" for her; and that after all, in this modern world of ours girls may get raped and he was helping her to become acquainted with and adjust to "reality"; that she will laugh it off and grow out of it; that the basic character is formed in the first few years, anyhow, so that rape when she's a little older than that can have no real effect?

This simile is not far-fetched. This is precisely what we permit the comic-book industry to do when they violate children's minds.
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Re: Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Postby admin » Wed Dec 11, 2013 12:05 am

11. Murder in Dawson Creek

The Comic Books Abroad

"Reputation abroad is contemporaneous posterity."
-- French saying


The Alaska Highway, which runs for some fifteen hundred miles to Fairbanks, Alaska, begins at Dawson Creek, in the Peace River district. Dawson Creek used to have about five hundred inhabitants. Then it became a boom town during the construction of the highway. Now it has settled down to about 3,800 people. The center of a famous wheat-producing agricultural area with record yields, Dawson Creek is a well-ordered community which boasts of a six-hundred-thousand-dollar high school. The farmers of the surrounding region go to the town for trade and recreation.

One evening in 1948, one of these hard-working men, Mr. James Watson, was returning in his car from a show not far from the Dew Drop Inn in Dawson Creek to his home in Kilkarren. With him were some friends and relatives. His son was driving while he, on the back seat, was holding a small child on his knees. Suddenly the occupants of the car thought they heard a loud bang like a shot. Before they could decide what it was a second shot rang out. It was about nine thirty in the evening and they couldn't see anybody. But Mr. Watson slumped over, shot through the chest. His son Fred stopped the car, still couldn't see anybody. Someone screamed. And he turned the car around and rushed the wounded man to the hospital. He died three days later.

Mr. Watson was one of the most respected residents. For some time he had been president of the Dawson Co-operative Union. He had come from the north of England and had owned his farm in the Peace River district for thirty years. Who could have murdered him, and why?

When the police traced and arrested the culprits the mystery of the motive became even greater, for they were a boy of thirteen and a boy of eleven. "This is one of the worst tragedies to come about by juvenile delinquency in this North country," one newspaper commented. The authorities, puzzled and serious, made a thorough investigation of the whole case. The boys were turned over to the Department of Health and Welfare for study.

Neither boy had any excuses to make. They verified what the police had found and told a straightforward story. They were like amateur actors repeating as best they could remember the plot of a play they had carefully learned. They had stolen a rifle from a parked car. Then they went to the railway yards and stole cigarettes from a truck. The night before they had stolen a flashlight. The night of the murder they had proceeded along the Alaska Highway, stood in a ditch and waited for a car to come along. They were playing highwaymen. When a car did come they flagged it to stop, and fired a shot; but the car went right on. When Mr. Watson's car came along they did the same, firing a shot in the air. But when that car didn't stop either they fired right at it.

The mother of the older boy, although her son had not been in any trouble, was worried about him. She had noticed that he spent a great deal of his time reading little colored booklets all dealing with crime. Three days before the shooting she had tried to get advice as to what to do about him. The authorities had no preconceived ideas; but after investigation they all came to the same conclusion: These boys had been not only influenced, but actually motivated to the point of detailed imitation, by crime comic books. Every detail of what they did was found blueprinted in the comic books they had been reading. The older boy had read about fifty crime comic books a week, the younger boy only about thirty. They didn't see anything peculiar in that, either as something wrong or as something which could serve as an excuse. It was left to the authorities to piece it together.

This case was like an experiment. Nobody was looking for a "scapegoat." Nobody had given any thought to comic books (except the mother of one of the boys) before the murder. Nobody wanted to prove anything, except what really happened. Nobody wanted anything except the truth. The representative of the Department of Health and Social Welfare declared as a result of his investigations that the source of the ideas possessed by these children was clearly their comic books, and he testified to the effect comic books had had on their minds. In his verdict the coroner also referred to the evidence of comic books in this case, comic books "which are apt to encourage crime."

At the trial in the juvenile court the Crown Prosecutor, Mr. A. W. McClellan, told the Court: "I feel that parents and the public generally have been on trial this afternoon as well as these two boys.... I have no doubt that if the public generally had been present at this trial they would have gone in a body to the purveyors of these so-called comic books and demonstrated in no uncertain terms what they thought of their pernicious influence. It is clear that in many cases parents have no idea of the effect the reading of this muck -- for that is what it is -- can have on the minds of children. I cannot say too strongly that I think these two unfortunate boys have been strongly influenced by what they have been reading. I would like to see a concerted effort to wipe out this horrible and weird literature with which children are filling their heads."

Juvenile Court Judge C. S. Kitchen also singled out crime comic books as the predominant factor in this tragedy. He spoke about "the influence of the literature these boys have been subjected to" and added: "I am satisfied that a concerted effort should be made to see that this worse-than-rubbish is abolished in some way."

It did not do the boys much good, but Dawson Creek had become comic-book conscious overnight.

I heard about this case right after it happened. There was nothing new about it. It was just like so many others where children had taken their roles from comic books. It was one of those cases where cause and effect were so clear that nobody dared dispute it.

Although the number of comic books in Canada is infinitely smaller than in the United States, the problem was recognized there with far more seriousness. Mrs. T. W. A. Gray, chairman of a special committee of the Victoria and District Parent-Teacher Council, was in the midst of an extensive investigation when the Watson comic-book murder was committed. To her it was another of many instances of the detrimental influence of comic books on children. She had collected cases, studied the literature, communicated with other parent-teacher organizations -- eventually reaching the provincial and national level -- looked into the industry and its experts, and last but not least had studied the comic books that children read. She reported these samples from one comic book:

1) As the American army is returning home, and the flag is going by, an old gentleman asks three men to remove their hats. They reply: "If he's so patriotic he might as well die for his country," and one of them stabs the old man to death.

2) An honest alderman tries to protect the public and is killed. The hero says: "Bullets are better than ballots!"

And the commentator says: "Ah! That impulsive boy! He's absolutely fearless! Why can't everyone be like that!"


Mrs. Gray did not permit herself to be sidetracked by the industry or by those who wanted her to include all kinds of other reading and entertainment. She unflinchingly isolated one evil and pursued it. Her campaign was endorsed by the British Columbia Parent-Teacher Federation and then by the National Federation of Home and School. Damning evidence against crime comic books accumulated from all over the country. There was a striking similarity in youthful delinquencies which became more violent and involved ever younger children.

My advice was sought off and on by various Canadian organizations and it was interesting to see where the chief difficulty arose in the attempt to protect children. This became part of my own investigation of the general social aspects of the comic-book question.

Modern child psychiatry, mental hygiene and educational psychology are in a crisis. Far from being leaders, they are behind the times. Some of their literature is filled with vagaries and generalities. When confronted with a new phenomenon like comic books, they do everything except study the books. They make pronouncements without first learning the objective facts and, without bad intent, repeat the same old arguments which the crime-comic-book industry -- aided by its experts -- had culled from the psychological verbiage of the day.

That is precisely what happened in Canada. The parents knew there was something very wrong, teachers and others who had directly to do with children knew it, and Minister of Justice Garson, after going over a great deal of evidence, said that crime comic books are "nothing but hack-work filth." But the leaders of mental hygiene, who stood idly by while comic books gained increasing influence over children, pooh-poohed the whole thing. It was not in Freud, it was not in mental hygiene books, and it could so easily be explained away like other social evils. The medical director of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (Canada) told a convention: "A child may ascribe his behavior to a comic he has read or a movie he has seen. But such explanations cannot be considered scientific evidence of causation." (Note that in Canada, as in the United States, it is not the children who "ascribe" their behavior to comic books, but those adults who really study the facts and the comic books.)

Here, it seemed to me, was one of the points where my comic-book study -- just because it was so focussed on one element -- led me to a clear perception of a much larger problem. Some modern psychiatrists and educational psychologists have done a lot of harm with their pseudoscientific drivel. In this instance, a newspaper evidently more in contact with life than the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (Canada) commented editorially: "This may not be considered 'scientific evidence of causation.' It is significant to note, however, that the Montreal Star and the Montreal Gazette, commenting on the unsuccessful attempt of a ten-year-old to hang himself, both state that the youngster was imitating a scene in a comic book open beside him." And the editorial went on to mention another similar case with a fatal ending.

The same medical director wrote to a parent-teacher group the usual generalizations favoring comic books, obviously without knowing anything about them or the real effects they have on children. He asserted that only "children who are deeply disturbed, unhappy, rejected and fearful, are attracted to comics of this type." Make clear to yourself how far we have gone astray in relying on the official mental hygiene of the day if a leader makes a statement according to which tens of millions of children would have to be considered "deeply disturbed"! What an alibi for the corrupters of children! What a boon to private practice! His final pronouncement about comic books is "control by legislation is not the device of a truly democratic and mature society." If the law is not the device of a democratic society, what is? The dogma of an expert who has not studied the subject fully? Other mental-hygiene officials made similar statements.

But it was the democratic process which proved a better safeguard for truth, science and the health of children. While in the United States parents and parent-teacher associations were stalled, confused by the experts and the maneuvers of the comic-book industry, the Canadians persisted. The Parent-Teacher Association of Kamloops (B.C.) asked its representative in Parliament, Mr. Edmund Davie Fulton, to bring the matter to the attention of the House of Commons.

There were full discussions on several occasions. Mr. Fulton, rising to introduce legislation to control crime comic books, took issue with the director of research of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (Canada), who had wired the Minister of Justice to say that legal banning would be a confession of failure on the part of parents and educators to raise the child.

"That may be true," Mr. Fulton said, "but from all those who have spoken to me and from articles I have read I know that parents and teachers are literally at their wits' ends to find a solution .... They are powerless to prevent the tremendous circulation of these crime comics."

The member from Kamloops, who had accumulated a great deal of material (including some of mine) won the respect of everybody by making his points very definitely and precisely. He clearly separated comic books from newspaper comic strips; he concentrated on crime comic books and did not let himself get inveigled into talking about movies or other things; he did not include only the current crop but mentioned the harm already done and continuing to be done by the old ones. In the course of various speeches in the House of Commons, he gave credit to the many parents', women's and teachers' organizations. He said:

The man of violence is portrayed as acting directly, quickly and forcefully. In this way the sympathies of children are directed toward the wrong side.

Even if there were only one case of a crime, the commission of which was influenced by crime comics, even if the enactment of the bill only prevented one murder, one crime of violence being committed by a juvenile, I would say that the act, if passed, would have served its purpose.

I have received many communications from humble men and women, parents who were desperately concerned with the welfare of their children, and conversations I have had with those parents moved me greatly. I know the deep anxiety with which mothers and fathers have viewed this matter, recognizing in it a frightful threat to which their children have been exposed. It was an exposure which was beyond parental control, because these crime comics were available in such large numbers and in so many places.


The debates on the Fulton bill were extensive. Among the speakers were judges, members of school boards and others who evidently had gone carefully into the subject. Mr. Hansell, from Macleod, held up one comic book: "On the cover is the word" 'CRIME' in large letters. I think, Mr. Speaker, you can read that from where you are sitting; but I will bet a million dollars that you cannot read the type underneath which says 'does not pay.' It is so small it is almost negligible."

He gave statistics of the contents of one book:

punch or bludgeoning with a blackjack or something else: 11 times

burning or torturing: 8 times

blood running: 2 times

guns depicted: 14 times

corpses depicted: 4 times

drinking bouts: 5 times

somebody in the electric chair: 2 times

poisoning: 3 times

gassing: 1 time


"I ask any reasonably minded man," he went on, "is that the sort of thing our young people should be reading? The publishers circumvent the law by using the words 'does not pay.' You see, we all know that is only a way of getting around the law."

Mr. Browne (St. Johns West) spoke of his experience as a judge interested in juvenile delinquency: young people are "prone to fall victims to the temptations which come to them through reading literature of that sort." He cited cases.

Mr. Cavers (Lincoln) spoke of the influence of comic books on gangs: "I am told young people buy these comics, and then form voluntary circulating libraries, passing them from one to another, so no matter what supervision there may be in the home, it is difficult to stop such a practice."

Mr. Goode (Burnaby-Richmond) characterized crime comic books as the "offal of the magazine trade" and described one as "the most filthy book that I have ever seen on a magazine stand." He was referring to an ordinary comic book, like millions on the stands in the United States right now.

Mr. Rodney Adamson (York West) took issue with the familiar argument that delinquency is often caused by family and home conditions and that "then the crime comic book got in and did its work." "That," he said, "reinforces the argument of my friend the honorable member for Kamloops [Mr. Fulton]."

Mr. Low (Peace River): "The best teaching in the world in the home, the wisest guidance in the home, cannot always protect youngsters when they are subjected to such alluring things every time they go to a store. Any time a child goes in to buy an ice-cream cone or an all-day sucker he is faced with the alternative of these very compelling pictures and colors, and very often a lot of good salesmanship in displaying them."

Mr. Drew: "We know as a matter of actual experience that if these books are available, they will be read, and if they are read, they have a certain influence. Only two weeks ago, a mere boy of sixteen was sentenced in one of our courts to be hanged, and the evidence demonstrated clearly that his mind had been influenced by books of this kind." He called crime comics "an extremely harmful poison to the minds of our young people."

The Minister of Justice, the Hon. Stuart S. Garson, summed up the debates: "When publishers and disseminators of various kinds of crime comics and obscene literature are heartened and emboldened by this concern of ours for the preservation of literary and artistic freedom, and become steadily more impudent in their degradation of that freedom so that they transform freedom into license, the time comes, and I think we all agree that it has come, when we must take further action to curtail their offences."

No debate on such a high ethical plane, with proper regard for civil liberties but with equal regard for the rights and happiness of children, has ever taken place in the United States. Was the widening periphery of my investigation into the effects of comic books leading me to the problem of where and why the democratic process is being corrupted here, to the detriment of the most defenseless members of society, the children?

The Fulton bill to outlaw crime comic books by an amendment to the criminal code was passed unanimously by the House of Commons. Then it had to come before the Canadian Senate. The Senate referred the bill to one of its standing committees. At the committee hearing, two representatives of the comic-book trade gave evidence. They were eloquent and made their usual persuasive arguments. They said that far from having an adverse influence, crime comic books are highly moral and have a very good influence on children. They almost swayed the committee.

But they made one error. They handed around some free samples of comic books. Some of the Senators had been inclined to listen to the plausible arguments. But after taking a good look at the samples selected by the industry itself to show its worth, they were aghast. The Senate passed the Fulton bill by the overwhelming majority of 91 to 5.

After the Fulton bill became law, a committee representing publishers, distributors and printers decided that comic books affected by the definition of the new law should be discontinued. Twenty-five crime comics, every one of which had figured in my Lafargue and Queens Mental Hygiene Clinic investigations, disappeared from the Canadian newsstands. Canadian parents lost nothing in the way of freedom of speech. Their children were protected from one of the influences which had made it harder for them to grow up decently. Said Mr. Fulton: "The new law imposes an obligation of self-censorship on the publisher and makes certain that what he publishes is not harmful, and this is a perfectly fair duty to impose upon those who derive profit from literature for children."

This pioneer legal experiment in the protection of childhood has been played down as far as American public-information goes. Spokesmen for the industry have proclaimed that it does not mean anything, that the law came about only because my writings had stirred up Canadian parents. There is little merit in that flattering argument. The resistance against American crime comics is going on all over the world. It is a fair statement to make that most civilized nations feel threatened by them in their most holy possessions, their children. One of the worst crime comics boasts: "Distributed in over 25 countries throughout the world!" -- while a picture on the opposite page shows a U.S. Federal Agent knocking a man down with a rifle butt to the words: "Boy, that's the sweetest sound on earth."

While the American taxpayer is paying a lot of money for propaganda, including the Voice of America, and information libraries abroad, parents in most civilized nations have seen comic books right in their own towns and villages. It has gone so far that people all over the world believe that American civilization means airstrips and comic strips. Comic books are our ill-will ambassadors abroad. Whatever differences there are between the Eastern and Western countries of Europe, they are united in their condemnation of American crime-comic books.

What are these nations doing about it? In Sweden, American crime comic books cannot be imported any more. On the other hand, it is reported that American-type comic books "are circulating in alarming numbers" and that there is "a campaign against them." In Holland also American crime comic books cannot be imported. Some comic books are published in Holland, but there is a wide revulsion and agitation against them. There have been articles severely criticizing them, and I have received letters from writers and others who have studied the subject: "Comic books in our country are responsible for an increase in juvenile criminality by inducing boys to play rather funny games of beating, throwing and maltreating each other, kidnapping girls with more or less sexual intentions and stealing money to buy comic books."

In England importation of American comic books is restricted. Many are published in England from plates or blocks fabricated in this country. They are often called "Yank magazines." From articles published in England, from correspondence, from American travelers to England and British travelers here, I have learned that very many people who have directly to do with children are greatly worried about them. "The volume of public protests is growing," writes one of my British correspondents.

People are more concerned about the subtle distortion of children's minds than by cases of violent forms of delinquency and murder, although there were enough of those comic-book delinquencies, too. One of these was seriously commented upon and featured in headlines as "The Boy Who Thought Crime Could Pay." This teen-ager burglarized jewel shops and pubs, tried to stab a policeman and finally shot one. Those who knew him best, his father, mother and some neighbors, described as his outstanding characteristic his reading of comic books. "Always reading that Yank stuff with gangsters and gun molls," said his father. A neighbor described how the boy had lent him crime comic books and how he had taken from them the role of a gangster: "He looked like a gangster. He talked on the side of his mouth like a gangster." He used comic book vocabulary: "They're not goin' to get me alive. I'll get as many of them as I can before they get me." Or (about work): "This is too hard a way to earn dough." His mother told pathetically how he was always quiet and read these crime comic books: "I thought there was no harm." He collected knives and guns and air pistols such as are advertised in comic books. When finally cornered, he would not surrender and was shot in a battle with the police. A Sten gun and a crime comic book lay beside his body.

British children have also been playing the type of game directly taken out of comic books. One little boy, for instance, was tied to a tree and left to roast beside a bonfire, a typical comic-book performance.

The current agitation in England against American and American-style comics is toned down a little because there are interests which spread the idea in Great Britain that to be against comic books shows anti-American sentiment. It is certainly an important fact that among wide sections of the population of the British Commonwealth crime comics can be identified with American civilization. In my correspondence with British people I have done my best to explain that in my opinion American mothers are just as anxious to free their children from the stifling encroachment of comic books as are the mothers of any other nation.

Many British organizations devoted to child welfare have come out strongly against comic books and asked that the government do something about them. The National Federation of Women's Institutes says of the effects of comic books on "young growing minds": "[They] terrify, stimulate morbid excitement and encourage racial prejudice and glorification of violence, brutal and criminal behaviour."

The Glasgow Association of the Educational Institute of Scotland asked for a government ban: "An unhealthy and distorted view of life is presented in these comic books. Crime and lawbreaking are considered as the normal state of affairs." The Association condemns the Superman type of comic books with their implication of the extermination of inferior races and points out that power and riches are described as "the most desirable things in life," while honesty and hard work find no place.

The National Union of Teachers called American comic books "lurid, debasing, sadistic and immoral" and asked that the government ban their import and printing in Britain. A resolution by schoolteachers asked the executive committee of the Association of Assistant Mistresses in Secondary Schools to take steps against United States comic books. The resolution speaks of "these pernicious and degrading publications" which are "calculated to have damaging effect upon young people, both morally and culturally."

The issue of comic books was also raised in the British House of Commons several times. In answer to a question about the harm comic books do to children, a government representative said that he would certainly consult the Home Secretary and the Minister of Education on the subject. On another occasion the member for Coventry displayed comic books and read from them and said that the most sinister thing about these publications was that they introduce an element of pleasure into violence and encourage sadism in connection with unhealthy sexual stimulation. He pointed out that magistrates have found that certain juvenile delinquents who engaged in violent acts used this type of so-called comics as their favorite reading matter. He added: "One of the most alarming facts of this particular situation is the tremendous amount of profit which exists in their sale ... " and demanded: "Children should be protected from the insidious and pernicious effect of this type of reading." A headmaster and member agreed and added that such brutalizing and degrading reading matter was probably not unconnected with the 28,000 crimes committed by children under fourteen. Another member stated: "[Comic book reading is] causing a great deal of anxiety among the parents of this country and many of them just do not know what action to take." She felt that the Government should "take active steps to stop the poisoning of the minds of our children and of our adolescents."

Following this debate (and on other occasions) letters against comic books were published in newspapers. A typical one to the London Times says: "This [better education] is being jeopardized by those comics which are of a particularly vicious kind with the nastiest sort of appeal to the changing instincts of adolescents ... the onus is on officialdom to show at least that these comics are not a contributing factor [to juvenile crime]. Since these publications are universally recognized as pernicious what objection can there be to their prohibition? ... It is, I know, a matter of grave concern to many headmasters in areas where these comics are being distributed and local education authorities are of course helpless in the matter. In an age of uncertain values and deficient faith the least that society can do is to extirpate obvious evils." (Neville Sandelson, Lincoln's Inn.)

During another debate on comic books in the House of Commons a woman physician and member said it was quite impossible for parents to exercise control over the reading matter of adolescents and asked the Home Secretary to look into it again.

In 1953 in the House of Commons immediately after prayers a member presented a petition signed by thousands of people. It asked Parliament to take steps to ban the production, import and distribution of American and American-style comic books. It said that the "so-called comics which have as their theme horror, crime, violence and sex, which are exposed for sale or for view throughout the country" are "dangerous and unsuitable for children."

The Hampstead Borough Council of London debated a proposal to ask the London County Council to look into the effects of comic books on the minds of children. The National Association of School Masters carried a resolution, by an overwhelming majority, against the published and imported comic books as "a menace to the mental health of youth": "What we are against is that type of children's book in which there are constant references to people being beaten up, in which cruelty is looked upon as strength and terror is regarded as an every-day emotion."

At a conference of educational associations at King's College, the Warden of Bembridge School, Isle of Wight, showed some typical comic books "illustrated with half-naked women" and the text in "balloons with handles." He said: "None of these is worthy of a place higher than the gutter. Their contents are contemptible. I do not know how to express my indignation at the fact that this stuff should be allowed to come into this country."

At the annual conference of the British Federation of Psychologists at Bournemouth, a resolution was passed favoring restrictive legislation against comic books which "glorify crime, brutality and lust." At a meeting of teachers and mothers in London, American comic books were taken up and it was pointed out that "most of the comics our children read are brutal and sadistic. Ninety-nine out of a hundred covers particularly are sexy and show scenes of violence."

A new society, the Company of New Elizabethans, has been founded by Miss Noel Streatfeild, author of many books for girls, to combat the "vicious, degrading contents of modern so-called comics." She believes that too many parents are unaware of the real character of comics, which show acts of cruelty and sadism in revolting detail. The Plumcroft Parent-Teacher Association expressed itself as "extremely alarmed at the increased number of these comics in circulation."

The chairman of the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals put some of the blame for increase of cruelty by children on American comic books: "We do not want to prosecute children, but certainly cases during the last year were so bad we had no alternative but to bring them before the juvenile courts." The Association of Optical Practitioners issued a report on the bad effects of comics on children's vision. And so on and on.

France has been swamped with comic books imported or published there, with French legends, from American sources. It took some time for the public to realize what was happening. Then a resistance movement set in on the part of writers, teachers, child psychologists and experts on juvenile delinquency. Helene Scheu-Riesz, a pioneer in good children's literature, wrote about the first Treasure Chest sent by children of the United States to the children of France: "It contained so many comics that the French teachers, in dismay, begged us to desist from sending such books, for French children began to picture America as a country of gangsters and robbers where shooting, killing and torturing were everyday occurrences." Newspapers printed illustrations from crime comic books showing deeply decollete girls hanged in a setting of lascivious sadism and other brutalities. "With such methods," wrote one paper, "hardly different from those used by the Nazi regime, were S.S. men made."

Dr. Henri Wallon, leading French child psychologist, enumerated "the sad characteristics" of the comics: "the false science which is used only for murder, sexuality linked to cruelty, the pin-up girl with the knife [la pin-up au couteau], bestiality, race hatred, libidinous and perverse monsters, the Fascist notion of the superman, solitary avenger." Evidently the French doctors cannot understand that some of our child experts recommend all this for children.

A series of instances of juvenile delinquency "where children had aped episodes and techniques of violence shown in comic books" helped to crystallize public opinion. The government appointed a commission to protect children against harmful publications. The law was clearly aimed at American and American-style crime comic books. The commission includes two juvenile-court judges, representatives of the ministries of education, public health and justice, delegates of authors, illustrators and youth organizations. (What! no crime-comic-book publishers?) According to the new law, unanimously accepted by the National Assembly, this commission is to supervise comic books sold to children and adolescents. It provides penalties up to one year in prison and 500,000 francs fine. The commission forthwith instructed twenty-five concerns to modify their children's comic-book publications and to stop the sale of the issues then current. According to this law, publishers who intend to bring out publications for children or adolescents must submit the titles and lists of their directors -- before publication.

It is interesting that in a bill so near to censorship (although of course it deals only with the protection of children) the extreme Right, the extreme Left and the Middle found themselves in complete agreement.

Here are some indications of what is happening in other countries. In Italy, as reported by Barrett McGurn, American comic books with Italian legends have made great inroads on children. Such words as Crash, Bang or Zip have become a part of their vocabulary. The newspaper L'Osservatore Romano called the children's comic books "sensational, frightening and encouraging to instincts of violence and sensuality." A survey was conducted among 6,219 grammar school boys and girls. Twenty-six per cent liked comics "in which violence abounds and women appear largely as gun molls and never as normal housewives." Twenty-eight per cent preferred as comics characters "bandits, gangsters, outlaws, millionaires or movie stars." One Italian child commented, ''I'd like to be a bandit because they win all the time and then fight until they are killed."

In the Italian Parliament American crime comic books were vehemently denounced in a debate that lasted almost a week. The speakers agreed that American comics familiarize children with violence. Nobody got up to suggest that it was the children who were violent first. They also agreed on the need of defending Italian children against the American comics which "promote violent instincts ... or foment sentiments of hatred among citizens, people or races."

In Belgium, educators and psychologists are also attempting to stem the tide of comic books. As one school principal said, "We have started to fight to protect our pupils." The reaction in Switzerland is similar, and American bubble-gum pictures -- which are just like crime-comics drawings -- have been banned as too "bloodthirsty." In Portugal, American crime comic books abounded, until they were banned by a law which forbids them as "exploiting crime, terror and monstrous and licentious subjects."

It is remarkable when one reads the professional and lay literature about child welfare, how many people abroad speak of "the invasion by American comics." In the face of all this, the comic-book publishers reacted just like comic-book publishers. They did everything as before.

According to the published reports, "officials of the United States military government are boiling mad at the insistence of Economic Cooperation Administration officials on bringing American comic books to Western Germany." One official said, "If E.C.A. wants to waste its money on such tripe that is its business, but the taxpayers are certainly being milked." "This is exactly the sort of material we've been screening out of the books," said another. According to Edward R. Murrow, one comic-book publisher (who publishes some of the worst comics) had asked for guaranteed convertibility of currency for a shipment of "10,000 assorted comic books a month." W. Averell Harriman, then chief E.C.A. official in Europe, said that a proposal to use Marshall Plan funds to guarantee sales of comic books was ridiculous and would not be approved by his office. At that time Francis J. Bassett wrote to the New York Times: "Making available American crime comic books to Germans with E.C.A. funds does not seem the soundest way to demonstrate the advantages of our democratic society.... They present the worst and most distorted aspect of American life.... We casually send along publications that highlight murder, sensuality, crime and superman. Have the Germans not had enough of supermen?" In line with this, the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Dr. Bodet, former Mexican Foreign Minister, criticized the Superman type of crime comic book as giving children "false ideas."

In all East European countries, including Russia and Eastern Germany, crime comic books cannot be displayed or sold. West Germany was the recipient of large quantities of American crime comic books. Thoughtful Germans who did not need de-Nazification and were afraid of re-Nazification tried to stop them. In several places large numbers were held up. In Stuttgart, for example, officials of the Red Cross, which had received 20,000 comic books, were afraid that they would "teach violence to the German children." The dilemma of Europeans who would like to believe in true democracy and then encounter it in questionable forms is well symbolized by this episode. The officials did not know what to do. They felt that they could not give the books to the children, they did not want to burn them on account of old associations and they could not send them back. There were also protests in Austria. One magazine had an article against American comic books under the title "Caution Poison!"

In Mexico, writers, parents and teachers have made a large-scale attempt to have the government stop the importation of American crime comics. Here as in other countries this has had a bad effect on importation of other magazines from the United States, the legitimate defense against crime comic books spreading to other publications. Here, too, apologists for comic books have attempted to sell the old story that they are good for reading, with much-resented slurs on the literacy of the Mexican population. At the end of 1953 the sale of American comic books which sow race hatred against Asiatic people was forbidden by law in Mexico. In Australia newspaper articles criticizing comic books have appeared with typical comic-book illustrations. The Australian Journalists Association has asked for a ban on the importation of American comics. In the Union of South Africa their importation has also been prohibited. The law there specifically includes old issues. Voices against comic books have also been raised in Brazil and Egypt, in Indonesia, in India and in South American countries. It is a chorus of dismay.

Newspapers in the United States have reflected very little of this widespread concern abroad and of the many attempts of parents there to protect their children from American and American-style comic books. Lincoln Steffens has shown how newspapers can create a crime wave. I have found that they can make ruffled waters appear calm, too. The more I followed the reactions abroad, the more I realized that, like the export of narcotics, crime comic books have become an international problem.
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Re: Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Postby admin » Wed Dec 11, 2013 12:23 am

PART 1 OF 2

12. The Devil's Allies

The Struggle Against the Comic-Book Industry

"Neutral men are the devil's allies."
-- E. H. Chapin


Suppose a child comes to me with a gastro-intestinal disorder. I examine him carefully and come to the conclusion that the cause of the trouble is an impure well. I give some medication for the child and tell him not to drink that water any more. A little while later another child comes to me with the same condition, and after that still another. In each case my clinical judgment traces the trouble to the same well. What under such circumstances is the doctor's job? Should I wait until more and more children from this neighborhood come to me? Should I listen to those who say that after all there are children who have drunk water from this well and not got sick? Or to those who say it is good for children to get sick to the stomach occasionally, to "adjust them to reality"? Or should I listen to the owners of the well who claim first that children do not drink from their well, secondly that the well water is good for them and thirdly that interfering with the owners' right to use the well in any way they please is against their constitutional liberties?

I should certainly not be influenced by the child's opinion that he likes this well, nor by the assertions of those in the pay of the well-owners who claim that this particular well satisfies a "need" in children. It seems to me that my duty as a doctor is to make sure in the first place that these children have been drinking from this well. And then to be guided by an expert determination whether this well is sufficiently contaminated to have caused the trouble.

That is exactly what I did with comic books.

My conclusion as to the harmfulness of crime comic books got an ever larger foundation as my case material increased over the years. In the Lafargue Clinic, in the psychiatric service and the mental hygiene clinic of Queens General Hospital, in the Quaker Emergency Service Readjustment Center, in practice and in consultation, some five hundred children a year came to my attention. In the clinics I built upon intimate relationship with the community so that I had frequent contact with practically every public and private agency in New York that deals with mental-hygiene problems of children and young people. My associates and I gained a survey of children of all classes and dealt both practically, and scientifically with all factors known to influence children adversely, from physical to mental.

At the beginning of our comic-book studies, crime comic books were not recognized as a pathogenic factor. As we went along we had the advantage that we could study them in the setting of an all-inclusive mental-hygiene approach and in their interaction with all other psychological and environmental factors. Comic books transcend all class lines, all intelligence levels, all differences in home conditions. But there is no doubt that the long-range harm is greater and more insidious in all those children less well-endowed materially, intellectually, educationally and socially. The much-abused concept of the predisposed child is misleading in any such study. It is far more scientific to use the concept we worked out at Lafargue, of the endangered child.

I have testified six times under oath on the harmfulness of comic books. On only three of these occasions were comic books the original issue. On all six occasions comic books and/or photostats of comic-book pictures were received and filed as evidence by the court or the legislators. In all but one case (in which I testified in affidavit form), I was subject to searching cross-examination. In all six cases the issue was decided in accordance with my testimony, and for the side for which I testified. This sounds very optimistic, but that is not how it turned out in the long run.

At a Post Office hearing in Washington I had to give a psychiatric analysis of what constitutes obscenity. By way of comparison with nudity in art and photography, I introduced comic books which I called obscene. I pointed out that the picture of a nude girl per se may be the opposite of obscene, as compared to one of a girl in brassiere and panties about to be tied up, gagged, tortured, set on fire, sold as a slave, chained, whipped, choked, raped, thrown to wild animals or crocodiles, forced to her knees, strangled, torn apart and so on.

The people present evidently had not looked much at comic books, though they were bought by their children and on sale at stands within a stone's throw of the building. I suggested that as a test I would go out to any of these stands, and most of the comic books on sale would have episodes like those I had enumerated. From those I had with me, three were picked at random and marked and received in evidence.

The hearing was conducted with great fairness. Its result: "In view of the testimony adduced at the hearing," the Post Office reversed its previous ruling according to which a magazine for adults had been barred from the mails.

It was on a similar problem that I testified about comic books next, but on this occasion I was not the one who introduced the subject. The first novel of a young writer, published by a respected firm, had been accused of being obscene according to the law. A quantity of copies of the book had been seized in a raid on the publishing house. I appeared as a witness for the defense at the trial and gave it as my opinion that the novel was not obscene and the ban should be lifted. While waiting to be called, I sat outside and analyzed the contents of comic books. When called to the stand, I thrust them hastily into my brief case.

In the course of the cross-examination the prosecuting counsel suddenly pointed his finger at my face and demanded:

"Let's get to another subject -- with regard to comic books. You were the chairman of a meeting at the New York Academy of Medicine a short time ago, weren't you?"

"'Yes."

"And in the course of your remarks you referred to the sexual content of comic books, Doctor?"

"Yes."

"And you condemned them thoroughly as having a demoralizing and injurious effect?"

"Yes."

"Now if one kind of book would have an effect, another book would?"

I reached into my brief case and pulled out one of the comic books and handed it, open to a typical sadistic illustration, to the judge. My cross-examiner objected to the introduction of a comic book as evidence. But, as the lawyers say, he himself had opened the door for it, by bringing up the subject. I used the opportunity to defend the character of the novel in comparison with comic books and made three points.

In the first place, the novel is for adults, while this type of comic book (according to my studies and as shown by the advertisements) is read mostly by children.

Secondly, the accused passages in the novel had to do with normal erotic relationships while comic books glorify such perversions as sadism, and all kinds of violence in relation to sex.

Thirdly, this novel belongs to the realm of literature and art and reaches a relatively small number of readers, while these comic books are mass produced and just trash.

The judge had been looking at the comic book, first with disbelief and then with dismay.

"Who says these comic books are good?" he asked me.

"The defenders of the comic-book industry," was my answer.

A few weeks later he handed down his decision, freeing the novel and dismissing the complaint against it.

Following a meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Psychotherapy at which some of my associates and I presented scientific results of our study -- the content analysis of comic books, the varieties of harm they do to children, case examples and the theoretical principles involved -- the question of a remedy came more and more into the foreground. I have little patience with those who, when they hear of something wrong, immediately and without knowing the details ask, What should be done? First one should know. Pathology comes before therapeutics.

My writing and speaking had had at least one effect: parents began to look at comic books. I received letters and inquiries from all over the country. Many had the refrain expressed by one mother: "We who care about such things feel so helpless."

That crystallized for us a wider problem of comic books. It was no longer merely a question of what they do to children but what they were doing to the relationship between children and parents. Why in a democracy should parents feel "helpless?" Parents, I knew from many instances, had made all kinds of attempts to shield their children from comic books. Some had forbidden them. That did not prove to be a good method because it led children to the ubiquitous temptation to get or read them anyhow. Believe it or not, children do not like to lie. But we tempt them and almost force them to. That was very apparent from our studies. In the beginning children were all too eager to tell us all about the crime comic books they had read. They were proud to tell us all they knew about the crocs (crocodiles) and crooks, the stranglers and the supermen, the machine guns and gun molls. But as knowledge and therefore condemnation of comic books spread, children knew more clearly what they had only unconsciously sensed before, that reading crime comic books was a half-forbidden pleasure. So they lied to their parents and became evasive with the many questioners who suddenly sprang up all over the country in the false belief that you can find out about a child by springing a lot of questions on him. Now, when questioned about comic books, children are apt to tell you how they read about floppety rabbits and Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck. But when their parents leave the room, or when you gain their confidence, they will take you wide-eyed into the "walls of horrors," "chambers of misery" or "ambushes for massacres."

Some parents went over their children's belongings and confiscated or destroyed hundreds of books at a time. That did not help either. Or they tried earnestly the advice handed out by numerous amateurish child experts: Why don't you read the comic books first and select the good ones? Many children read so many comic books that a housewife could get little else done if she tried that. Besides, who was going to tell her that if Batman were in the State Department he would be dismissed, and that Superman does not belong in the nursery? Can we put on mothers the burden of determining how many murders a child should have a week, or the job of evaluating in each new comic book the ethics of the jungle?

Not that there are no children who are influenced in the right direction by thoughtful parents with enough time to spend. The four-year-old son of one of my associates was taken to an infectious disease hospital with scarlet fever. There the nurses, to make him feel at home, gave him some comic books. But he earnestly refused them, explaining to the startled nurses that his father had said they are not good for children.

There was of course the possible remedy that the publishers would clear up the well. But I soon found that this was a naive belief. The very comic books that contained the ingredients that we found harmful were the most widely read. The publishers knew what they were doing and why. They had employed experts who justified the situation and fought off criticism.

So one day when I was in the country and saw how this locust plague had settled on a group of nice children whom I knew well, the idea came to me that the only honest and effective remedy would be a law or an ordinance against crime comic books.

I had been invited to speak about comic books at the 1948 Annual Congress of Correction of the American Prison Association in Boston, at a joint meeting of the National Conference of Juvenile Agencies and the National Probation and Parole Association. So I presented there an analysis of comic books and of clinical cases. I pointed out how harmful comic books were to the healthy development of normal children and how in some they produced anxiety and in others an obtuseness toward human feeling and suffering. Where one child commits a delinquent act, many are stimulated to undesirable and harmful thinking and fantasies. Some of the worst, I said, are marked "Approved Reading," "Wholesome Entertainment" and the like. The net effect of comic books, I stated, is anti-social: "Children who spend a lot of time and money on comic books have nothing to show for it afterwards. Many of them have gotten into trouble of one kind or another. The crimes they have read about in comic books are real; the people who supposedly triumph in the end are often very unreal superman types. How many more cases like the eleven-year-old comic-book addict who killed a forty-two-year-old-woman in a holdup do we need before we act? The pure food and drug law, the ordinances against spitting in the subway and about clean drinking-cups protect bodies. Surely the minds of children deserve as much protection. I do not advocate censorship, which is imposing the will of the few on the many, but just the opposite, a step to real democracy: the protection of the many against the few. That can only be done by law. Just as we have ordinances against the pollution of water, so now we need ordinances against the pollution of children's minds." I suggested a law that would forbid the display and sale of crime comic books to children under fifteen.

The response to my proposal was widespread. Dozens of towns and cities -- eventually over a hundred -- passed ordinances against the very comic books whose harmfulness I had indicated. In a number of states anti-comic-book laws were introduced in legislatures, but the comics conquered the committees, and the laws did not come off.

The most serious and efficient attempt to pass a county law was made in Los Angeles County in California. The County Counsel, Harold W. Kennedy, read about the proposal I had made in Boston about a law and framed one according to which the sale of comic books in which crime and violence were prominently featured could not be sold to anyone under eighteen. The Board of Supervisors passed this law. Then it was of course contested by the comic-book industry. Mr. Kennedy asked me to give detailed testimony for use in the courts, which I did in the form of a lengthy affidavit.

In it I described the clinical results of our studies showing how crime comic books have had a bad effect on the mind and personality development of children -- including normal children.

I gave detailed examples of cases and of comic books, and described the absence of regulation in the sale of crime comics to children as a state of anarchy which could be remedied only by a law. My affidavit was accompanied by twenty-nine exhibits, photographs and photostats of comic books sold to children.

The law won a great deal of acclaim in and beyond Los Angeles County. One large chain drugstore which sold many comic books, on the day after the ordinance was adopted, and with full knowledge that it would not be effective for thirty days, voluntarily removed from its shelves all the comic books in question.

Mr. Kennedy was no novice in devising such a law. In twenty-two years he had personally participated in the framing of no less than 389 bills that have become part of the statutory laws of California. It seemed to me significant that the 389th law was the Air Pollution Control or Anti-Smog Act, a good preparation for working on a comic-book law. "After all," he stated, "we don't feel that it is the true sense of the law that these publishers have the right to pollute the minds of young people under the guise of funny books and adventures and crime stories."

The subsequent legal history of this law was most involved, with the real issue of its clinical justification not taken up at all. The newspapers reported briefly that the law had been declared unconstitutional. The spokesmen for the comic-book industry have repeated this so often that many people, including lawyers and legislators, really believe that such a law was declared unconstitutional in California and would be unconstitutional anywhere else. But that is not how it was.

The comic-book interests (from New York) challenged the law through local attorneys as violating the freedom of the press. It was first a civil suit. In that phase the Appellate Department of the Superior Court, sitting as a trial court, denied a preliminary injunction sought by the distributors. The reason for the request of the injunction was the constitutionality of the law, so this court in denying the injunction did not consider the law unconstitutional. Then through two arrests for violation of the county ordinance, the stage was shifted to a criminal court. The two defendants were represented by the same firm which brought the civil suit. They were guided by the New York lawyers and needed their approval for every step. The question of whether crime comic books were bad for children was never allowed to come up. The final ruling of the Appellate Department of the Superior Court, consisting of three judges, was against the ordinance. But the reasons for their decision are interesting:

JUDGE NO. 1: The wording of the ordinance is too vague for the federal constitution, but it does not conflict with freedom of the press as guaranteed under the state constitution.

JUDGE NO. 2: The wording is not vague at all. But it deprives the publishers of their freedom of the press.

JUDGE NO. 3: The law is not too vague and does not deprive them of the freedom of the press.


Analyzed, what does this mean? On each of the two questions, namely whether the law was too vague and whether it was against the freedom of the press, the judges had given a favorable vote of 2 to 1 for the law. Yet the case as a whole was lost and the law could not stand. More important still, the appeal on behalf of the people to the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington which Mr. Kennedy had planned was prevented by a further technicality: Since no two judges thought that the ordinance violated any guarantee under the federal constitution, no such appeal could be made!

To somebody not versed in the law all this seems absurd. The publishers of course were jubilant. They had worked hard to get such a result. They won. The children lost.

Despite the fact of these adverse court decisions and despite the fact that twenty-seven comic-book bills all over the country were killed in committee, the public -- or rather, mothers -- continued sporadic protests. The comic-book industry answered with a magic word, a "code."

About a month after my views were summarized in a national magazine a new code was announced. Let us decode these codes. They are not spontaneous expressions of self-improvement or self-regulation. They are determined efforts at defense. They do not stand alone, but are part of an avalanche of arguments thrust successfully at the public by the comic-book industry. The arguments go like this. First, any specific criticism of comic books is "not true." If proved true, it is only an exception, it slipped in and the man who drew the picture "has just been fired." Moreover, comic books are for adults, and besides they are very good for children. And then there is a code. If it is shown that the code is not adhered to, it is because they have not had time to put the code into practice; that will take another "three months." If after these three months the criticism is repeated, there will be announced a new code which is even better.

Comic books may be a little subject, but they have given me an insight into one of the more terrifying aspects of our social and political life. I have learned from studying what happens with them how easy it is to propagandize a whole nation against its most treasured interests, its children. Editorial writers all over the country accepted the codes at their face value! Everybody thought something had been achieved.

What do the codes all add up to? The one announced in direct response to my criticism said that sexiness, "glorification of crime," "sadistic torture" and "race ridicule" would henceforth be left out. In other words, this is no longer just what I say. This is what the industry itself concedes. Why has all this gone on for over ten years? They indicted themselves by saying that now they would stop.

Here again the cynicism of the publishers breaks through. When I pointed out that a comic book had on its inside cover a code according to which blood was not to be shown any more, and yet one page later shows a close-up with blood streaming from a man's face, the publisher announced that he had not had time yet to put the code into practice. Suppose a candy factory sells lollypops and one batch of lollypops is bad. A respectable firm would immediately recall all those lollypops that had been distributed. And the lollypop factory would not get away with getting out a code saying, "No poisonous lollypops will be sold by this firm in the future," -- meanwhile letting the children vomit over the bad ones "until the code is in operation." (Incidentally, I have seen children vomit over comic books.) I looked for the following number of this comic book, after the one that had the code on the inside cover. Did they leave out the blood? No, that was shown again in four consecutive pictures. They left out the code.

But what about the "good" comic books? Whenever the industry is challenged by parents, teachers or mothers' clubs, it forgets all about the "good" comic books and relies on legal technicalities to ward off any attempt to regulate or force it into self-regulation. That happened in Chicago, in Detroit, in Los Angeles County and in New York. But "good" comic books are important because in some naive way many parents think that the "good" comic books are the answer to any problem that presents itself. So critics of the industry should look into the question of what they are, and how many there are of them, even though this is a question the industry itself always shuns.

Among the "good" comic books whose quantity counts at all are usually reckoned the animal comics, the Disney comics and their imitators, classical books in comic-book form, comic books that are reprints of newspaper comic strips, some teen-age girl comics and some boys' sport comics. The mainstay of the "good" comic books are the animal comics and a few of the relatively innocuous related comics.

It is estimated that at the present time (1954) the number of comic books fluctuates around 90 million a month. There are estimates which are lower; there are others of 100 million a month and more. According to The Wall Street Journal (1953) there were 840,000,000 units a year, 20 per cent more than four years earlier.

Precise figures, which of course would have to be based on records of printing orders, are not available. One has to estimate carefully from all available data the numbers printed, published, distributed and actually read. One has to take into account that crime comic books are traded so often and for so many years and are handed around to so many people and read so repeatedly. One must consider also that some crime comics have larger editions of each title than the "good" ones, and have more issues per year. On this basis I have concluded that the animal and related comics containing no harmful ingredients amount at the most to no more than between one and two tenths of the whole. That is what all the fuss about "good" comics boils down to.

The much-vaunted animal comics are read only by the very young, and are bought mostly by parents. They are showpieces prominently displayed where parents or teachers are apt to be shopping or passing by. They are the only ones occasionally read aloud by parents. If a child tries to trade rabbit stuff with other children, he is jeered at because the only comics traded are killer ones.

Frequently the "good" comics have bad features, too. They sometimes show cruelty. Ducks shoot atomic rays and threaten to kill rabbits: ''I'll kill the parents, I'm a hard guy and my heart is made of stone."

They have advertisements for "throwing knives," for pistols shooting steel darts and of course for crime comics. The "good" comics are the pacemakers for the bad ones.

When one looks at these "good" comic books two things strike one: The ingredients of crime comics, the violence and sadism, break through in some "good" ones, too, no doubt through the processes of contagion and competition; and one becomes aware how blunted the tastes of the public have become with regard to what is proper children's reading.

Henry, a boy of six, had frightened a little girl when he tried to scratch her leg under her dress with a piece of glass. His mother, a very intelligent woman, felt the ordinary comic books were not good for children and selected only the harmless animal ones for him. During playroom therapy the boy showed another boy one of his comic books. It was an animal one, but he grew very excited when describing the exploits in it: A little boy with his companions were fighting all kinds of animals. He had a little spear with which he poked one animal in the nose and another in the mouth. Into the face of still another he thrust a flaming torch. But the real high point was our old friend, the injury-to-the-eye motif: one character in the story directs a sharp-pointed spear at an animal's eye with the words: "... I'll put your eye out!"

Children have shown me a comic book which mothers must think is "good." It is produced by one of the biggest comic-book publishers, is given away free by a famous-brand food manufacturer and has the name of Hopalong Cassidy on it. It shows an "insane" barber running loose with a sharp razor. He ties an old man to the barber's chair, brandishing a razor.

The old man: "He's stropping the razor! And he's got that mad look on his face! He'll cut my throat! GULP!"

A close-up follows with the face of the old man bound to the chair, the face of the barber, the knife and the neck. The same scene is shown a second time, and a third. Then comes Hoppy, twists the barber's arm backward and knocks him out so he sees stars: "WHAM!"

I have talked to children about this book. They do not say this book is about the West, or about Hopalong Cassidy, or about a barber. They say it is about killing and socking people and twisting their arms and cutting their throats.

Take one that looks even more harmless, Howdy Doody. I discussed this with a group of white and colored children. Their reaction was partly giggling, partly inhibited. The book depicts colored natives as stereotyped caricatures, violent, cowardly, cannibalistic and so superstitious that they get scared by seltzer tablets and popping corn and lie down in abject surrender on their faces before two little white boys.

The same theme of race ridicule is played up in the good animal comic book Bugs Bunny. Colored people are described as "superstitious natives" and you see them running away. The injury-to-the-eye motif is added, Bugs Bunny being shown throwing little diamonds into the eyes of the colored people. They are "big enough to blind a feller!" says Bunny. "Awk! I can't see!" says one victim. Is that not the same crime-comic-book ingredient adapted to the youngest set?

"Very young children," says the child psychiatrist Dr. David Levy, "have no prejudice. Their later antagonistic reactions to those who are different are regarded as the result of parental or group indoctrination." Has there ever been a greater and earlier and more insidious indoctrination with race hatred than American children are exposed to in comic books, "good" or bad?

Among other "good" comic books are those that teach history. Typical is one called Your United States. It devotes one page to each state and, although on bad paper and as smudgily printed as the others, it really contains some instructive information. But practically every state, although it gets only one page, has a scene of violence; if one doesn't, that is made up for in other states where there are two or three such scenes. For instance, a man hanged from a tree by a "vigilance committee"; Negroes in chains; corpses and dying men; a girl tied to a tree, her bound wrists above her head, her skirt blowing up in the wind and a coy facial expression of fright as in a sadist's dream; a girl about to be raped or massacred. Is that what you want your children to think is the history of "Your United States"?

Here is another comic book dealing with history and education, especially sent to me as a shining example. It has a feature about the Olympic games: "The Olympic games were the greatest sporting event of the ancient world. But any ladies caught watching them were thrown over a cliff." Here I have gone all these years without knowing that! And lest the child miss the point, an illustration shows it: A well-developed girl with the same coy expression of alarm runs along a steep cliff hotly pursued by a he-man in a helmet. Another item for the child's information is that there was "fixing" in the Olympic games. One could call this the contemporary approach to ancient history.

Inaccuracies in historical comics are common. People are hanged during the French Revolution (when the gallows had been abolished), the trial of Edward Floyde, important in the fight of the Crown against Parliament, is falsified; the end of the Boer War is wrongly presented, while the story has such choice bits as "You dirty British swine!"

A good summary of comic books in which "history emerges from balloons" was given by May Lamberton Becker in the Herald Tribune: "I can't say I think much of any of them. If you try to meet Superman on his own ground, you will be beaten unless you jazz up history until it isn't history at all."

There are publicity comic books to influence adults. Sylvia F. Porter, the financial columnist, writes about a comic book got out by the American Bankers Association: "The aim is not just to amuse you. Not by a long shot. It is to mold your thinking in a specific way." If that is true of good comic books for bankers, isn't it true, too, of bad comic books for children? They mold a child's thinking in a specific way.

Political comic books are the exact opposite of crime comics. In The Story of Harry S. Truman, for example, characters who might well be featured in a crime comic book are suppressed. Boss Pendergast is not mentioned. And instead of him, there is at the beginning of the Truman saga this domestic scene: Young Truman coming home and saying to his wife, "Bess, the boys at the Legion meeting were talking about having me run for county judge."

Those who attempt to use comic books for educational purposes forget that crime comic books have set up in children associations which counteract their efforts. An educational comic book for teen-agers on juvenile drug addiction cannot do any good to adolescents who have been stimulated by other comics about a girl's dreams "of murder and morphine."

I have never seen any good effects from comic books that condense classics. Classic books are a child's companion, often for life. Comic-book versions deprive the child of these companions. They do active harm by blocking one of the child's avenues to the finer things of life. There is a comic book which has on its cover two struggling men, one manacled with chains locked around hands and feet, the other with upraised fist and a reddened, bloody bandage around his head; onlookers: a man with a heavy iron mallet on one side and a man with a rifle and a bayonet on the other. The first eight pictures of this comic book show an evil-looking man with a big knife held like a dagger threatening a child who says: "Oh, don't cut my throat, sir!" Am I correct in classifying this as a crime comic? Or should I accept it as what it pretends to be -- Dickens' Great Expectations?

Elizabeth V. Brattig, a high school teacher, asked children as a class assignment to read the comic-book versions of classics and then compare them with the original book. In the case of George Eliot's Silas Marner the children laughed "at the droll discrepancies in the story and the incongruities in the illustrations": "Silas is represented as senile and hoary, somewhat like the Ancient Mariner throughout"; "the flavor of George Eliot, the warm human touches, the scenes of matchless humor, had been completely ignored by the Classic Comics."

The idea that by giving children something good to read, crime comics can be combatted, purified or eliminated has proved naive wherever it was tried. It does not take into account the mass character of the seduction, which is precisely why crime comic books are an entirely new phenomenon not equalled before at any time nor place. You cannot clear up the muddy water in a stream by planning a clear brook that flows in the opposite direction.

I had an opportunity to watch an experiment showing the hold of the crime-comic-book industry on the market and on public opinion. One day Wally, a five-year-old boy, went home to his parents in Mamaroneck with a comic book filled with half-dressed jungle queens and all kinds of sadistic exploits and cruelties. His parents, like millions of other parents, had thought he had been reading Donald Duck and other such animal comics. That experience gave Mr. Henry H. Stansbury the idea of combatting bad comic books with really good ones.

With eleven other fathers -- having altogether forty-nine children -- who had had similar experiences, he started a small publishing venture. There was to be a series of good comic books. The first, which has been called the only good comic book in existence, was the beautiful story of The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen. It is illustrated by the well-known watercolorist Dong Kingman and printed in beautiful colors. The paper is of much better quality than the usual comic book and the printing is good and clear. Although it cost ten cents The Nightingale was not a regular comic book because the dialogue was not in balloons. And it did not conform to the comic-book formula according to which a story is so abundantly illustrated that the action can be followed almost without reading any of the words.

With this series Mr. Stansbury hoped to deal a blow to the onslaught of crime comics. But how to bring this about by getting the project before the public? A national magazine, the Woman's Home Companion, was enthusiastic about it. They had already prepared a layout for an article dealing with this new comic-book series. But at the last moment Mr. Stansbury was told by the "child care expert" of the magazine, herself a senior staff member of the Child Study Association of America, that he must first "submit" the comic books to the Consultant of Children's Reading of the Child Study Association of America, who (according to the Kefauver Committee) is in the employ of the comic-book industry. Mr. Stansbury pleaded with the editors who had liked his plan and The Nightingale so much. He asked why he must go to "somebody whose name appears on some of the most objectionable comic books." But that is what had to be done before they would print his article. He refused, and the Woman's Home Companion never printed a word about the project. That is how things are sewed up in the comic-book field. The industry won again, and the children lost. I know many other similar examples. They show how unrealistic it is to think that the flood tide of crime comics can be stemmed by trying to launch good comics. The public, of course, does not know about these connections.

The whole question of "good" comic books can be summed up in this way: Crime comic books are poisonous plants. The "good" comic books are at best weeds.

Some "bad" comic books are universally acknowledged to be bad. These are the frankly pornographic little booklets which made their first appearance during the depression and have flourished ever since. In relation to real comic books their number is of course small. They are all caricatures of newspaper comic strips. For example, there are Burma, Flash Gordon, Blondie, Uncle Bim and Millie, Major Hoople, Popeye, etc.

Whereas in regular comic books the publishers remain in semianonymity, in pornographic ones the anonymity is complete. I have had a number of these books brought to me by adolescents, juvenile-aid officers and others who have to do with children. They are sold widely in schools and the authorities seem to pay little attention to them. One fifteen-year-old boy explained to me:

"I got this from a friend. They usually cost anywhere from a dime to half a dollar. The small kids pay more. They have never seen anything like it; they think it's great stuff! Guys in school sell them. You have to ask for a 'hot book.' There is a big traffic in it if you have time to peddle them. There are thousands of these books around. These guys sell them to certain kids and these are the kids that peddle them around. Girls buy them, too. I have shown them to a girl."

Apparently it is generally believed, and educators have told me so, that these pornographic comic books deal with sex while ordinary comic books do not. This is a greatly mistaken opinion. Both types of books are sexy. The difference is in the kind of perversions. This division is complete. The pornographic ones contain no violence. Children's crime comics abound in the perversions of sadism, masochism. flagellation, fetichism, and pedophilia. The little pornographic books have orogenitalism (mouth erotism), intercourse in unusual kinds of positions, including triolism (sex practices between three people), and anal erotism. Whereas in ordinary comic books virility is indicated in the advertisements and in inflated masculinity of supermen in tight uniforms, in the pornographic comic books the oversized erect penis is featured; whereas in the ordinary children's comic books the would-be raper grabs the half-nude girl violently and says: "You have your choice -- come as my prisoner or I'll choke the life out of you!", in the little pornographic comics everything is done voluntarily.

It is strange that educators and child psychologists regard the first set of perversions as manifestly harmless in helping the child to get rid of his supposed aggressions, while the second set is not so condoned. Actually, my studies have shown that the first set of perversions are more injurious to fantasy-life and mental health in the long run. Violence is not a normal substitute for sex, but a morbid one. Moreover, when unscrupulous adults seduce and use children for sexual and criminal activities, they do not use these little pornographic comics, but shower the child with the ordinary crime comic books. In this way children have been softened up by adults for the numbers game, the protection racket, drug addiction, child prostitution (female and male); and girls have been softened up for crimes where they serve as decoys. A special way in which children are being used nowadays by adults is as "watchers." Adults who have sexual relations in a park engage children as young as seven to watch for policemen.

Many years ago, when the British House of Lords debated a law to abolish capital punishment for the theft of five shillings, the Lord Chief Justice remonstrated: "My Lords, if we suffer this Bill to pass we shall not know where we stand; we shall not know whether we are upon our heads or our feet. No man can trust himself an hour out of doors.... " This is the kind of opposition I encountered when I asked for a crime-comics law. I have been astonished by this aversion to law. Does not our whole social life exist and progress in the framework of laws? Yet again and again I have been told that legislation is the last thing I should think of in my efforts to protect children against crime comic books. For instance, the legal counsel of the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers declared: "The problem is not solved by a quick easy panacea like legislation." Is that what lawyers want us to think, that legislation is "quick," that it is "easy," that it is a "panacea"?

Other totally different groups seem to think along the same line. I was invited to speak at an annual conference of the American Civil Liberties Union. I outlined there my clinical objections to crime comic books, described the present comic-book situation as an irresponsible anarchy and suggested legislation as a social remedy. A law that would forbid the display and sale of comic books to children under fifteen, I explained, would preserve the civil liberties of adults to buy the goriest crime comic books for their children if they wanted to. The official summary of the meeting was as follows: "The discussion of comic books brought out strong support for curbs upon the type of material directed toward adolescent minds unable to determine good from bad. The sense of the group was to oppose censorship by legislation, but to support pressure on the industry to establish standards prohibiting publication of objectionable material." But how does one bring pressure on a hundred-million-dollar business without a law? And how can children bring pressure? As I listened to all these serious-faced reformers objecting to the only effective curb of crime comic books, I thought of David Low's cartoon: "Gad, sir, reforms are all right as long as they don't change anything!"

Since the lawyers seemed so opposed to new laws, I studied the various laws that existed already pertaining in any way to comic books. And that led me to what seemed to me a startling discovery: As it stands, the law is heavily weighted against children, and in favor of adults, including of course the comic-book industry. This may appear unlikely, but is easily proved. I include in this statement existing laws that apply directly to this subject and others that apply more indirectly or whose application is more controversial, the whole judicial process with its appeals and lack of appeals, the administration of the law and even the penological aspects. Of the fact itself there can be no doubt. The law as it applies, or might apply, to crime comic books leaves the child unprotected, while it punctiliously safeguards the material interests of the adult.

Although in many children's lives comic books play a role, no adult court, no children's court, has ever made or ordered a full inquiry in a child's case. But when the publishers of the comic book Eerie sued the publisher of the comic book Eerie Adventures for using the word eerie on the cover, the New York Supreme Court gave a learned and comprehensive opinion bristling with details and citations: Justice Frank arrived at the truly Solomonic verdict that both publishers could use the word; but that the second publisher must print it "reduced in size." If the psychological effects on children would receive the same meticulous concern as the financial interests of publishers, some court would have long since ordered that what has to be "reduced" is not the eerie title but the eerie contents!

It would be senseless to blame an individual or a court. Law, as Justice Benjamin Cardozo said, accepts as the pattern of its justice the morality of the community whose conduct it assumes to regulate. The defect of the law and of the community is shown up by its complete unpreparedness to deal with something entirely new like crime comic books. Through their unprecedented quantities, which dwarf all other present or past publishing figures, and through their literally endless repetition of the sex-crime-superman-horror formula, crime comic books are something entirely new. That is why they could grow to such an octopus before they were scientifically challenged. The law was as unprepared as the parents and the child psychiatrists.

The many attempts all over the country to curb crime comics show that the community by sound instinct has at the very least grave doubts about them. What are the laws that give this commodity legal sanction and permit it to get away with so much?

The example of the copyright laws is very instructive. They exist to safeguard the property rights of those who produce works that might be pirated without authorization. It surely is equitable that such rights be protected. But this law as it is being used in the case of comic books works entirely against the interests of children.

I began to realize that there is an important principle at work here. A good law, when applied to something new or to a new set of circumstances, can lend itself to grave abuse. The greatest prop of the crime-comic-book industry was the silence with which it took over the children's market. When it was already established, and writers began to wish to inform the public of what was going on, the publishers forbade reproduction of drawings from comic books. That of course made it almost impossible to inform the public. Quite a number of national magazines wanted to print such illustrations, but were refused permission. This was the more misleading because the publishers' full-page advertisements in magazines contained special drawings of a very different kind, totally misleading as to what crime comic books are like.

The best example of the extent to which this abuse of the copyright law goes is presented by the Journal of the American Judicature Society, a learned journal read by judges, lawyers and legal scholars. This journal made comic books a topic of its discussions. It would have liked to secure an illustration or two, "but could not get any publisher to consent." It is obvious that no financial loss whatsoever was involved. The copyright law was used just to prevent a professional public from seeing what these books really contain.

Although comic books are not really magazines, and although even their defenders admit that many are objectionable, they enjoy second-class mailing privileges with the Post Office. This is under a law which applies to circumstances almost a hundred years ago (1879). Do not those who administer the law or the legislators who are supposed to bring laws up to date realize that they bestow a premium, a privilege, on those who mail objectionable material and that they make the taxpayers pay for the corruption of their own children? There are high officials in the Post Office Department in Washington who are fully aware that many comic books are harmful and who "have long deplored the fact that many of these publications enjoy the second class privilege under which they are transported in the mails at a considerable loss to the postal service."

The comic-book industry uses the second-class mailing privilege also as an alleged proof of the worth of its product. The general manager of one of the largest publishers has stated that since he has to submit every comic book in order to gain second-class mailing privileges for it, that shows that they are all right "so far as morals are concerned."

The Post Office also has laws against fraud. For example, they can interfere with a publisher who has misleading advertisements. But here, too, the comic-book industry seems to be immune. The Pure Food and Drug Act passed in 1906 seems to me to apply to the medicine advertisements in comic books for children. They have been severely criticized by a local department of health. But no health law has interfered with them and they get bolder all the time.

There are laws to control the sale and carrying of dangerous weapons such as guns and knives. One would expect that such laws would protect children. Just the opposite is the case. Children caught with guns -- converted toy guns -- or switchblade knives face the severest penalty, however young they may be. "Any boy," a judge said recently, "who comes before me for having a gun will be treated as a gangster.... When we come face to face with gangsters this court will give no consideration." But in millions of advertisements the possession and use of guns and switchblade knives is made as attractive as possible and the youngest child can buy them from these advertisers by mail. Is this not an instance where the law punishes the victim who falls for these advertisements while the instigator who advertises and sells them goes scot free?

A special case consists in the laws about B.B. air rifles. The penal law of New York makes it a punishable offense to offer and sell these "to any child under the age of 16 years." It also makes a child of sixteen and under "guilty of juvenile delinquency" if he merely possesses such a gun. Actually, official agencies have repeatedly warned against these weapons, because they have "resulted in many accidents causing loss of sight or serious eye injuries." But in this respect also the superman purveyors of Superman and the other crime-comic-book publishers and the experts endorsing them are immune, although these comics bristle with the most glamorous ads for these forbidden weapons.

Not long ago I saw a thirteen-year-old boy who was arrested for shooting an air gun from a window. In psychiatric examinations and psychological tests no abnormalities were found. This boy was under the Children's Court, and I have seen a number of similar boys who have been sent to reformatories for long stretches. In this case there was the usual description of the arrest in the form of a petition to the court: "N.N., detective, alleges that Joseph Smith, aged 13, is a delinquent child for the reason that he violated a law of the State of New York in that he was in possession of a dangerous weapon, to wit an air pistol, in good firing order, together with six darts and a quantity of lead pellets which may be fired from said air pistol."

In such cases I am often tempted to make a petition of my own: "F.W., psychiatrist, alleges that the publisher of the N.N. comic book and the experts endorsing the said comic book are delinquent adults for the reason that in concert with one another they violated a law of common decency in that they published and lent their names to a publication for children which advertises dangerous weapons, to wit air pistols, in good firing order together with steel darts and lead pellets which may be fired from said air gun and may get the innocent child who falls for these advertisements into terrible trouble with the Children's Court."

The Federal Government has laws restricting interstate commerce under certain circumstances injurious to the people. Could not such laws be made to include the shipment of objectionable comic books? Assistant District Attorney John E. Cone, who has investigated teen-age gangs, has stated as a result of his findings that crime comic books should be "done away with because not only do they list advertisements through which guns can easily be purchased by juveniles, but they give a synthetic thrill which kids cannot fulfill in real life without actually committing crime." The suggestion for Federal legislation to bar interstate advertisements and sale of knives and toy weapons that can be converted was made by Domestic Relations Justice Louis Lorence. Hundreds and hundreds of such illegal weapons have been confiscated by the police in New York. "For a number of years," Judge Lorence stated, "all over the city boys have approached other students in schools and have demanded money for protection. If money is not given, beatings often ensue. In the past two months, particularly, there were many cases in my court where parents complained of this protection racket." I myself have seen more than twenty-five children who have either been victims of such threats or have played the racket game themselves, usually with switchblade knives. Although switchblade knives serve no purpose except quick violence, they are still advertised in comic books for the youngest children.

There are laws according to which it is a punishable offense to "contribute to the delinquency of a minor." Yet the text, pictures and advertisements in crime comic books do that constantly. A 1936 amendment to the New York City Domestic Relations Court Act says: "Such court shall also have jurisdiction, whenever the issues involving a delinquent child are before the court, summarily to try, hear and determine any charge or offense less than the grade of a felony against any person alleged to have contributed to such child's delinquency and may impose the punishment provided by law for such offense."

The New York State constitution confers on the Domestic Relations Court jurisdiction "for the punishment and correction of adults responsible for contributing to such delinquency ... such courts may hear and determine such cases with or without a jury, except those involving a felony."

Similar laws against contributing to the delinquency of a minor exist in other states. But although children have so often been softened up for juvenile delinquency and although there are cases where it can be demonstrated that the delinquent child bought his first switchblade knife through comic-book advertisements, and learned from comic-book text how to use it, no district attorney, no judge, no complainant, has ever had the courage to make a complaint against a comic-book publisher. Thus comic books make cowards of us all.

There are also the "attractive nuisance" laws which have been on the books since 1873 and which have been upheld by the United States Supreme Court. If you have an attractive pool to which a child has access from the street, you can be held responsible if a child drowns in it. They may not apply directly to comic books, but they provide an interesting analogy. Parents of children who get into trouble from too much crime-comic-book reading and with .22-calibre guns or switchblade knives purchased through comic-book advertisements could at least try to hold the publishers responsible.
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