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 » Wed Dec 11, 2013 12:23 am

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 12 CONT'D.)

Trial by jury and legal counsel are a right of adults. Children are being sent away to reformatories undefended and sometimes without even having their guilt properly established. I know of cases of children sent to reformatories when I was convinced that they were not guilty. In some cases familiar to me the police, needing a solution, have obtained confessions from innocent children by tricky and unfair methods. They include serious crimes, even homicide. In the procedure in the Children's Court we find again the principle that good laws and procedures may turn into their opposites. Children's courts were a great step forward; but nowadays they have to deal with such serious delinquencies that it would be more in the interests of children if the procedure were less informal -- and a little less routine. The safeguards for children in court have turned into a danger for them. The secrecy in children's courts, in itself commendable, has prevented the public from knowing what it should know. It also was a progressive step that children were not fingerprinted. But this law has also to some extent turned against the interests of children. At the very time when murders and violent crimes by young children have become a serious social phenomenon, the Federal Government has no accurate statistics on them.

Even the libel laws can be and are used against the interests of children. Writers and editors are really frightened that the powerful comic-book industry will use these laws against its critics. I had two experiences of my own. I had written that in the "good" comic book The Mysteries of Paris blood shows beneath the bandage of a man whose eyes have been gouged out. The publisher demanded a retraction. But I stood my ground, because the blood was there.

The other instance also involved a "good" comic book. I had written an article for the National Parent-Teacher Magazine at their request, on "What Are Comic Books?" in which I said, "It is a great error not to realize that 'Western' comics are just crime comics in disguise. The comic book Tom Mix, for example, has the story of an insane killer who hacks off people's hands, with the bloody details fully illustrated."

After this article appeared I received a long-distance call from the editor in Chicago. She had been visited by a representative of the industry and also by their lawyer. She also received several letters. "They persist in threatening me with a libel action. They said that on account of the article they were losing a million a year." Later she sent me their letters. They objected to the one sentence in my article, calling it a "libelous reference," "untrue," "untruthful" and "inaccurate." They said the story was all about a "dummy." They demanded "a public retraction and correction," and threatened to turn the matter over to their attorney for libel action.

Naturally the editor was alarmed. So I wrote her describing the comic-book-story sequence in detail:

Early in the story "Hands Off" in Tom Mix Western there are three pictures showing a box in which are the hacked-off hands of a real man (not a dummy). One little boy, looking into this box, says: "GULP! IT'S A PAIR OF HUMAN HANDS CUT OFF AT THE WRIST!"

The sheriff says: "JUMPIN' RATTLESNAKES! SOME LOW-DOWN MURDERIN' VARMINT CUT OFF A PORE FELLOW'S HANDS!"

In four pictures you see the human corpse (not a dummy), the hands of which were in the box.

The insane killer knocks out Tom Mix (in person, not a dummy) by socking him on the head (CONK in large yellow letters and a big splash of color) with a gun, hangs him (in person, not a dummy) by the wrists from a tree and holding in his hand a big ax red with blood says: "... I'M AGONNA CUT YORE HANDS JEST LIKE I DID FRISCO FRANK'S!"

In the next picture you see a further close-up of this hanging-by-the-wrists man (not dummy), a bloody ax swinging, and all.

After some more struggle and fighting and kicking, with more talk about cutting off the (real) man's hands, Tom Mix gets free. He constructs a dummy -- which in the pictures is of course indistinguishable from a real man -- and you see two close-ups with the insane killer and his ax, in two of which the hand is actually cut off. In two of them again the ax is red-stained, presumably with blood. And the dialogue reads: "HA! HA! THAR GOES ONE OF YORE HANDS, MIX! AND NOW TUR CUT OFF THE OTHER!"

It's only in the fourth picture before the end, in one balloon, that it is stated: "YOU JUST CHOPPED THE HANDS OFF OF A STUFFED FIGURE!" (Of course this is lost on the many children who just study the pictures and do not read the text.)

I ended my letter: "Far from retracting what I have written, I reaffirm that this Tom Mix story is a bloody crime story disguised as a 'Western' totally unfit for immature minds. And I hope that this example will help parents to see the methods by which the comic-book industry continues the corruption of children's minds. In a democratic society there is no other way to cope with such an evil than a law -- even if in one story, one of two handless corpses is a dummy."

This letter was not published in the Parent-Teacher. The editor told me later that she telephoned to the publisher, telling him what it said, and told him that "if you people persist in threatening us, we will publish Dr. Wertham's letter in full."

Later she received a letter from the publishers which ran true to form for comic-book stories and comics publishers: "It [the Tom Mix story] is not a representative story and was purchased several years ago." The letter also conceded that some of the comic books on the newsstands "are shocking, a disgrace and probably harmful to children."

The trouble is that all this, except for my original article, is unknown to the public. There is another point, too. Supposing it had been true that an insane killer had only hacked off the hands of a dummy, would that be suitable for children?

Whenever there is any court action stemming from comic books the question of what is in comic books does not come up at all. The industry relies then on the constitutional guarantee of free speech. It draws people's attention away from the real issue and veils the business in an idealistic haze. The framers of the Constitution and its amendments would certainly be surprised if they knew that these guarantees are used to sell to children stories with pictures in which men prowl the streets and dismember beautiful girls. The industry regards selling books to children as its prerogative, that is to say as a right to be exercised without external control. To use constitutional rights against progressive legislation is of course an old story. Theodore Roosevelt encountered it when he campaigned for pure food laws.

In these assertions of freedom in the case of comic books, just the opposite is concealed. "We are allowing ourselves," said Virgilia Peterson, "in the name of free speech (oh, fatal misuse of a high principle) to be bamboozled into buying or letting our children buy the worst propaganda on the market. It is a tyranny by a handful of unscrupulous people. It is as much a tyranny as any other on the face of the earth."

What is censorship? The industry has obscured that by claiming that the publisher exercises a censorship over himself. That is not what censorship means. It means control of one agency by another. When Freud speaks of an internal censor in the human mind, he does not mean that instinctive behavior can control itself. He specifically postulates another agency, the superego, which functions as censor. The social fact is that radio, books, movies, stage plays, translations, do function under a censorship. So do newspaper comic strips, which all have to pass the censorship of the editor, who sometimes -- as in the case of the Newark News -- rejects advance proofs. Comic books for children have no censorship. The contrast between censorship for adults and the lack of it for children leads to such fantastic incongruities as the arrest of a girl in a nightclub for obscenity because she wrestles with a stuffed gorilla, when any six-year-old, for ten cents, can pore for hours or days over jungle books where real gorillas do much more exciting things with half-undressed girls than just wrestling.

It is a widely held fallacy that civil liberties are endangered or could be curtailed via children's books. But freedom to publish crime comics has nothing to do with civil liberties. It is a perversion of the very idea of civil liberties. It has been said that if comic books for children were censored on account of their violence "you couldn't have a picture of Lincoln's assassination in a textbook." Would that be such a calamity? There are many other pictures of Lincoln's time and life that would be far more instructive. But the whole inference is wrong, in any case. A picture of Lincoln's assassination would be incidental to a book expounding larger themes. In crime comic books, murder, violence and rape are the theme.

There seems to be a widely held belief that democracy demands leaving the regulation of children's reading to the individual. Leaving everything to the individual is actually not democracy; it is anarchy. And it is a pity that children should suffer from the anarchistic trends in our society.

When closely scrutinized, the objections to some form of control of comic books turn out to be what are psychologically called rationalizations. They rationalize the desire to leave everything as it is. The very newspaper, the New York Herald Tribune, which pioneered in comic-book critique, said editorially later: "Censorship cannot be set up in this one field without undermining essential safeguards in other fields." The example of Canada alone, and of Sweden and other countries, has shown how spurious this argument is. A committee set up by comic-book publishers stated at their first meeting that censorship is an "illegal method." That certainly confuses things. An editorial in the New York Times entitled "Comic Book Censorship" says on the one hand: "We think the comic books have, on the whole, had an injurious effect on children and in various ways"; but goes on to say: "Public opinion will succeed in making the reforms needed. To wait for that to happen is far less dangerous than to abridge freedom of the right to publish." How long are we supposed to wait? We have now waited for over a decade -- and right now there are more and worse crime comic books than ever before. And would the forbidding of mad killers and rapers and torturers for children abridge the freedom of the Times to publish anything it wants to? Why should a newspaper that stands for the principle of publishing what is "fit to print" make itself the champion of those who publish what is unfit to print?

While the industry wants to put all the burden on the children to protect themselves as best they can against injurious influences, John Kieran has expressed his belief that books for little children should be censored: "They have their foods selected for them, and the same applies to books. If the right books are given very young children to read, if the reading habit is started early, then when the children grow up they can select their own books."

In the comic-book field the alternatives to censorship have been fully tried. Self-regulation -- to the extent that it was really attempted -- has completely failed. In connection with parent-teacher organizations and other similar groups there have been local committees evaluating comic books. Most of their work of wading through hundreds of comic books was originally undertaken with enthusiasm, but has of course bogged down. So would the work of a committee that had to sample all the items in a local drugstore to see that nobody gets harmed.

What must happen to the minds of children before parents will give up these amateurish extra-legal committee activities and ask for efficient, legal, democratic protection for their children?

Legal control of comic books for children is necessary not so much on account of the question of sex, although their sexual abnormality is bad enough, but on account of their glorification of violence and crime. In the reaction to my proposals I found an interesting fact: People are always ready to censor obvious crudity in sex. But they have not yet learned the role of temptation, propaganda, seduction and indoctrination in the field of crime and violence. Psychoanalytically we know a great deal about the repression of sexual impulses. But to apply that directly to the psychology of criminal and violent impulses is far too simple. The reading of corrupting literature is a significant contributing factor in the causation of criminal and violent acts of juveniles. How many more cases like those in California, in Canada, in Chicago, in Maine, in Pennsylvania, in Germany, in Australia, in New York, in England, must we have before we acknowledge scientifically and legally what the good sense of the people is recognizing more and more?

Whenever you talk to a lawyer about the legal curb of crime comic books he more likely than not will answer you: "Yes -- but don't forget the Winters case." I heard this case mentioned so often as an argument (or rather, instead of an argument) that I decided to study it myself.

The Winters case is for the crime-comic-book industry what the lawyers call the case of main reliance. A bookdealer in New York was selling a magazine for adults containing articles with such titles as "Bargains in Bodies." The content of the magazine was nothing but crime and bloodshed illustrated with gruesome pictures of victims and other such material. Two thousand copies of this magazine were seized under a section of the penal law which prohibits publications "principally made up of ... pictures or stories of deeds of bloodshed, lust or crime."

It took eight years from the time of the sale of the books to the final decision of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, which had the case for more than three of those years. The bookdealer was originally convicted. The conviction was upheld in higher courts and then reversed by the United States Supreme Court. When the United States Supreme Court reversed the decision it overruled the opinion of no less than seventeen (17) judges. And if one includes the dissenting judges of the U.S. Supreme Court, six (6) judges outweighed twenty (20). This does not indicate that some judges are good and some bad, or some right and some wrong. It does show that the judiciary with changing times has come up against a new social problem; namely, the necessity of censoring not only obscenity but also violence as well. The division of the Supreme Court is the reflection of a social conflict. It is the expression of the growing pains of democracy. The conflict pertains to the social control of what I have called the new pornography, the glorification of violence and sadism. It also pertains to the root problem of my studies, the protection of children against temptation, seduction and unfair punishment after they have succumbed.

In the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, Judge Loughran, expressing the opinion of the majority, wrote: "Collections of pictures or stories of criminal deeds of bloodshed or lust unquestionably can be so massed as to become vehicles for inciting violent ... crimes...." He clearly distinguished this type of social harmfulness from the ordinary objections to sexual obscenity. He took into account the question of free speech and pointed out that the interest in controlling social harm far outweighs any value such a publication might be construed to have.

In the United States Supreme Court the majority overruled this opinion. They made the dubious assertion that such words as "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent or disgusting" are "well understood through long use in the criminal law." In contrast, they held that massing stories to incite crime and stories of deeds of bloodshed and violence is too "vague" and unclear. If they had looked into this literature for children, sold not in 2,000 copies but -- at the very minimum -- in 250,000 copies, they would have found fifty-two murders and patches of blood in one book and eighty-one acts of violence in another. There is nothing "vague" about that. In other words, they did not take into account fully Judge Cardozo's concept of the "morality of the community" because they did not know what was going on in the children's segment of the community. They actually objected to the New York law because it "does not limit punishment to the indecent and obscene"! They rejected the emerging new-morality expressed by the New York State Court of Appeals.

I have no doubt that the next generation will regard Justice Frankfurter's dissenting opinion in the Winters case, in which Justice Jackson and Justice Burton concurred, as one of the great documents of legal and social philosophy of our time. He pointed out that the majority opinion could have been written by anybody who had never read the magazine in question. It is like playing "Hamlet without Hamlet." (Remember that this is exactly what the comic-book industry is doing and is permitted to do all along, with every legal case.) Justice Frankfurter pointed out "the bearing of such literature on juvenile delinquency." He took full account of the acknowledged fact that there is uncertainty about the alleged "causes" of crime. But as I understand his opinion, since one does not know exactly the causes of crime and juvenile delinquency, that does not mean that one should not act. On the contrary, since one cannot be absolutely precise one should play safe with regard to dangerous influences on children.

Justice Frankfurter pointed out the heart of the problem when he considers it wrong to find "constitutional barriers to a state's policy regarding crime, because it may run counter to our inexpert psychological assumptions or offend our presuppositions regarding incitements to crime.... " That is exactly what happened in the case of crime comic books. Psychiatrists and lawyers were so convinced that delinquency must have obscure, hidden and complex causes that they closed their minds to my findings that simple factors may touch off complex mechanisms. Justice Frankfurter expressed that in this way: "It would be sheer dogmatism ... to deny to the New York legislature the right to believe that the intent of the type of publications which it has proscribed is to cater to morbid and immature minds -- whether chronologically or permanently immature. It would be sheer dogmatism to deny that in some instances, deeply embedded, unconscious impulses may be discharged into destructive and often fatal action." As an example Justice Frankfurter referred to a youth barely seventeen who killed the driver of a taxicab in Australia. This case came before the High Court of Australia which -- more progressive than some of our courts -- took into consideration that the boy "had on a number of occasions outlined plans for embarking on a life of crime, plans based mainly on magazine thrillers which he was reading at the time. They included the obtaining of a motor car and an automatic gun." I was surprised to find in the High Court of Australia and in the United States Supreme Court in Washington an acceptance of facts which troubled children, weeping mothers, impatient fathers and eager young psychiatric assistants had brought to my attention over and over again in the dingy basement rooms of psychiatric clinics at Lafargue and in Queens!

Justice Frankfurter made it clear that such a law would not interfere with freedom of speech and certainly not with that of the legitimate writers, their publishers and booksellers, including those who write fictional or fact stories of crime: "Laws that forbid publications inciting to crime [are] not within the constitutional immunity of free speech." He tersely expressed the sense of the type of law that I had asked for in Boston with regard to children when he says that the state gives notice "that it is outlawing the exploitation of criminal potentialities."

When I asked for a law against children's crime comics I expressed the logical result of my clinical studies. But at the same time I was crystallizing and giving expression to the vague gropings of the more enlightened part of public opinion which seeks a curb on the rising tide of education for violence. Justice Frankfurter admirably translated this vague groping into verbal clarity by assuming that the legislators who framed the statute on which the Winters case is based had expressed their reasons in words. This, Justice Frankfurter said, is what they would or could have said:

"We believe that the destructive and adventurous potentialities of boys and adolescents and of adults of weak character ... are often stimulated by collections of pictures and stories of criminal deeds of bloodshed or lust so massed as to incite to violent and depraved crimes against the person; and ... we believe that such juveniles ... do in fact commit such crimes at least partly because incited to do so by such publications, the purpose of which is to exploit such susceptible characters ... such belief ... is supported by our experience as well as by the opinions of some specialists qualified to express opinions regarding criminal psychology and not disproved by others ... in any event there is nothing of possible value to society in such publications, so that there is no gain to the State, whether in edification or enlightenment or good of any kind ... and the possibility of harm by restricting free utterance through harmless publications is too remote and too negligible a consequence of dealing with the evil publications with which we are here concerned."

From this legal document I derived courage in what through no wish of mine, but by its own logic, had developed into a contest with the crime-comic-book industry. What respect they had for freedom of expression I could see from one of the minor episodes. As my material accumulated I decided to put it in book form. One day one of the most prominent experts for the defense visited my prospective publisher and told him what an error it would be to publish a book by me. This expert said I was "completely wrong" in my ideas about comic books and that I "stand absolutely alone" in my opinions about them. It is certainly fortunate that there are still publishers whose respect for freedom of expression takes other forms than those of the comic-book industry!

In my attempts to formulate the principles of a children's crime-comics law, I realized that it is necessary to introduce scientific public-health thinking for the protection of children's mental health. A large part of the mental-hygiene movement exists solely on paper. Concrete measures like those against comic books come up against all kinds of conventions and interests. There is a lot written and said about mental hygiene; but one point is usually forgotten: the mental-hygiene movement as a whole has not been very successful so far. We have not less, but more alcoholism. We certainly do not have fewer neuroses. We have more and more violent juvenile delinquency and drug addiction has invaded the schools. The reason for this relative failure is that mental hygiene has separated itself so much from other fields and has succumbed to an ostrich policy with regard to concrete social evils, explaining them away rather than helping to fight them. The intricacies of parent-child relationship explain a great deal, but they alone cannot carry the weight of a really dynamic mental hygiene. The influences from outside the family must be added.

Laws in the service of preventive medicine do not necessarily deal with criminal intent. They cope with what the lawyers call public welfare offenses, dealing with food, drugs and sanitation. What I wanted to accomplish in these years was to add mental health to these categories.

Speaking of the food, drug and cosmetic act, an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association points out that legislation in these fields "stemmed from the unusual responsibility held by those who produce and handle such essentials as food and drugs." What I submit is that mental health is an even greater responsibility. That is why I advocated a public-health approach to the comic-book problem.

What should a public-health law accomplish? Its purpose is not the punishment of crimes, although as an example that may be necessary. When proposing a comic-book law I have often been told: "You can't make a law unless you enlighten the public first." Or: "Good laws cannot help when there are bad attitudes." Can't they? Over and over again the objection has been made to my proposals that you have to educate the people first. But if you look over the history of social betterment you will find that the law is the best instrument of adult education. If nothing else, a comic-book law would make people think. It would inform them that there are responsible people who take seriously the subtle harm that crime comics do. One of the functions of law is to inform the public.

The progress of public-health legislation has not been easy either. Theodore Roosevelt and LaGuardia, when they came out for laws controlling drugs and food, faced the same counterarguments made now against comic-book laws. A good example of the obstacles in the path of public-welfare laws is a court case of 1892. A landlord had failed to provide running water on each floor of a large tenement house. That seems to us now a self-understood requirement of public health. But at that time the Court of Appeals ruled: "There is no evidence, nor can the Court judicially know, that the presence and distribution of water on the several floors will conduce to the health of the occupants .... There is no necessity for legislative compulsion on a landlord to distribute water through the stories of his buildings; since, if the tenants require it, self-interest and the rivalry of competition are sufficient to secure it."

This is like what the comic-book industry and its experts and legal defenders say now: How can a court judicially know that a child needs good reading? Why not leave it all to the competition of the good books (leaving out the defenselessness of the tenants in the one case and of children in the other)?

It is no argument to say that many people have been exposed to a public-health hazard, as children are exposed to crime comics, without suffering any harm. Many people speed in automobiles, pass others on hills, ignore red lights, have defective lights and brakes, live in unsanitary dwellings, drink untested water or milk, eat uninspected meat, are exposed to all kinds of infectious diseases, are not vaccinated, and still are none the worse for it. But that does not do away with the need for safety and public-health laws. Public health aims to prevent possibilities, not to count casualties.

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Its protection should be based on the same kind of scientific clinical thinking as public health. The individualistic thinking in psychology becomes unscientific when applied to a mass problem of social life. Public-health legislation is not directed against the past injury to an individual, but against the potential future injury to all.

The threadbare argument that only the predisposed are potentially harmed by comic books is without merit from the point of view of public health. In the first place, it is not true. I have seen many troubled children and juvenile delinquents who were predisposed to achieving good things in life and were deflected from their course by the social environment of which comic books are an important part. Postulating beforehand who will be harmed by what, has long been replaced in public-health thinking by scientific observation. During the great flu epidemic of 1918 we learned that many regular subway riders and slum dwellers were immune while strong young men from the country succumbed. There is not only a psychopathology, there is also an epidemiology of juvenile delinquency.

In public health we also have little sympathy with the claim that we do not have to prevent illness because if we rule out one factor people would get sick sooner or later anyway, if not with this disease then with something else. Yet that is how the comic-book industry and its experts reason.

Attention to the individual in mental hygiene is not decreased, but increased, if the mass effects of social causes are given their due. Preventive work is trying to bring it about that the circumstances injurious to people do not occur. In public-health thinking the generalization cannot be postponed until every detail is established. The clinical fact of the harm to some is the signal of the potential danger to all.

I had occasion to try out these ideas of mine in a totally different field -- although at one point comic books were involved there, too. I was giving expert testimony in Wilmington in the Delaware test case concerning segregation in elementary and public schools. I presented to the court in detail the thesis that regardless of the quality or inequality of the physical facilities, the fact of segregation itself constitutes a definite hazard for the mental health of children.

Segregation in school is only one factor in the social context of other factors, I went on. One cannot postulate a fixed hierarchy of factors operative in every case. The very fact that these children are exposed to race prejudice in other spheres highlights the school segregation. In this connection I mentioned the race prejudice taught in comic books. The court accepted my public-mental-health point of view and ordered the children admitted to the schools from which they had been excluded.

The analogy with the comic-book question is obvious. But whereas in the case of school segregation something new was accomplished, with crime comic books the same reasoning did not work.

One obstacle was the attitude of some writers, editorialists and columnists on child welfare whose minds are closed to something new. They regard juvenile delinquents as if they were totally different from other children. Even liberal writers write of "the mark of Cain which an evil destiny brands on some of our children." They believe that emotionally strong children are unaffected, while only emotionally insecure children are exposed. This is pure speculation. It means the distinction between an invulnerable elite and a vulnerable common group. Reflect what snobbishness is involved.

He is a naughty child, I'm sure --
Or else his dear papa is poor.


Even when they write about comic books -- asserting that they have nothing to do with normal children's troubles or with juvenile delinquency, however -- they admit that comic books are "lurid enough to chill the blood"; that they have a "potentially adverse effect on juvenile culture generally"; that they show a "sly, smutty suggestiveness"; that "sadism" is a "key motif"; and that comic books "demonstrate pictorially to the child reader how to gouge eyes with the thumb, kick in the stomach, bite ears" and other such "dangerous information." These quotations are from a book on juvenile delinquency by Albert Deutsch. Despite all these admissions, he denies firmly that comic books may be a "significant factor in child delinquency" and even denies that they have anything at all to do with the violent forms of delinquency.

Juvenile delinquency cannot be regarded as a self-contained entity. Children's behavior does not fall into such rigid classifications. If you take a hundred delinquent children and a hundred non-delinquent children, you will find that the difference between them is not one of ingrained emotional make-up, but one of socio-psychological circumstances. It is only human (and scientific) to realize that just a hairline separates the child who does not get into trouble from the one who does. The belief that delinquent children are totally different from others is one reason why they are so harshly treated. Even the difference between a mild delinquent act and a serious one is not the difference between black and white. I have seen children at every stage of this sequence: A young boy experiments in talking about sex with a little girl; he has the impulse to inspect her; he experiments; he wants her not to tell; he threatens her with one of his comic-book-bought knives; he really harms her. Is it reasonable to assume that each act has a different causation, the serious act a "very deep" cause and the mild act a very superficial one?

Deutsch states that "emotionally healthy children are unharmed by them." If sadism, as he himself says, is a motif of this children's literature, must the children be emotionally unhealthy to get sadistic ideas from it? That is contrary to all human and scientific experience.

He also uses the ostrich argument that the child-delinquency rate "was actually declining." It was not. Moreover, delinquency statistics are most unreliable. Whenever a social or private agency needs more appropriations or contributions to combat juvenile delinquency, the delinquency rate goes up; when they make reports accounting for the money spent, the rates go down. The rosy statistics offered by the New York City Youth Board in 1953 are a case in point. About three facts there can be no doubt: Delinquency rates are at present very high; the nature of the delinquencies has become more violent; the age of the delinquents has become lower.

Harper's magazine, in its "Personal & Otherwise" department, has been taking up cudgels for the comic-book institution. The statement that the increased brutality in juvenile delinquency and the mass production of crime comic books are related "got our blood pressure up," they admit. As a doctor, of course I deplore that, not only for their sake but because the injustice done to children both before they commit delinquencies and afterwards needs calm reflection as well as knowledge of the facts.

The violence is, in P. & O.'s opinion, the "product of a moral and social confusion." How can one better defend the status quo than by blaming something so vague and general, to the exclusion of concrete facts? P. & O. reproaches me for oversimplification and states that I neglect socio-economic conditions. Does he think that comic books drop from heaven? They are a clear expression of economic conditions and are a part of the social environment of these children.

P. & O. finds my case against the comic books "full of holes." One of these holes is that they do not contain any more violence than Uncle Tom's Cabin or The Last of the Mohicans. For a literary critic in a good magazine this is a shocking statement to make. Are girls strung up by their ankles in these books? Are their acts of violence fully illustrated so that you can see blood gushing, cut-off shapely legs, and corpses disposed of in every conceivable manner? More important, these books are art, they have nuances of descriptive narrative and they have a theme which is not the theme of violence. P. & O. also defends the thesis of so many other writers in connection with comic books, that demonstrably bad reading matter does not have demonstrably bad effect on children. I have found that it does.

When such writers defend crime comic books so vehemently, what are they actually defending? The very inconsistency of their arguments makes one wonder. Crime comics are a severe test of the liberalism of liberals.

And so it went. The writers discussed the "problems," the public thought comics were getting better, the industry flourished. One day in the Queens General Mental Hygiene Clinic I was visited by an older and very influential professional friend. After some friendly preliminaries he hesitated and cleared his throat.

"You know," he said, "you do it all wrong. Why do you have to keep on doing this work with comic books? The research is all right. But why do you have to talk about practical solutions? That is bad for your reputation. It is petty. You have stated your results. Now if you do absolutely nothing, the people will come to you for advice. But you go on and want to change something. You have written articles about comic books. Why do you have to ask for a law and get into the fight? If you keep on acting like this, you'll be marked."

It really seemed for quite a while that Superman had licked me. But then, as so often happens, things took a new turn. It came in the form of a telephone call from Washington. Would I be willing to confer with the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee to Investigate Organized Crime on the subject of crime and juvenile delinquency? I agreed to do so and a few weeks later the senator came to my apartment, for what turned into a long conference. He told me that while his committee was mainly interested in organized crime in interstate commerce, he was concerned about children. He had inquired in Washington whom to consult and several high officials had given him my name. He added that President Truman had urged him especially to look into the childhood roots of criminal behavior.

I had on my desk a speech President Truman had made a short while before in which he asked for "prevention and cure" and for "wholesome recreation." "If those children," the President had said, "have the proper environment at home, and educationally, very, very few of them ever turn out wrong.... I am particularly anxious that we should do everything in our power to protect the minds and hearts of our children from moral corruption .... We must not permit the existence of conditions which cause our children to believe that crime is inevitable and normal."

"You know, Senator," I said, "there is a strong organized force in our society which does exactly the opposite of what the President wants. It provides unwholesome recreation, it claims that many children will go wrong whatever influences they are exposed to, it exposes them to moral corruption and leads them to believe that crime is normal. Why not investigate this force, the crime-comic-book industry?"

"Oh, I've heard about them," he replied. "Those horror books that describe the perfect murder or some other crime, ostensibly for educational purposes."

The senator combined a certain dignity with what seemed to be a sincere homespun friendliness, and he seemed eager to do something for children. I told him that for a number of years I had been making clinical investigations on the subject in three different clinics.

"Can you show me some of your material?" he asked. I showed him comic books, clinical records, converted toy guns. We spent some time going critically over the evidence in a manner that reminded me that he was a lawyer.

He explained to me the tremendous power that his committee had. They could subpoena anybody and anything, question witnesses under oath, trace business transactions and scrutinize whole industries. What could the committee do about this? Was there anything the Federal Government could do?

"The Federal Government does not even have accurate statistics on murders and violent acts committed by children," I said. "Any child who can write his name can order a dangerous switchblade knife from comic books' advertisements. With these knives countless children have been threatened and coerced and injured. The Federal Government seems to be the only agency with the power to ascertain the truth. How many crime comic books are there that glorify crime? I don't mean guesses and propaganda figures, but actual printing-orders, sales, shipments abroad, and so on."

"Could something be done with interstate commerce?" he asked.

"That has been suggested," I said. "For example, Nevada has passed a resolution requesting Congress to regulate comic books by law." And I explained that I thought the evidence would show the necessity for a law -- possibly on an interstate commerce basis -- that would prevent the sale and display of crime comic books to children under fifteen.

Then and there he appointed me as psychiatric consultant to his committee. I made my co-operation dependent on some conditions: that the far-flung propaganda of the industry would be scrutinized; that there would be a careful legal investigation of tie-in sales, juvenile drug addiction and childhood prostitution; that the recruiting of children for work with adult gangs and racketeers be investigated; that illustrations from comic books would be used.

He agreed to all that, reiterating the enormous powers he had and his paramount wish to do something for children. His final inquiry was whether I thought the public would be interested in such an investigation.

Soon afterwards he wrote to thank me, sent me messages and conferred with me by telephone from Washington. Aides of the committee came to me and I outlined for them in detail preliminary steps. I can't say that I expected this to lead to a curb of the industry, but I did think that there would be at least some kind of an investigation.

Questionnaires went out to a number of people. Then the whole thing stopped abruptly -- or maybe it was just that it took a different direction.

I was on vacation when I got a wire saying that the committee contemplated publication of a report on juvenile delinquency and wanted a written contribution from me for inclusion in the report. Of course I refused, replying that such a hasty publication without investigation was certainly not in the interests of the public.

The next thing I heard was a news broadcast from Washington: "Crime Comic Books have nothing to do with juvenile delinquency, Senator Kefauver reported today." Next day there were front-page headlines: STUDY FINDS DOUBT COMICS SPUR CRIME, and: COMICS DON'T FOSTER CRIME, and: FBI HEAD DISCOUNTS HARMFUL EFFECTS OF CRIME COMIC BOOKS. Editorials elaborated. The Times editorial stated that the majority opinion of child-guidance experts was "that there is no direct connection between the comic books dealing with crime and juvenile delinquency"; that "the facts show that some comic books are read more by adults than by children" (it did not mention whose "facts"); and that "it is the emotional make-up the child brings to his life experiences that conditions his reactions to them" (in other words, it's all the child's own fault again).

The Sunday News editorial commented: "It's a pleasure to pass along the news that Senator Estes Kefauver's Senate Crime Investigating Committee has now gone deeply into the subject of the crime comic books and has brought up a mass of testimony which ought to spur the earnest souls to look around for something else to worry about.... The Kefauver Committee took its testimony largely from unprejudiced sources. . . . The verdict of the majority gave a clean bill of health to the comics. So we hope that the public has heard the last of this earnest-soul gripe."

Why is it a front-page story that comic books do not have any effect?

Ironically enough, it was I who had inadvertently given the crime-comic-book industry the biggest advertising it had ever had!

I got hold of the published report of the Senate Crime Investigating Committee and studied it. At the taxpayers' expense it prints statistical charts on the frequency of juvenile delinquency prepared by -- the comic-book industry! It reprints the whole comic-book issue of the scientific journal edited by one expert for the defense, with contributions by three experts for the defense (and one article entirely devoted to newspaper comic strips, which has nothing at all to do with comic books) and with one article devoted only to attacking me. It contains unchecked statements by crime-comic-book publishers, some of whom brazenly defy the most modest requests made by the committee: "Our organization has published hundreds of titles and issues of comic magazines during the past ten years, and it would be an impossible task to begin to answer .... " (this in reference to questions about circulation and income from comic books). There are no illustrations, although I had been assured there would be.

The report gives the opinions of eight "child guidance experts." Two of them are not and do not claim to be child-guidance experts. Both are lawyers. One of the other experts is designated editorially in the report as a doctor, although she is not, and as a psychiatrist, which she is not either. Five of the eight experts, according to the report itself, are or have been employed by the comic-book industry -- some for as long as ten years! It is these five experts who say that comic books are all right. The three independent experts condemn comic books severely. The division is clear-cut: Those connected with the comic-book industry defend comic books; those independent of the industry consider them harmful. It needed no Senate inquiry to tell us this.

The report also contains replies to a questionnaire from probation officers and other officials, most of whom had never thought of studying the influence of crime comic books. They had not even asked prisoners or children in their charge about comic-book reading. Some of them speak unblushingly about "the consistent decrease" of juvenile delinquency. There are some condemnations of crime comics, including the case example of the little boy comic-book reader who leaped from a telephone pole believing himself to be Superman.

The report bristles with all the cliches and platitudes that have ever been uttered in defense of comic books: that they are too simple an explanation; that the children would do it anyhow; that comic books are here to stay; that they give release of aggressive instincts; that children who do something wrong have "definite antisocial tendencies" in the first place; that only unstable children become unstable and comic books have "no effect on the emotionally well-balanced boy or girl"; that a judge calmed a child witness down by handing him a pile of comic books; that comic books make an impression only on "impressionable minds"; and so on and on. And all this is published without comment, without analysis, without any investigation whatsoever, and with only a minimum of editing -- and that mostly wrong.

Omitted from the report are items that would have belonged there. For example, the answer to their inquiry by the president of the Newport Council of Social Agencies, a psychiatric social worker with a great deal of experience with children, which states that from her contact with children in Washington, D.C. and in Rhode Island she had become increasingly aware of the link between comic books and delinquency and had had "contact with non-delinquent minors whose cultural background seemed solidly rooted in this literature." Omitted also is the testimony before the committee of one of the most experienced criminologists and penologists in the country, Mr. James V. Bennett, secretary of the Criminal Law Section of the American Bar Association and director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He had told the committee that crime comic books are connected with crime and asked for an investigation into the business of crime comic books, "the traffic in which now amounts to seventy million copies a month ... " (this was in 1950).

After the report was published one of the senator's aides telephoned me that the senator wanted me to know that "his whole statement had been twisted in the press," that I "should have faith in him" and that "he's determined to do it the way he said to you." That was the last I ever heard.

A few weeks after the report was out I received a letter from a prominent member and committee chairman of the American Bar Association. "I was very much disappointed," he wrote, "in the publication of the Kefauver report. And I think a serious mistake has been made in its publication. It is unfortunate that so much of it is from media sources and from persons in the employ of or under obligation to the media."

As for me, I learned a great deal from this report. It taught me that comic books really are a test of the reaction of a society not only to children's literature but to children themselves. Assume for a moment that a senate committee with such unlimited powers had investigated the raising of hogs. Would they not have informed themselves and the farmers a little better?

The further history of the Kefauver Committee's crime investigation is well known. It was referred to in television circles as "the biggest hit of the season." Arthur Miller wrote that he was struck by "the air of accomplishment among the people that is really not warranted by the facts." I do not entirely agree with this. I think these hearings actually did accomplish something: They demonstrated not only the link between politics and crime, but also the link between politics and crime investigation.

I kept on with my studies as before. There were always new comic books and always new children. I was not in the mood to participate in any more investigations. But my telephone rang again: The New York State Legislature had appointed a Joint Legislative Committee to Study the Publication of Comics. Would I collaborate with them as a psychiatric expert, help them in their investigation and testify on the effects of comic books on children?

I had become a little skeptical of investigating committees. Superman always seemed to get the best of them. So I asked to be excused. But later on when the committee got in touch with me again I changed my mind and agreed. I had convinced myself that this committee had gone at its work seriously and sincerely. They wanted to get at the facts and in all fairness had given the comic-book industry every break. They started with the premise that no law was necessary and gave the industry more than two years' time to make some kind of improvement by self-regulation.

During one of the first conversations I had with members of this committee to study comics, one of them said to me, "The general counsel of the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers said to me, 'Somewhere right now a little boy has a gun and reads crime comics. That boy will be president some day: What do you say to that?"

"All I can say," I answered, "is that that is precisely what I would like to prevent."

I testified for the committee, at length and under oath, on two separate occasions separated by an interval of a year. With many examples from comic books and children's cases I testified to what I had seen and found, what I had done and thought. The main bad effect of crime comic books on children, I said, is on their ethical development. I made it clear that I was not saying this as a moralist, but as a doctor who believes that orientation as to what is right and wrong is part of normal mental health. I explained that juvenile delinquency is only one part of the crime-comic-book question, although a very serious one. The greatest danger of crime comic books is to the normal child.

I answered the counterarguments of the industry, like the one about law and order winning. A typical crime story has this ending: "And so the story ends in blood, as it began in murder."

What about the crime comic books, I was asked, that are educational and teach children not to commit delinquencies? I have never seen one, I answered. If you find one, I shall be glad to return and modify my statements.

When I testified the second time the committee had convinced itself that the proclaimed self-regulation of the industry had completely failed and some legal control was necessary. On that occasion, again under oath, I pointed out that the cover of the comic book draws the child's attention to a crime, the text describes one, the pictures show how it's done and the advertisements provide the means to carry it out.

For years I had been seeing children who get into trouble with switchblade knives. I had bought several of these knives, signing a child's name on the order, in answer to comic-book advertisements. When I testified before this committee for the second time, I produced one of them quickly, as I was talking, flashing open its blade. A switchblade knife is a good symbol of the crime-comic-book industry as a whole. Then I outlined my idea about a public-health law against the threat comic books offer to the general mental health of children. The law is not concerned with what doctors think, but with what they can prove. Many comic-book stories are nothing but perverse and violent fantasies of adults and it is these perverse fantasies that are sold to children. Censorship legislation requires a "clear and present danger." My idea of a public-health law is totally different. Anything clear or unclear, present or future, which under any circumstances may cause damage or harm to health, can be controlled by legislation. There is only one question: Is it harmful or not? Such a law could enlighten the public, just as laws about hoof and mouth disease enlighten farmers about livestock. I am not a lawyer, but from a medico-legal point of view I would suggest that the sale and display of crime comic books to children under fifteen be forbidden.

The committee, which had taken the testimony of sixty-two witnesses, accepted my findings and my suggestions. They issued altogether three reports. In the first "Interim Report," before I testified, they made this important observation: "It is strange but true that the questions heretofore propounded to individuals charged with greater or lesser crimes by probation officers have not touched upon the question of the reading of comics." (Compare with the Kefauver committee which published unanalyzed the uninformed opinions on crime comics of just such probation officers.)

The second report concludes that crime comic books "impair the ethical development of children" and are "a contributing factor leading to juvenile delinquency." It states that "the comics which sell best are crime comics."

The third report contained the committee's legislative proposals. The chairman, Assemblyman Joseph F. Carlino, stated that the bills were the result of the failure of the comic-book industry to "realize their public responsibility and, in the cause of common decency, take up the necessary steps to set up self-regulatory provisions."

The committee's report states: "The publishers and their representatives ... completely rejected and refused to recognize the reality that children are influenced and stimulated by what they read, see and hear in the same way in which adults are influenced or stimulated."

It calls crime comic books "a threat to the health of children" and concludes that the committee "has been obliged to recommend the adoption of legislative controls. It had no more choice in doing so than it would have in suppressing disease-causing acts which were found to be a threat to the public health or safety."

Before the law proposed by the committee was voted on by the legislature, it was publicly opposed by the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers, the New York State Council of Churches, the Mystery Writers of America, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations.

The technical aspects of the bill had been worked out most carefully by the committee. They had done research on the Winters case, the Los Angeles County case, the Chicago case and other legal cases having a bearing on such a law. Their legal consultant was Reuben A. Lazarus, an authority on constitutional law and on bill drafting. He had drafted more bills affecting the City of New York than any other person, living or dead, and is responsible for the present New York City charter. So if there was any legal authority to judge the constitutionality of the proposed law, it was this comics committee's legal consultant. The committee's bill was drafted and redrafted in many conferences; the head of the New York State Legislative Bill Drafting Committee, Theodore E. Bopp, participated and members of his legal staff passed on it.

When the crime-comic-book control bill came before the Assembly, they voted for it: 141 to 4. The Senate voted for it, too, unanimously.

So it really seemed that a step forward had been made. But Governor Dewey attended to that. He vetoed the bill, giving as his reason that "it fails to meet fundamental constitutional requirements." Superman has many disguises.

This decision was strange. When Columbia University Press published its educational comic book Trapped which deals with juvenile drug-addiction, Governor Dewey stated: "It is a superb job. I hope millions of copies are distributed." (They could not distribute more than 30,000.) If the governor thinks that a single "good" comic book can do so much good, should he not have refrained from interfering with the democratic will of the parliamentary majority which believed that hundreds of millions of bad comic books can do so much harm?

When I discussed this outcome with my associates in the comic-book research I was pleased to note that they were not discouraged by it. Nor was I. But I was bothered by something else. I had lunch one day with Henrietta Additon, an authority on delinquency and penology for whom I have the greatest admiration. She had another guest, the head of a civic committee on children and a woman with great influence in such matters. In the course of lunch I asked this guest what she thought about crime comic books. She answered, "I know there are people for them and people against them. I don't take any side. I am absolutely neutral."

At that moment it became clear to me for the first time that I was defeated. This business of not taking sides on the part of those who could help to make conditions easier for the young to grow up, was more deadly than Kefauver's desertion or Dewey's veto. Neutrality -- especially when hidden under the cloak of scientific objectivity -- that is the devil's ally.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24531
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Dec 11, 2013 11:55 pm

PART 1 OF 2

13. Homicide At Home

Television and the Child

"They dare not devise good for man's estate. And yet they know not that they do not dare."
-- Shelley


To lump all mass media of entertainment together as if they were equal is often both erroneous and misleading. Of course they have many similarities, but they also have fundamental differences. That is very correctly recognized by the law, as in the decision of the United States Supreme Court in voiding the ban of a movie: "Nor does it follow that motion pictures are necessarily subject to the precise rules governing any other particular method of expression. Each method tends to present its own peculiar problems." A commodity like crime comics which is not a legitimate medium of entertainment for children can only profit if it is discussed not for what it is, but under the general name of mass media. It is true that some crime movies are as brutal as comic books, but these movies are not specifically merchandised for children. You can almost recognize a comic-book publicist by the frequency with which he speaks of "mass media," "mass media of communication," etc., when he is really just defending comic books. To class comic books in terms of mass media is to class starlings as songbirds. Of course songbirds and starlings are all birds.

A committee of the National Education Association, after studying "The Effects of Mass Media upon Children and the School Program," reported that "mass media including radio, television, motion pictures, comic books, current periodicals, and other communication means which have become an integral part of modern life affect human behavior to such an extent that it is the responsibility not only of the teacher and the parent, but also of all other community agencies to build a higher level of what we might call 'taste' on the part of the consumer." This is much too general and superficial to be of any use. Lumping all the media together has done some of them an injustice, while serving as a protective screen for crime comics. Legitimate methods of control of one may not apply to the other. Some media have done themselves considerable harm by making common cause with crime comics in opposing control of them. They feared, of course, that any control would spread to them. What does happen is that if the crime comics industry continues to lead a charmed life, the other media will be more exposed to the very censorship which they want to avoid. Pocket books are facing the danger of this creeping censorship right now. It is not censorship of children's crime comics, but its complete absence that threatens other media with unwanted controls. Quite apart from the fear of censorship, the defense of comic books stems from the inverted snobbishness of some who defend the right of what they consider the lower orders to read any trash sold to them.

In our studies we found marked differences between the media in their effect on children. The passivity is greatest in reading comic books, perhaps a little less with television, if only because often other people are present in the audience. In both, the entertainment flows over the child. Passivity is least in going to movies, where others are always present. The media have their maximum appeal at different ages. Movies seem to have the greatest appeal from eleven to twenty-one, television roughly from the ages of four to twelve. The time spent with different media varies, too. Comic books have the greatest hold on many children. Once in the Hookey Club when crime shows on television were discussed, an eleven-year-old boy said: "Television is bad, but it doesn't stay with you like a comic book." The mother of an eight-year-old girl said to me: "Television is not half so bad. It is the comic books. They are handy. They are ten cents. They are always around. They don't just read them once, they read and re-read them, from the bathroom to the kitchen and back." Children literally live with comic books.

What is said of one medium may be totally untrue of another. I know many people, children and adults, who have turned to read the original book after seeing an adaptation in the movies. The examples include such authors as Henry James, Tolstoy, Bernard Shaw, Jules Verne, Theodore Dreiser, Hawthorne, Emily Bronte. In all these years we have not found a single child who turned from a comic-book adaptation to the original. And yet experts for the defense of comic books, mixing together the media whenever possible, make this one of their chief claims.

Radio, movies and television are considered worthy of regular serious critiques in newspapers. Nothing like this exists for comic books. Nor is it even possible, for the few critics who have written about them find them subjects for toxicology rather than criticism.

Yet the different media are not mutually exclusive. Some of them blend very well; when they blend with comic books it is always in their worst aspects. There are radio comic books, TV comic books and movie comic books. But the great inroads that television was expected to make -- and for a short time seemed to have made -- have not materialized. The movies killed the dime novel, but television did not even wound the comic-book industry. The low order of literacy of television fitted in well with the almost total illiteracy of crime comics.

One can often learn about one medium from observation of another. My conclusion that children reading crime comic books often identify themselves with the powerful villain has often been challenged by wishful thinkers. It was borne out by a brilliant review of the television show "Senate Crime Investigation" by Fern Marja. This review was some of the best reporting of that memorable performance when for the first time organized crime was made a drawing card in a show with the criminals themselves and their prosecutors as the chief stars. "It is difficult to tell," she wrote, "whether the secret of the legislators' popularity is their identification with good or their necessary contact with evil. And Frank Costello is beginning to threaten the supremacy of Hopalong Cassidy as a TV attraction. . . . Is the racketeering boss hero or villain to the general public?" And later when the district attorneys were testifying she noted: "Imperceptibly, at first, the mood of the chamber changes. Here and there a yawn is visible. Mr. X and Mr. Y [the district attorneys] are men of good will, but they lack Costello's drawing-power. It is almost impossible to escape the conclusion that honesty bores the gallery.... A spectator stirs restlessly. 'Listen,' he says to an attendant, 'when's Costello coming back? That's what I want to see!''' If true of adults, why not of children? Others made similar observations. John Crosby, the New York Herald Tribune's radio and television critic, reported that it had been noted that "large segments of the population showed a tendency to sympathize with the witnesses, no matter how shady their past." And a newspaper editorial at the time wondered "whether these exhibitions will (not) add to the glamor of crime in many people's imaginations."

The study of comic books is indispensable for understanding what happens in less overt form in other media. If one has studied comic books one recognizes sadism for sadism's sake even if it is embellished with psychological thrills, as in some movies, radio and TV programs.

The mass media have power for good or ill, on society and on the individual. No amount of facile theorizing can explain that away. They present a new ethical problem. And if at present they do so much harm, the industries themselves by their own momentum evidently cannot remedy that. This became especially clear to me when I heard a high television-executive say that if all violence and horror were removed from comic books and television everything in the world would remain the same. That unethical type of argument has been made at every step of progress mankind has ever made, be it aseptics, vaccination or meat inspection.

One thing true of all the media is that many people glibly discount their influence on children. But they have a continuous impact on masses of children that would have been unheard-of in former times and they really mediate between the child and his environment. For example, in the most lurid crime stories the final defeat of the villain is supposed to cancel out his previous triumphs and achievements. That is psychologically naive. The lesson these stories usually convey to children is not that the villain should have been better, but that he should have been shrewder. In other media, especially in television, this extolling of the villain exists, too, although it is seldom as raw as in comic books.

The race ridicule and nationality stereotypes of comic books is also spread to some extent through other media. The mayor of the city of New York has commented severely on the race prejudice shown in television murder mysteries. (He did not mention the race prejudice in comic books which is much more widespread and harmful and about which he could do something, since they are sold on newsstands on city property.) The excuses for not interfering with this are the same for all media.

Whenever the question of the harm done by mass media is raised, the easy retort is that it is all up to the family. But the family itself is invaded with an all-round amphibious offensive. Take a peaceful American family on a quiet evening. Papa rests from his work and is reading Mickey Spillane. Junior has just come home from a movie with a "DOUBLE-SHOCK SHOW: The Vanishing Body and The Missing Head." He settles down to look at one of those good crime television shows where a man is beaten up so mercilessly that he is blinded for life. His older sister, just this side of puberty, is engrossed in the comic book Reform School Girl!, which blends sex, violence and torture in its context. (The advertisements in comic books have been worrying her about her development and she has just discovered the secret solution, the "BULGE-MASTER" [$5.98], advertised in this book.) Mama had been invited for the evening to see an avant-garde film. But when she read the title of the program, "Meditation on Violence," she decided to stay home instead and use the evening to keep abreast of the latest in child psychology. Recently she had attended the Illinois Congress for Parents and Teachers and heard the director of the Association for Family Living propound: "Hostility is one of the basic emotions and has to be expressed someplace. Home is the best place to do it." So she got herself two recent books on psychology. One has the title Children Who Hate, the other is a psychological textbook with twenty-five chapters in which the only psychological subject to which a whole chapter is devoted is "Hostility."

In other words, papa, mama, and the two children are all subjected to the impact of the same current fashion, the extolling of hostility and violence.

It is essential to recognize that the various media have an influence on one another although that is not generally realized. The newer medium may influence the older. It is well known that the movies have influenced the theater. We speak of a television-level melodrama in the movies and a comic-book-level show on television. The paradox is this: All the mass media together have influence on the child, but each follows separate laws. And the lowest medium, the only illegitimate one as far as children are concerned, the crime comic has in fact the greatest influence on all the other media.

In the last half-decade or so crime comics have influenced all the media in some degree. In that sense one can speak of a comic-book culture, especially for children. Comic books have been in competition with the other media not only with regard to money but with regard to children's minds as well. I have not found, as many would have us believe, that the good influence of the legitimate media makes comic books better, or restricts their circulation. On the contrary, comic books make the other media worse. It is true, as is always pointed out by comic-book defenders, that crime and horror shows existed long before comic books. But there is a new special touch -- blatant, crude and shameless -- that the other media now have to absorb, imitate and rival in order to be able to compete with the comic-book industry. Children's minds have been molded to strong sadistic fare. If he does not slap the girl around, what kind of a he-man is the hero? If he does not strangle her or poison her, where is the excitement? And if there is no murder, where is the plot? So it is not possible to improve children's shows on television or radio as long as crime comic books are left the way they are.

Some time ago I saw a Western movie in which the villain shoots the sheriff straight in the face. It was a children's matinee and at that point the children first laughed and then loudly applauded. This was not the so-called natural cruelty of children that adults like to speak about. This particular type of response was inculcated in these children by the most persistent conditioning in habits of hate ever given to children in the world's history.

There is at present in all the media, especially as they affect children, a pattern of violence, brutality, sadism, blood-lust, shrewdness, callous disregard for human life and an ever-renewed search for subhuman victims, criminal, racial, national, feminine, political, terrestrial, supernatural and interplanetary. Brutality is the keynote. It is self-understood that such a pattern in a mass medium does not come from nothing. There must be clues in real life as to why violence is in the air.

Children need proper food, vitamins, fresh air, games and schooling and love. Nowadays there is a dogma that they also need stories about violence and crime. Formerly hostility was concealed. Psychiatrists in those times would not admit that an ordinary boy could hate his father or a daughter, her mother. Bernard Shaw wrote about that, but the psychiatrists didn't. Now the pendulum has swung the other way. The same type of dogmatic person who formerly saw only sweetness and light and physical or hereditary causes now says that knowing about violence and sadism adjusts children to the world. What kind of a world, and what kind of an adjustment?

The quantity of violence in all the media is stupendous. It has become almost a national pastime for committees of women's clubs to count the murders in children's programs during a week. But quantity alone does not give the real picture. Hamlet is not just a play about violence. It has a plot, poetry, character development, philosophy, psychology. And yet, in the course of the play Hamlet kills five people. It is the context that counts, not the quantity.

Granted that this cult of violence originates somewhere in our social life, there is a dynamic reciprocal relationship between the audience and the creators of mass entertainment. The same influences come to bear on both producers and audience. Gradually, through constant reiteration, brutality is accepted and the producers can say that this is what the children (and adults) wanted in the first place. In speaking of children they use the refinement of a false argument by saying that this is what children need. The audience, on the other hand, feels that this is what it is supposed to like, in order to be virile and up-to-date. So there is a vicious circle, with normal business needing morbid audiences and healthy audiences spoiling normal business. The aberration becomes the norm and the norm creates the aberration.

What all media need at present is a rollback of sadism. What they do to children is that they make them confuse violence with strength, sadism with sex, low necklines with femininity, racial prejudice with patriotism and crime with heroism.

If one studies this phenomenon carefully, one will see that in this orchestra of violence the comic-book industry has set the tone and the rhythm. For a while, before 1945, it seemed that the crime-comic-book industry had a monopoly on the brutalization of children. Now it has some competition from television and the other media. So children may get the idea that violence is natural from any or all of the media, as well as from other children exposed to these media too. In the Hookey Club a boy once described a movie where the hero strangled the girl. "Why did he have to strangle her?" I asked. The answer was "Well, there has to be some adventure in the world." The story is told of the two little boys who had gone to see a romantic movie. "It was boring," said one. "Not to me," said the other. "I didn't mind. Whenever they kissed I closed my eyes and pretended he was choking her."

In a competitive way the media influence each other in the direction of the ritual of violence. Crime comic books influence television and radio, both of them influence the movies.

In all this consideration of other media one should never lose sight of the fact that, in complete contrast to comic books, movies -- and radio as well -- are an enormous educational influence, that they have given us unforgettable artistic experiences and that they are indispensable instruments of what could be best in our culture. To some extent this is also beginning to be true of television.

To trace the influence of one medium upon the other is as difficult as tracing influences in the history of literature. But there are clear indications which can be unearthed. Pocket-size books for adults have become a mass medium, too. Excellent books have been published in this form -- novels, stories, non-fiction, detective stories, etc. But here too a pattern of crudest sadism on the level of comic books is discernible. This is the announcement of one of these pocket-size books:

_____ was having trouble with women. The first one was dead -- strangled in her bed as she waited for her businessman-lover to come out of the shower. The second had a lovely name, a lovely face and an even lovelier bosom. The third was a frustrated widow. Her alcoholic strip tease in X's apartment left him cold -- but she was much colder later on, with a bullet through her heart ... a tasty dish for those who like their crime stories rough, tough and sexy.


Sounds like a children's book! Certainly it is a book for adolescent-minded readers brought up on crime comics.

Some pocket-size books express nothing but the pornography of violence, which derives from crime comics directly or indirectly. Some of the worst are to be found in places where juveniles buy candy and sodas and find large displays of the worst crime comic books. What do the publishers of these specimens do to justify them? They follow the trail blazed by the comic-book industry and have their most questionable products endorsed by a psychiatrist. In the book-publishing trade that is something new. It is a direct lesson from psychiatrist-endorsed comic books. One such pocket-size book has a brief endorsement by a "Renowned New York Psychiatrist." He writes that the book is "an authentic picture of nymphomania," it is "educational," it gives "a true picture of nymphomania," it is "clinically accurate" and "certainly the wider the knowledge of man's ills, whether they be of the mind or body, the greater the progress toward the cure."

The high point of the book is the detailed description of the heroine poisoning her lover. He is in horrible agony, shakes, falls and gets a series of convulsions. She watches all this with ecstatic joy. Every convulsion of the dying man is "like a virile thrust to her. Her own body twitched and moved spasmodically." When he finally dies, "... she reached her own paroxysm."

This is no isolated example. There are others offered to adolescents in which the obscenity is also as much in the endorsement as in the book. Here is one endorsed by an "Internationally Famed Psychiatrist." The endorsement says that this book also is an "educational experience," that it shows a disease "medically known as satyriasis ... based on one or more emotional traumas occurring in early life" and that such a person "will stop at nothing to gain his ends, not even murder." (Even medically that is entirely false.) In this book, girls are murdered, but the high point here is when the hero beats the heroine. She "enjoys the blows." "It was like the time she had watched the Negro being beaten and stoned and what she had felt then she was experiencing again." Sadism (or masochism) as sexual fulfillment -- that is the "educational experience" in these books.

A medium influenced by crime comics and rivaling them in viciousness is bubble-gum cards. Children collect them and they are widely distributed. I have quite a collection myself, contributed mostly by young children. They seem to have escaped the notice of child experts. Here are some sample pictures on bubble-gum cards:

1) A baby sleeps peacefully in his crib and an enormous serpent hovers over his head. There is also a dark-skinned native brandishing a big knife.

2) A card entitled "Desperation and Death" shows a huge exotic bird clawing at the middle section of a native. Of course you are shown blood where the skin is torn.

3) A man is bound to a kind of pillory, his hands tied and stretched out in front of him. Another man with raised sword is about to cut off his hands.

4) A man is kicked, his shirt is torn and there is blood on his forehead.


To influence children's parents, bubble-gum makers use the same methods that the crime-comics industry uses. There is a little magazine for juvenile card collectors. One number announces a new "Wild Man" series. At the masthead it says: "Dedicated to Child, Church, Home, School, Community." It is reported that bubble-gum manufacturers have more than $10,000,000 annual profits.

To some extent children's toys are a medium, too, and here the influence of comic books and other media is demonstrable. Toys are fitted into the school-for-violence pattern of child entertainment. For example, a central toy firm supplies many stores with toys. Its catalog has an elaborate chart showing what each toy "will contribute to development: mentally, physically, socially, vocationally." This is all tabulated for age and sex. If you look under "age group 2 to 4 years" you find holsters and guns, and more holsters and guns, some of which apparently contribute to the development of the child mentally, physically and socially, but not vocationally. One does not contribute at all, so evidently there are refinements in the education of children aged two to four which are not readily apparent. There used to be only about ten companies manufacturing toy pistols, knives and other such weapons for children. Since the boom of television, however, there are almost three hundred of them.

In the playroom we have often observed children delighted to get a chance to play with different types of blocks and construction sets. When we ask them if they have ever done this before they say No. When we ask what toys they usually play with they customarily answer: guns.

The fight against violent toys by mothers (and grandmothers) is an old one. When Goethe in 1795 heard that a miniature guillotine was being exhibited at the Frankfurt fair he asked his mother to buy one for his six-year-old son August. But she wrote him:

All that I can do for you I like to do and it gives me pleasure. But to buy such an infamous murder machine -- that I won't do for anything! To let children play with something so awful -- to put in their hands instruments for murder and bloodshed -- no, that won't be done.


What would the old lady have said about the present armament program for American children? Toys not only satisfy the child's imagination, they direct it. If we are really concerned about the growth of children's social feelings, we need a disarmament program for the nursery.

The violence which movies have been showing since the middle forties differs in quantity, quality and emphasis from the Jack London two-fistedness of the twenties. Canadian-provincial censors at a national convention have had the courage to say that sex in movies is a relatively minor problem, but crime and brutality is nowadays a major one. In some advertisements of movies the comic-book influence is noticeable.

The movie "Problem Girls" is advertised with the slogan "Nothing Can Tame Them!" There is a drawing beside the title showing a voluptuous girl hanging from her wrists which are tied together in typical comic-book fashion. She has long streaming hair, is barefoot and seems to be clad in a clinging nightgown. Next to her is a woman who is punishing her with a water hose. The whole setting has nothing to do with punishment or correction. It is strictly a perverse, sexually sadistic scene, of the type sold surreptitiously as obscene photographs.

Some time ago I saw a movie which had this episode: A young woman was nursing her baby; a man tears the baby away from her, throws it to the ground and kicks it away, then he hits the young mother over the head with a fence paling, knocking her over, and kicks her off the scene.

Sometimes children pattern their behavior after movies plus comic books. I saw a ten-year-old boy in the Clinic who had a long list of misdoings in school. He had pushed a little girl down an entire flight of stairs, which he got from the movies, and he twisted little girls' arms behind their backs, which he got from comic books. He did not tell me that as an excuse. He felt as guilty about his fantasies as about his acts.

Hollywood has been surprised that abroad some of its movies based on good books have been banned for minors. That happened, for example, in Sweden, despite the famous titles of the books. Of course it all depends on the ingredients of the movie. Swedish parents objected to too much violence (plus sex) for their children. Great Britain, Australia and other countries followed suit in attempts to keep movie violence and sadism away from their children. Recently a conference of British and American exchange teachers took place in the American Embassy in London, to discuss the effects of American movies on children. The headmaster of a London school spoke of the bad values these films taught his pupils. An American teacher made the typical defensive argument that the children could distinguish between entertainment and truth. This fallacious argument is heard frequently. Fiction and fact are not totally separated; there is a dynamic relationship between them. In this instance a British teacher answered that even many adults in England felt that the values in the movies applied to American life in general. All such criticism of American mass media is played down or goes unreported in the American press. It would be important for the public to know about it.

Some movie writers look in crime comic books for new tricks. For instance the producer of the movie serial "Atom Man vs. Superman," which was shown in about half the movie theaters of the country, is said to be "an avid reader of the comics, from which he gets many of his ideas."

Frequently different critical standards are used when people criticize media. Parents Magazine, whose publisher and some of whose advisory editors have been so defensive about comic books, says in a movie review: "A brutal whipping-scene prevents this from being a film for the children." In comic books this is a standard ingredient.

All the media have one characteristic in common: The mothers are fighting a losing battle with the experts. Many experts, self-styled and otherwise, say that children laugh all this off, or, if they don't, there must be something wrong with the children (not, of course, with the media). The book "Parents' Questions and Helpful Answers" by the Child Study Association of America gives the same stereotyped fallacies about radio programs that have been used to defend crime comic books: Eight-year-olds can take "a good deal of blood and thunder without any ill effects," it serves "as emotional outlet" and if a child is frightened by a program it is not the program that is at fault but "something more deeply personal." To a parent who asks about "trash on the radio" this book gives the helpful answer that it is like "folk and fairy tales." All this bad advice comes from the fundamental error that "the final judgment of values" is up to the child. That, of course, leaves it all to the child and then leaves the child helpless against adult seduction.

Quite apart from the mail I have received, I have polled hundreds of mothers on this and unless they repeat what experts have told them in lectures or over the radio or in articles, they feel the way Mrs. Walter Ferguson expressed it in her column "A Woman's View": "Every thinking mother knows how these outside forces (comics, movies, radio and TV) have influenced her family.... Today most children use their leisure to look at Westerns in movie theaters, to pore over unfunny comics which picture criminal activities or to listen to the same sort of thing over the radio. When television becomes as widespread as radio we can expect it to make a profound impression upon American children .... None of the women I have talked with believe these things are good for children. They only hope the impressions left will not be too deep." The more the pattern of violence becomes violent, the more experts are quoted to defend it.

Unfortunately psychiatry -- or rather, some of its modern practitioners -- has taken a defensive attitude about crime and sadism in the various media. They have provided a rationalization for that which they should help to prevent. There are three reasons for that. One is that hardly ever are these pronouncements made on the basis of actual study or even knowledge of what is going on. The same psychiatrists who will spend three years and hundreds of hours with an individual neurotic patient will pronounce on what happens to children from a ten-minute inspection of comic books (if that) or pronounce on children's movie programs without ever having been to a Saturday matinee with a child audience and with children's programs. Like educators, teachers and clergymen, psychiatrists were unprepared and not adjusted to the new impact of mass media on children, and as a result they have made themselves part of the education for violence.

The second reason is an over-individualistic outlook. On the basis of what they know of individual cases, psychiatrists pronounce largely on crime, delinquency, war, social organization and world peace, leaving out all mass-conditioning and all historical, social and economic forces.

The third reason is that the psychiatrist, despite his formal training, still remains a member of the society in which he moves and, as the whole crime comics issue has shown, is not so immune from the social pattern as he may think.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24531
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Dec 11, 2013 11:56 pm

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 13 CONT'D.)

***

Television is on the way to become the greatest medium of our time. It is a marvel of the technological advance of mankind. The hopes it raises are high, even though its most undoubted achievement to date is that it has brought homicide into the home. Its rise has been phenomenal. For every set in 1946 there are now (1953) more than two thousand. Television has a spotty past, a dubious present and a glorious future. That alone distinguishes it from crime comic books, which have a shameful past, a shameful present and no future at all.

Many people do not realize fully television's immense potentialities. That seems to hold true for some of the producers and, in the ascending line of power, the sponsors and advertising agencies as well. There have been some plays, news programs and documentaries which one can hardly forget in one's adult education. They are still experimental, but they vibrate with possibilities. There have been excellent children's shows, like Chicago's "Zoo Parade," "Mr. I. Magination," "Uncle Lumpy," "Mr. Wizard," "Kukla, Fran and Ollie," "Paul Whiteman TV Club," etc. Some good children's shows do not have a long life, or their time gets cut down. A survey conducted by Harold B. Clemenko, editor of the magazine TV Guide, shows the two programs most favored by parents for their children, "Magic Cottage" and "Mr. I. Magination," were discontinued. "Captain Video," most objected to by parents as making their children "nervous," stayed on. This sort of thing is what makes parents dismayed and they write letters to people, papers, magazines or the stations to try to get the good programs back. But the question is not so simple.

The trouble with television is that it has no vision. Formulas and felonies triumph over everything else. According to Norman Cousins, "the standardized television formula for an evening's entertainment is a poisoning, a variety show, a wrestling match." What more could anyone want? For one thing, a fuller exploitation of the possibilities. It would be quite wrong to blame the television industry alone for that. A medium cannot be better than the life it mediates. There was once an excellent program called "Rebuttal." Its purpose was to give people who in these tense times are under attack by supermen on subcommittees a chance to be seen and heard. This program lasted only for a few weeks. It was not the public nor was it the television producers who did not want to continue it. It was the lawyers of the various people under attack, who advised their clients not to commit themselves.

It is the bad things that television does that unfortunately command most attention. About one third of all programs for children have to do with crime or violence. Untrained viewers may miss this proportion because as in crime comics they do not realize that crime is crime and violence is violence even in the patriotic setting of a Western locale or in the science-fiction setting of interplanetary space. If you are looking for a realistically televised violent act your chances of finding one are statistically greater if you look for it on a children's program. Two different children told me excitedly that they saw on TV how molten iron was poured on a man. I asked each of them why that was done. Neither knew precisely. One said he guessed it was done for revenge; the other guessed it was done because the man knew too much. That is about the extent of motivation in these violence-for-violence's-sake shows. It is not the motivation, but the violence itself that makes the impression.

New York Times critic Jack Gould (not letting himself be sidetracked by the false theories of the psycho-publicity men) has very correctly objected to such scenes on the children's hour television screen as "the gruesome choking to death of a girl." But children have seen this hundreds of times in comic books and the harm is not that they find it "thoroughly unpleasant" but that they have been conditioned to get a thrill out of it and find it thoroughly pleasant.

One might assume that the violence on television is just an addition, an adjunct, to make stories more exciting. But not only does the whole structure of these shows contradict this, there is also internal evidence. An experienced TV writer gave an interview about the way it is done. "You have to work backwards," he says. "You're given a violent situation and you have to work within that framework." In other words, the violence is not an addition, but the hard core of what the television makers want. This revelation of technique is also an answer to the false view that so many people subscribe to, that the violence is there because it is something people want and children need. The brutality in TV crime shows is so insidiously glorified that many people do not recognize it as such any more and accept it as smart. Here, for example, is the famous detective who "fights crime without gun" and "can break a man's arm without wrinkling his gray flannel suit" (or his conscience). He also knows how to "break a bad guy's back if necessary." All this of course, just as in comic books, "as a method of self-protection."

The deductive approach to crime and crime detection, the Sherlock Holmes touch, has been supplanted on television to a large extent by sadism. We asked a nine-year-old television captive, who in telling about the programs seemed to distinguish between mysteries and thrillers, what the difference was between them. His reply: "Mystery is like a heavy amount of suspense, as much suspense as can go, like somebody comes with an axe in the dark and chops somebody up. A thriller is not too much suspense, but quite enough to give you a lot of thrill," To such children classic stories like the "League of Red-Haired Men" or "The Purloined Letter" would seem incredibly trite.

For the child television-viewer, as for the comic-book addict, a sweet smiling happy girl, who is not vicious, not scared, not the helper or victim of a murderer, is just silly or perverse. A series of stills of what is done to girls on TV is good raw material (no pun intended) for the cultural anthropologist or sexual psychopathologist. I have found that children from three to four have learned from television that killing, especially shooting, is one of the established procedures for coping with a problem. That undoubtedly is one of the effects of television on children. It is a most unhealthy effect.

Murders, gunshots and violent acts are as plentiful on TV as raisins in a raisin cake -- in fact some producers seem to think they are the raisins. An average child who is no particular television addict and takes what is offered absorbs from five to eleven murders a day from television. If he would confine himself exclusively to adult programs, the number would be less. It is obvious that the amount of violence offered children by TV derives partly from crime comics. More important than the amount, however, is the qualitative aspect, the connection of violence with other things -- family life, sex, daily living, absence of tragic feelings, etc. -- and the details themselves. A cartoon in Pathfinder magazine with a woman sitting before a television screen saying, "This one had a happy ending -- she finally murders her husband ..." is not just a joke. In a serious vein, the television version of Macbeth with the head cut off on stage and later shown in close-up is typical of the crudity of style and cruelty of content. Whether viewers are emotionally disturbed by such things or whether they are made indifferent and callous by them, they certainly are not elevated or introduced to Shakespeare. The Ford Foundation's Omnibus presentation of King Lear showed Gloucester's eyes being gouged out in such a way that Cue magazine commented, "It was the most ghoulish and revolting bit of business we have ever seen on any stage or screen."

In the face of criticism and in an effort to ward it off, the television industry, again following the example of the comic-book industry, has made widely publicized pompous announcements about a code. The code is pure in that it does not seem to have affected anything or been affected by anything. It is strictly on paper and not on the TV screen. But even the code puts the emphasis on matters which have not done the most harm, namely the specific crime-murder-terror formula. The code and what has been done about it reminds one of the patient who, when told by a physician that he must cut out wine, women and song, replied that he would follow the advice at once, and begin by giving up song.

Outside of the regular television critics, some of whom have stressed the harmful aspects, the literature about television and children is not very helpful. It can be summarized by saying that nearly all these authors want us to study the child, but not the television industry. It emphasizes the individual child (always abstractly) and the individual family, not the general aspects of what television actually does. The assumption seems to be that when anything goes wrong the child must be morbid but the entertainment normal. Why not assume, if such sweeping assertions must be made, that our children are normal, that they like adventure and imagination, that they can be stimulated to excitement, but that maybe something is wrong with what they are looking at? Why assume that they need death and destruction instead of assuming that their interests can be pleasurably directed toward constructive things? And why not assume that they have a latent curiosity about sex which can be satisfied decently instead of being directed toward sadism?

In one brief article "Television for Children," for example, I find no less than three times the phrase "indiscriminate viewing" on the part of the child. That reveals an anti-child attitude. If you repeat three times that the child "views indiscriminately" you might say at least once that what is there to view is offered indiscriminately. If a child is too fascinated by television programs the author suggests diverting his interest "with cookies and milk." I do not know whether the author, like the rest of us, indulges occasionally in any vices; but if he does, would he stop in the middle for "cookies and milk"? No wonder he comes to the standard conclusion: "Actually there is nothing to fear about what TV is doing to our children," the familiar comic-book formula which has served the industry so well.

Unfortunately some psychiatrists and child specialists have written in a similar vein, again as with comic books. Never before in the history of medicine have physicians been so sanguine about children's health as these psychiatrists, without any evidence from clinical research, are about the effect of mass media. One psychiatrist writes dogmatically that normal children are never seriously disturbed by routine experiences such as television. Why should something so new, so experimental and still so unroutine as television be accepted as "routine"? It is an intrusion into the home which from a mental-hygiene point of view still needs scrutiny and correction. He further states that the important thing is that television affects different children differently. That of course is the cheapest truism. The point is what do some television programs have in common that is, or may be, harmful to many children? To say that the average child is "in no way basically disturbed" introduces the loaded word basically. Is it "basic" if the child suffers from nightmares or if he begins to steal or if his character imperceptibly develops in the direction of an obtuse attitude toward the feelings of others? It is my belief that as physicians, especially when we make pronouncements affecting millions, we should have more regard for questions of prevention, whether the harm to be avoided is "basic" or not.

He also discounts the effect of television murder stories on children: "TV murders do not represent death to the pre-school child.... Many children take this synthetic death, blood and murder in their stride and remain undamaged by it.... They take it quite casually ... in order to become well-adjusted one will have to face the common experiences that are a part of the child's life." Is it really a common experience of children to see a bloody death?

The present director of the Child Study Association of America has stated: "Parents have found that the children can watch a half-dozen murders in one evening, get up, kiss mama and daddy good-night, go upstairs, sleep soundly and the next day get their usual grade in spelling." That is a most unclinical statement to make. They could do that if they had early stages of tuberculosis or some other diseases, or if psychologically they had been very badly affected by the "half-dozen murders." This is a crude superficiality in defense of violent television shows. Parents often do not recognize the harm done to children by crime shows. The director of Child Study goes on to say that if children get into trouble over sights on television "these children were sick before they ever saw a TV program." According to these people it is always the rabbit that starts the fight with the dog.

Lay writers have considerable difficulty in steering their way through the vast generalizations of the experts without becoming confused or getting misled. Robert Louis Shayon tried to do this in his book Television and Our Children. He comes to the conclusion that "what television can do to your child will depend on what your child is, what you are educating and guiding him to be before he looks at television." I think it is the other way around: What television can do to your child will depend on what television is, what you are allowing it and guiding it to be before it gets to the child.

My studies of the effect of television on children grew out of the comic-book studies naturally -- I might say inevitably. More and more children told me that they did not read so many comics because they were looking at television. A few children gave up comic books for television. Many combined both. The study of the effect of television on children is more difficult and I marvel at the glib generalizations that have been made about its harmlessness.

We have used with television the same individual and group methods we used with comic books. It is significant how a show is reflected in a child's mind, what his memory vividly retains and what he represses and brings up in later sessions. I found especially revealing what children draw when asked to draw anything they have seen on television. Typical of many others is the drawing made by a sweet little girl of six. The color scheme was massive red, a lot of black and a little blue. She said: "I drew the picture of a man in his hotel room, and someone came in from the window and he had a stick in his hand and he's going to hit the man over the head." And this is exactly what she had drawn, with even the room number over the hotel-room door.

To evaluate the time spent by children before the television screen is difficult. It varies so widely with different children and with the same child that statistical averages are misleading. I have seen a number of children who apparently spent as much as four or five hours a day.

Sometimes it is not easy to determine the influence of television with precision because so many children have been conditioned in similar directions either before or at the same time by comic books.

A ten-year-old boy sent to the Clinic for fire-setting brought us some of his comic books: Detective Comics, Planet Comics, Master Comics, Space Western, Batman. He said he liked TV and looked a lot at "Roy Rogers," "Sky King," "Captain Video," "Space Cadet," "Captain Midnight," "Space Patrol" and "Flash Gordon." A little thing like fire-setting did not rate with him.

During the last few years, when television has been growing so fast, children are sometimes not sure themselves whether they get some of their ideas from comic books or from television. Even so, many observations can be made. The later hours and going-to-bed problem has certainly become exaggerated in most families. I have heard about quite a number of nightmares which are without question attributable to TV.

Some children get overstimulated by violent programs. This happened to Ernie, a ten-year-old boy of superior intelligence much overprotected by his mother. She told me: "He gets very excited sometimes. While looking at television he gets so excited he smacks the girls."

We lead children on to look at the wrong things, then blame them if they develop a craving for what they see. Much as I have searched for it, I have been unable to find that crime and violence programs satisfy psychological needs in children. One would have to assume that the need for outlets of violent aggression in children has suddenly tremendously increased. My findings in this respect corroborate Helen Muir, children's book editor of the Miami Herald, when she makes a distinction between "the real needs and desires of children" and "just the superimposed synthetic so-called needs which are not needs but cravings." She goes on to say, "Sure, the children want TV. And if they started smoking marihuana they'd want marihuana." Mrs. Muir also puts the finger on the worst harm that many so-called children's programs do to children. They fill them up "with false values that confuse and trouble."

I have found that with regard to simple values necessary for social orientation, television has confused some children, troubled others, and made still others (who are not supposed to be affected at all) callous and indifferent to human suffering. Whether such a child then commits a delinquent act or not often depends merely on incidental causes. That was the case with thirteen-year-old Anthony who was a truant and who was questioned in the Hookey Club. He said: "I spend about six hours a day on television. My favorite programs are 'Lights Out' and mysteries."

"What happens?" he was asked.

"People get murdered. People kill for money, for property or for power. They kill women because they are going to tell on them or something. It may be the girl friend of the murderer or a crook that may be murdered. Sometimes the girls do the killing: They shoot them. There is one program where the man needed pills, he had a bad heart. The girl took the pills out of his reach, and moved his phone so he couldn't call anybody, and his pen and pencil so he couldn't write anything, then he died. She was married to him. She killed him because she was tired of him." (This was related in a matter-of-fact way, as if describing a self-understood circumstance.)

He went on: "I like the mystery programs very well. It is all more or less the same thing. The women or the men kill for money, power or they might get tired of a person or they love somebody else. There was a program where this man, he was old, and this girl he married was young. She fell in love with the first young man that came around, so she shot her husband."

About seven months later this boy was arrested for stealing. I examined him again and closed my report to the Children's Court with these words: "This is a typical case of a boy who has spent many hours a day looking at television programs, many of which glorify crime, violence, lawlessness, and depict these scenes in emotionally alluring detail. Under these circumstances, it seems to me not surprising that a boy succumbs to temptation and I believe that the adult world is more to be blamed than this individual child, who has made a good effort to adjust himself. I should point out to the Court that the observations of the bad effect of television programs on this boy were recorded on the chart several months before he was arrested for these delinquencies."

That the good ending of a crime story cancels out the effect of all previous mayhem in a child's mind is as untrue for television as it is for comic books. As a six-year-old boy told me about television, "the cowboys shoot the bad guys, the bad guys shoot the good guys."

The ideas children absorb from endless TV viewing are certainly not healthy. A nice little girl of ten was undergoing a routine examination at the Clinic, having been referred by a social agency. She was the kind of child who does not play and every day after school for hours she watched TV. I asked her, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"A nurse," she said, looking at me with big serious eyes.

Why?" I asked her.

"So that I can poison people" was her immediate reply.

For some children, television has one good effect, in contrast with crime comic books, which have none. I have not seen it mentioned, but children express it often in one way or another. Television gives a feeling of belonging. Adults get that when they not only hear but actually see in their own living room a famous star performing or a prominent figure interviewed on programs like "Meet the Press." Children get the feeling not only that they are taken into the adult world on the screen, but share the same entertainment with older children and adults -- even with the neighbors! This is of course totally different from the solitary overheated entrancement of comic-book reading. It is a positive and good effect of television and it shows how wrong the television industry is in identifying itself with the comic-book industry in its publicity.

Childhood used to be the time for play. Here television has made tremendous inroads. Children look at television (and/or comic books) and often do not play any more, or their playing time is markedly shortened. They get no positive constructive suggestions for their play. What they see on TV (except for a very few children's programs, such as Frances Horwich's "Ding Dong School") they cannot act out or imitate or work through in their play. If they would it would be dangerous play, hurting themselves or others. This, I believe, interferes to some extent with their healthy growth, because play is an important factor in normal development. Premature cessation of play in favor of the passivity of the television screen cannot well be made up for later on. The stereotyped repetitive stories create rigidity and poverty of ideas and fantasies. The two-gun heroes usurp the stage of the dreams of childhood. Instead of the spontaneity necessary for mental health there is a regimentation of feelings. That children imitate what they see on the television screen is undoubted. There have been cases where five-year-olds have shot at the screen with their father's gun to join in what they were looking at. An adolescent girl strangled a six-year-old girl with a stocking after watching a television mystery program. Boys have broken younger kids' bones, arms or legs with wrestling holds that they have learned from rough television shows. Juveniles have shot at girls in imitation of scenes on television. Of course those who prefer to hold that "deeper causes" (usually undemonstrated) rule out all precipitating, conditioning and inducing factors, bitterly contest the fact that watching television may lead to imitation.

Children's play on the street is now of a wildness that it did not have formerly. Children, often with comic books sticking out of their pockets, play massacre, hanging, lynching, torture. The influence of comic books -- and also of television -- is discernible in the nature of these games. Normal play has, I believe, curative forces. But if it gets too violent, these curative forces are extinguished.

The tales that children tell nowadays are also apt to show the influence of comic book-television lore. Three boys, ages ranging from six to eight, recently told the story that a man had grabbed one of their pals, had tied him up, beaten him, cut off his head and buried him in a vacant lot. Policemen were digging patiently for some time in the place the children pointed out, until it was finally realized that it was all made up. The details of the plot should have indicated to them that it was all comic book-television stuff. Even the police played the role assigned to them in comic books!

In television cases as in crime-comics cases I have found a law to be operative. All those factors seemingly insignificant or trivial coming from the child's previous life or from other media enter into the chain of causation if they tend in the same direction. Television has added one more agency in the bombardment of children with negative incentives.

There are many points of contact between much of television as it is today, and crime comic books. The form is different, but the content is similar. As one child said in a study by Dr. Florence Brumbaugh, director of Hunter College Elementary School, television programs are "really comics that move."

It is the faults of television that are like crime comics. Inherently the two are nearly opposites. Television is a miracle of science, on the constructive side of the ledger one of the greatest practical developments of scientific principles of physics. Comic books, on the contrary, are a debasement of the old institution of printing, the corruption of the art of drawing and almost an abolition of literary writing. Television is a signpost to the future. Crime comics are an antisocial medium that belongs in the past.

Television has taken the worst out of comic books, from sadism to Superman. The comic-book Superman has long been recognized as a symbol of violent race superiority. The television Superman, looking like a mixture of an operatic tenor without his armor and an amateur athlete out of a health-magazine advertisement, does not only have "superhuman powers," but explicitly belongs to a "super-race."

Like comic-book figures, crime-television heroes seem to have minds that function only when they draw a gun, prepare to kill somebody or foil someone else's plans. There is no doubt that the highly seasoned fare of children's programs has interfered with the reading of children's books. In one public library the children's department figured that, on account of television, children took out a thousand fewer books than they had the year before. Classic books, mutilated in comic-book form, have been adapted to the television screen. The passivity induced by both television and comics have some similarity. Parents have often told me that without comic books they could not keep their children quiet, and more than one woman has told me what one mother expressed like this: "Give him his TV set and he's perfectly content if he never goes out" -- but she was referring to her husband, not to her son.

The public has judged television much more harshly than it has comic books. That comes from the fact that adults actually see television, whereas as a rule they have no idea what comic books their children really read, or what is in them. When a famous TV star was criticized for plunging necklines, she pointed to the millions of girls in "bras and panties" in children's comics. Some time ago the television industry launched a high-pressure sales campaign. Parents were bombarded with big advertisements that played frivolously with both parents' and children's feelings: "There Are Some Things a Son or Daughter Won't Tell You" and "How Can a Little Girl Describe the Bruise Deep Inside?" This was to show how badly children need television sets. One expert proclaimed that children need TV for their health just as much as they need fresh air and sunshine. His column was dropped from one newspaper as a result, although he had taken his endorsement back. This whole TV campaign brought an outcry of indignation from the public. But what the TV industry and its experts had done was minute compared to the harmful and unscientific promotion campaign the crime-comics industry has been waging for years.

Of course television and crime comic books also meet when comic books are based on television programs. Take the example of Captain Video. This comic book is certainly as bad as other crime comics. There is a lot of assorted violence. Morbid fantasies are conjured up for children, like the one that suddenly mankind's legs do not function: "All of us have recited our theories and admittedly found them inapplicable! There is no hope for mankind's regaining the use of its lower extremities!" The treatment for this infirmity costs "one million dollars for each patient." The hero has a "dreaded electronic ray gun whose scintillating bolt results in complete paralysis." There is the superman cult of the "one man alone to stem the tide of frightening destruction, guardian of the world." The injury-to-the-eye motif is not missing, either.

When Pathfinder magazine wrote about this television show it had an illustration with the legend: "Gory after-dinner crime for juveniles defeats happy puppets" and classified the program as "a juvenile crime show." To this the advertising agency objected, writing (in a letter published by Pathfinder) that the program "is not classified, nor has it ever been classified, in the crime category." They wish to call it a "science fiction" show. That is the familiar comic-book-industry alibi. Anyone who wishes to do anything about improving television programs either from within or without must first realize that scientifically not the disguise but the content is decisive, that crime is crime, paralyzed legs are paralyzed legs, violence is violence and torture is torture, whether the time and place are now and here or in the remoteness of science fiction.

What is the future of television, especially for children? It should be almost impossible to keep it as bad as it often is now. More and more people will demand television instead of tele-violence. In contrast to the crime-comic-book industry with its hacks and hackneyed product, there are many gifted, wide-awake young men and women in the television industry anxious to show what they and the medium can do. I have spoken with some of them and I know that they would like nothing better than to devote their lives to the further development of television as a medium of entertainment, information and instruction. I doubt whether a medium like television, pregnant with the future, and commanding such superior personnel, can be held back in the long run.

The greatest obstacle to the future of good television for children is comic books and the comic-book culture in which we force children to live. If you want television to give uncorrupted programs to children you must first be able to offer it audiences of uncorrupted children.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24531
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Thu Dec 12, 2013 12:36 am

14. The Triumph of Dr. Payn

Comic Books Today and the Future

"When the remedy has been found, the next generation has difficulty in understanding how the old conditions could ever have been allowed."
-- Sir John Simon


When you first meet Dr. Payn, he is in his laboratory wearing a white coat. On a couch before him lies a blonde young woman with conspicuous breasts, bare legs and the lower part of her skirt frazzled and in tatters, as if she had been roughly handled in strenuous but unsuccessful attempts to defend her honor.

Next you see him lying in wait for another beautiful girl. He cuts off her shapely legs. You see her lying on the cobblestoned street without her legs while he rushes off on the sidewalk carrying them in his arms. Then you see him gloating over these lovely legs in his laboratory. The newspapers announce: BUTCHER-KILLER AT LARGE!

Two pictures show the police completely baffled. He stalks another beautiful girl and cuts her hands off: "Not my hands! Oh, No, Please Not my ... OHHHH ... "

Next you see the girl lying hand-less on the sidewalk and again: "Performing his deed of unspeakable horror, Dr. Payn scurried off carrying his GHASTLY BURDEN!"

His third exploit belongs to the psychopathology of hair fetichism. He cuts off a beautiful girl's long blonde hair: "HAIR! Lovely, perfect hair!"

Finally, through a most unlikely accident, he dies, and the police find him dead.

When the decision of Governor Dewey and the lack of decision of Senator Kefauver had given the green light to the comic-book industry, they went ahead full steam. Now no holds are barred. Horror, crime, sadism, monsters, ghouls, corpses dead and alive -- in short, real freedom of expression. All this in comic books addressed to and sold to children.

To whom is such a story as Dr. Payn addressed? This comic book has letters from readers. One says: "I enjoy your books very much and read them in bed at night before I go to sleep. I am eleven years old." When I read this I could not help being reminded of a typical defensive article about comic books in Parents Magazine in which the author says: "Maybe I just don't catch all these subtle symbols of erotism, sadism and worse which comics reputedly contain."

In the lust-murder story of Dr. Payn the criminal was a doctor. In another comic book the criminal is a police lieutenant. He kills his wife by deliberately running over her with his car. At the end he is undetected and completely unsuspected, and presumably lives happily ever after. Six pictures on one page show this policeman-murderer lighting and smoking a cigar, walking triumphantly, with the full knowledge that crime does pay.

He goes free because at the police station an innocent man is tortured into making a confession. The child reader is spared no details. The man is punched in the stomach, hit in the face, his arm twisted behind his back.

"It went on like that for hours! His clothes were torn -- his nose bleeding -- his face battered and bruised! Other detectives took over! They worked in shifts -- pummeling -- threatening -- cursing!"

"HE [the innocent man] LAY SPRAWLED ON HIS STOMACH, BLOOD TRICKLING FROM HIS TOOTHLESS MOUTH! THE BONES IN HIS NOSE WERE SPLINTERED! HIS SCALP HAD BEEN OPENED -- HIS HAIR WAS MATTED WITH STICKY OOZE! HE SOBBED --"

"N-NO-MORE! I ... I ... DID IT! P-PLEASE! sob ... sob! NO-MORE!"

The very last picture in this child's story shows the real murderer, the police lieutenant, smoking his cigar and "cleaning his wife's blood from his car."

Stories like this are now so typical that I could go on and on.

A very sexy-looking girl tells her husband that she is pregnant. He opens his jacket and the girl looks at him, horrified. He tells her: "You couldn't be expecting a child, now, could you? Not very well -- when your husband is a ROBOT!"

A young soldier "keeping watch in his foxhole in Korea" is exterminated by a ghost: "The fangs and talons of the evil witch sank deeper into the jugular vein and then came out, withdrawing rich red blood. The young man sank forward, face up, dead!"

A painter ties the hands of his model to the ceiling, stabs her and uses her blood for paint. (Flowing blood is shown in six pictures. )

An "autopsy" is performed on a man who is still alive and screams.

A man provides murder victims for his wife, who drinks their blood. He grabs a newsboy for her and she says over his bound body: "His throat is as white and soft as a swan's! So tender and youthful!"

Scholars will be interested in this new version of Shakespeare's Hamlet:

THE DEATH SCENE (Hamlet speaking):

Fear not, queen mother!
It was Laertes
And he shall die at my hands!

... Alas! I have been poisoned
And now I, too, go
To join my deceased father!
I, too -- I -- AGGGRRRAA!


In one comic book "the top horror artist in the entire comic book field" is confined in the "state home for mental defectives" where his little son goes to visit him. Dialogue at the gate between the guard and the boy:

Guard: "Yes, I know it's visiting day. But he's still too violent."

Little boy: "I -- I -- just wanted to tell him he's won the 'ghoul' for the most horrible comic book script of the year."

At a time when accusations of bacterial warfare cloud the international scene, children here in the United States and, through export, in many other countries, are instructed that the United States Government is carrying out secret researches on bacteriological warfare and that it is practiced on colored natives:

A man goes to a Government building marked "RESEARCH DIVISION." A scientist in a white coat tells him: "You are aware of the secrecy of these experiments. They are more deadly than the A-bomb!"

Showing him a syringe, he goes on: "There's enough minute bugs in this to kill everything in New York! Pollute drinking-water! Poison masses -- "

The man tells his girl: "Get a load of this Liz. Bacterial warfare!"

He goes to Africa to practice on the natives there what he has learned in the U.S. Government Research Building.

In one picture you are shown a book with the title Bacterial War. This is not propaganda abroad, but the comic-book industry at home.

The stories of murder go from the simple through the gruesome to the weird. One man kills his wife with a poker, another shoots a wolf which is his wife, a third becomes transformed into a huge crab and eats her.

The preceding examples are ordinary samples such as can be picked up at any newsstand or candy store. This is what the comic-book industry is putting out right now under what might be called the Kefauver-Dewey charter. Forgotten are the announcements of self-control and self-regulation. Anything goes. And all this is possible because many well-meaning adults live under the skilfully induced illusion that comic books have been getting better and better. Supposing you were to read in a history book that a distant nation in times gone by gave this kind of literature to its children to read. Would you not be forced to conclude -- whichever historian you follow, whether Gibbons or Toynbee, Spengler or Engels, Croce or Commager -- that here was a civilization poisoning its wellsprings?

One afternoon, after analyzing the content of the latest batch, I was riding on the subway. Across from me was a nice-looking little boy) totally immersed in one of the bloody thrillers I had just gone over. I found myself in a revery. In my fantasy I was addressing a huge audience of parents, doctors, legislators and officials. This is what I was saying:

Set the children free! Give them a chance! Let them develop according to what is best in them. Don't inculcate in them your ugly passions when they have hardly learned to read. Don't teach them all the violence, the shrewdness, the hardness of your own life. Don't spoil the spontaneity of their dreams. Don't lead them halfway to delinquency and when they get there clap them into your reformatories for what is now euphemistically called "group living." Don't stimulate their minds with sex and perversity and label the children abnormal when they react. Don't continue to desecrate death, graves and coffins with your horror stories and degrade sex with the sordid rituals of hitting, hanging, torturing. Don't sow in their young minds the sadistic details of destruction.

Set the children free! All they want is to play, to learn, to grow up. They want to play games of adventure and fun, not your games of wars and killing. They want to learn how the world goes, what the people do who achieve something or discover something. They want to grow up to raise families with homes and children and not revel in morbid visions of Batman and his young friend. They want to grow up into men and women, not supermen and wonder women. Set the children free!


But I caught myself. Ridiculous! Who would listen to that?

I had asked for a law, a simple sanitary law to protect children under fifteen. The children needed it, the parents wanted it, the legislators drafted it, the intellectuals opposed it, the pillars of the community slapped it down. What, I asked myself, happened in the past? How did the protection of children progress historically? I went to the library.

In ancient times children were sacrificed bodily. Henry Bailey Stevens writes in his book The Recovery of Culture: "The success of the blood sacrifice [of infants] was undoubtedly due to the fact that it was sponsored by the thinkers, the leaders. They could argue from evidence which they could claim to be scientific.... Instinctively no doubt many wholesome people recoiled from the practice. But the intellectuals could talk them down scornfully. Let us imagine ourselves in Carthage when the priests of Moloch are demanding the sacrifice of infants. Suppose that you object.... Your associates will suspect you of sentimentality and irreverence. All the political, the social, the educational and the religious world will be arrayed against you. You will be a part of a society that has become infected."

A century ago boys and girls of five and up had to work as chimney sweepers. They got skin diseases from the soot. The proposal was made that the practice of sending children up chimneys be stopped. You can well imagine what their employers would have answered if they had had the benefit of the type of experts the comic-book industry has now. They would have said that only those children who are predisposed get skin diseases, that it is the children's fault if they want to satisfy their need of motility by going up chimneys, that children who don't go up chimneys get skin diseases, too, and besides what better outlet for aggressive instincts is there than to climb up chimneys and do battle with soot? There being no such experts then, the Earl of Lauderdale stated that if something were done for the children by law through an Act of Parliament, private initiative for being benevolent and helping children would be affected and would disappear. And the Religious Tract Society joined in the anti-reform movement and urged these stunted and sick children to wash well on Saturdays, attend Sunday School and read the Bible: "Thus you will be happy little sweeps." It took the British Parliament ninety years to control this legally.

In 1892 children as young as six, and even five and four, had to work in coal mines in England. The parliamentary report about these conditions was illustrated with pictures showing children and nude adults doing their back-breaking work in narrow, low, mine passages. John W. Dodds, in his book The Age of Paradox, records how Lord Londonderry, a coal magnate, was indignant -- not at the facts, but at the pictures. He was afraid they might fall into the hands of refined young ladies. So, as Professor Dodds writes, "change came slowly."

The history of medicine records a controversy about whether young children who have to do industrial work at night need sunlight for their health. It is not yet a hundred years since a physician had to defend in detail that sunlight is good for the immature organism, and that at least part of the day children should have sunlight in order to remain healthy. He was in just such direct contradiction to the employers who made these children work long hours at night as I am to the comic-book publishers. Similar arguments took place on the question of whether children need regular meals, sleep, how old they should be for heavy work and how many hours they should work. Nowadays the intellectuals are just as anxious to guard the freedom of children to read crime comics. In those days, as Lord Elton writes, they were "eager to preserve the liberty of children of six to work eleven hours in the mines." Then they used to quote Bentham, now they quote Freud.

Huntington Cairns, in his treatise The Child and The Low, describes how difficult it was to make Federal laws regulating child labor, how a law involving interstate commerce was proposed, and how the Supreme Court held this unconstitutional. (Justice Holmes dissented, as did Justice Frankfurter in the Winters case.) Cairns quotes a poem published at that time referring to the 5 to 4 decision of the Supreme Court:

Five reverend, wise and gentle men
Have thrust the babies back again.


Child labor today is still a problem of legal control. One constitutional amendment on child labor has been waiting for the necessary state ratification for a quarter of a century. Only recently attempts were made in the New York State Legislature to introduce a law according to which children would have to work without provisions for any minimum age, maximum hours, or protection of health and welfare. The battle between profits and progress goes on.

The flood of new and bad comic books continued to rise. The psychological erosion of children continued. There was no denying the victory of Superman and the triumph of Dr. Payn. Then an important event took place. As reported by Life in "Newsfronts of the World": "The Pacific Fleet Command has banned the sale of most war comic books in ships' stores on the grounds that they are too gory for the American sailor." Military authorities had questioned comic books before, on the grounds of avoiding sale of material that "goes beyond the line of decency." There had been some question of control and some bickering with the industry. But this time there was a clear action, to protect adults. If these war comics which are widely read by children are too "gory" for sailors in an actual war, why is it permitted to display and sell them to boys and girls of six and seven?

We think it is progressive to follow the judgment of children and go by our own feelings of wishing not to be interfered with. In other words, we go by what children think and by what we feel, instead of going by what we think and what children feel. We neglect the corrosive effect of external factors, such as comic books, in favor of more and more abstract speculations about intrinsic factors. We pretend that hostility and destructiveness are ingrained in the child and need expression, and fail to recognize what is instilled in him from outside. We teach these wrong concepts to young doctors and teachers who on that basis in turn make wrong observations, confirming our false conceptions. At a conference of kindergarten and first-year teachers in New York, under the auspices of the Board of Education, this official recommendation was given: "It is necessary to stress the normality of hostility; all children feel it and it is psychologically and biologically sound. Teachers must appreciate also the importance of accepting hostility without attaching moral values."

You cannot accept hostility without moral evaluation. For hostility in itself causes a moral conflict in the child. A society which itself adopts the standards and point of view of comic books is bound to arrive at false conclusions.

Thus my studies had almost completed a cycle. I had started from comic books, had gone on to study the needs and desires of children and had come to adults. I had learned that it is not a question of the comic books but of the mentality from which comic books spring, and that it was not the mentality of children but the mentality of adults. What I found was not an individual condition of children, but a social condition of adults.

The conflict that I came across occurs on different levels. There is first the conflict between the child and the comic book. This becomes an emotional conflict within the child himself. While there are parents who are delighted that comic books keep their children quiet, that is a short-range view because comic books have led to many conflicts between parents and children. There is further the conflict between the mothers' good sense and the experts' dogmas. On a wider scale a conflict developed between active local groups of women's clubs, mothers' clubs and parent-teacher organizations and their inactive national leadership. In 1949 the president of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers described comic books "as a chief influence of today on the minds of the young." What have they done about it?

Underlying it all is the conflict between the surge of violence today, of which comic-book violence is just a reflection, and a new morality, as expressed in the dissenting opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Winters case, which wants to stem the tide of education for violence.

The way people reacted to comic books is how they often react to other things, too. First they did not know -- but they thought they did; then when told, they did not believe it; then, when shown, they said that's an exception; and when that was disproved, there was an endless stream of excuses: that things were getting better and better, that the evil would voluntarily improve itself, that singling out one evil was just looking for a "scapegoat." Thus they can keep not only their physical comfort but their intellectual comfort as well.

People neglect the pre-violent manifestations of the trend toward violence. They forget what the philosopher Erwin Edman said: "It does not take long for a society to become brutalized." Comic books are not the disease, they are only a symptom. And they are far more significant as symptoms than as causes. They shed some light on the whole foundation of moral and social behavior. That, I began to feel, was the most positive result of our studies. The same social forces that make crime comic books make other social evils, and the same social forces that keep crime comic books keep the other social evils the way they are. Even the arguments to defend them are the same for both.

Whenever you hear a public discussion of comic books, you will hear sooner or later an advocate of the industry say with a triumphant smile, "Comic books are here to stay." I do not believe it. Someday parents will realize that comic books are not a necessary evil "which, but their children's end, naught can remove." I am convinced that in some way or other the democratic process will assert itself and crime comic books will go, and with them all they stand for and all that sustains them. But before they can tackle Superman, Dr. Payn, and all their myriad incarnations, people will have to learn that it is a distorted idea to think that democracy means giving good and evil an equal chance at expression. We must learn that freedom is not something that one can have, but is something that one must do.

One evening at the Lafargue Clinic a young woman came to see me. She was the mother of a boy who after some delinquency had been referred to the Clinic and been treated there. She told me that the boy had got into trouble again, this time picked up with a switchblade knife. He was now in a youth shelter and she had been told he would be sent to a reformatory. I remembered her as a hardworking woman who had given the best care and education to her children that she could. She was very distressed and I tried to console her. Then I called in one of the social workers and we made plans to get in touch with the authorities, either to prevent his being sent to the reformatory or, if that did not work, to try to have him released from there as soon as possible. "I know your boy," I said to her, "and the Clinic will take full responsibility for him again." She thanked me and went out.

About an hour later when the Clinic was closed, I left the office. Walking through one of the corridors of the building I saw out of the corner of my eye a woman sitting on a bench crying. I recognized the mother I had spoken to. It was late, and I was tired, but I went over to her and took her back to the office.

By that time she had managed to control her sobbing, but she could not talk. So I consoled her again and told her we would do whatever we could. Then I added, "I know what you have done for this boy. Don't think that it's your fault."

At that she looked up, all alert. "It must be my fault," she said. "I heard that in the lectures. And the judge said it, too. It's the parents' fault that the children do something wrong. Maybe when he was very young --"

"Not at all," I interrupted her. "You have done all that you could. I have the whole chart here and we know it from the boy himself. You are a good mother, and you've given this boy a good home. But the influence of a good home is frustrated if it is not supported by the other influences children are exposed to -- the comic books, the crime programs and all that. Adult influences work against them. We have studied that, and we know good parents when we see them. So don't worry about yourself. It's not your fault."

She seemed to come out from under a cloud. She thanked me and got up to go. When she was halfway through the doorway she turned slowly. "Doctor," she said in a low voice. "I'm sorry to take your time. But please -- tell me again."

I looked at her questioningly.

"Tell me again," she said slowly and hesitantly. "Tell me again that it isn't my fault."

And I did.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24531
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat Jun 27, 2015 5:22 am

The violence that manifests itself in violent crimes is not the expression of an inborn instinct of aggression and destruction. People like to be non-violent. It is always other negative factors in personality development and in the social medium where growth of the personality takes place that lead to murderous acts of violence. The murderer can never kill without a transformation of values which may come from the innermost mind but is always derived ultimately from social prejudgments and prejudices.

***

What brings the science of psychiatry in the psychoanalytic era into such close and fruitful relationship with the art of literature is that psychoanalysis is analysis of a special kind. It does not delve into the mind to isolate disparate elements. Psychoanalysis always aims to relate the detail, the symbol, to the living organism as a whole. It is here that the research of the scientist and the search of the artist find a common ground. Great writers know how to give a unified picture of a whole personality through minute observation of a meaningful expression, a characteristic mannerism, or an unconscious habit.

***

The Superman type of comic books tends to force and superforce. Dr. Paul A. Witty, professor of education at Northwestern University, has well described these comics when he said that they "present our world in a kind of fascist setting of violence and hate and destruction. I think it is bad for children," he goes on, "to get that kind of recurring diet ... [they] place too much emphasis on a fascist society. Therefore the democratic ideals that we should seek are likely to be overlooked."

***

The fight against violent toys by mothers (and grandmothers) is an old one. When Goethe in 1795 heard that a miniature guillotine was being exhibited at the Frankfurt fair he asked his mother to buy one for his six-year-old son August. But she wrote him: "All that I can do for you I like to do and it gives me pleasure. But to buy such an infamous murder machine -- that I won't do for anything! To let children play with something so awful -- to put in their hands instruments for murder and bloodshed -- no, that won't be done."

***

Is anything to be gained by the current cheap generalization that healthy normal children are not affected by bad things and that for unhealthy abnormal children bad things do not make much difference either, because the children are bad anyhow?

***

We have noticed that in Rorschach tests children may see forms that adults usually do not see. Investigated, they often turn out to be forms related to what they have seen in comic books, especially weird and horror comics, e.g. ghost forms, fantastic hands, etc. These are apt to be misinterpreted by psychologists as meaning complex-determined anxieties and phobias, whereas actually they are just reminiscences from comic-book illustrations. Here according to our findings an important inroad has been made into children's imagination and imagery, and of course also into their actions.

***

The Rorschach Test is a valid scientific method. I was one of the first psychiatrists to use it in this country and published research on it over twenty years ago. In my experience with children and adults I have found it a revealing auxiliary method. But in recent years it has been too often used uncritically, interpreted with the bias of a purely biological determinism, leaving out all social influence, and given by psychologists with either faulty clinical orientation, or with no clinical orientation at all. Under these circumstances, the Rorschach Test like any other wrongly applied scientific method has given wrong results. It has been used, for example, to bolster the conception of more or less fixed psychological-biological phases of childhood development. And this is a conception which has caused parents whose children do not conform to textbooks a great deal of anxiety. It has led psychologists to socially unrealistic generalizations. A recent text on children's Rorschach responses describes as the "essence" of the average normal seven-year-old child a most abnormal preoccupation with morbidity, mutilation, pain, decay, blood and violence. But that is not the normal essence of the average American child, nor of any other child! You cannot draw true conclusions from any test if you ignore the broad educational, social and cultural influences on the child, his family and his street. These influences, of which comic books are just one (although a very potent one), favor, condone, purvey and glorify violence. The violent meaning of the Rorschach responses is not the norm for the age of seven; unfortunately it seems to be becoming the norm for a civilization of adults.

***

Comparison of our continuing observations led to definite conclusions. Of course young children are apt to be "wild," and I saw plenty of them in the thirties. But it was a natural wildness. Many children in the period some ten years later showed a kind of artificial wildness, with a dash of adult brutality and violence far from childlike. From comic books they derive ideas of activity and excitement not in the form of concentrated imaginative play, but in the form of crude and combative action.

***

To advise a child not to read a comic book works only if you can explain to him your reasons. For example, a ten-year-old girl from a cultivated and literate home asked me why I thought it was harmful to read Wonder Woman (a crime comic which we have found to be one of the most harmful). She saw in her home many good books and I took that as a starting point, explaining to her what good stories and novels are. "Supposing," I told her, "you get used to eating sandwiches made with very strong seasonings, with onions and peppers and highly spiced mustard. You will lose your taste for simple bread and butter and for finer food. The same is true of reading strong comic books. If later on you want to read a good novel it may describe how a young boy and girl sit together and watch the rain falling. They talk about themselves and the pages of the book describe what their innermost little thoughts are. This is what is called literature. But you will never be able to appreciate that if in comic-book fashion you expect that at any minute someone will appear and pitch both of them out of the window." In this case the girl understood, and the advice worked.

***

Play observation and therapy are sometimes misunderstood by those inexperienced in the method and by the public. Violently destructive play is interpreted as a natural phase of child development and the erroneous idea is propagated that it will be advantageous to the child to let him indulge in violence as much as he likes. For example, a recent popularized medical column is headed "Play Therapy Lets Child Vent His Anger On Toys." And then it goes on to describe, as if it were a common occurrence, how a little boy who hated his mother and sister strangled two dolls and tried to dismember them. The same boy stuck pins into another doll supposed to represent the doctor. The physician who writes the column takes for granted that the emotion which children express in the playroom should be hostility. He says, "The therapist accepts fighting and interrupts only when it is obvious that someone is going to be hurt." He takes it for granted that chairs will be broken! But this is all wrong. Most children do not engage in such violence, and certainly not from ingrained tendencies, and if they do, a good therapist would certainly analyze the causes for such violence early and help the child to understand and overcome it.

***

Children are more isolated than we think, and have few in whom they can confide without fear of misunderstanding or recrimination. Adults rarely realize how serious children are about their conflicts. They want to be straightened out. They shrink from a judge; but in the Hookey Club, where they were even more severely questioned by their peers, they could speak out fully and openly about anything whatsoever. When children question one another, one can readily see how the troubles of children reflect the troubles and conflicts of society. My experiences with the Hookey Club have confirmed me in my opinion that valuable personality assets slumber in delinquent children. By regarding these children as inferior or emotionally sick or psychopathic, we miss the constellation of social and individual forces that leads to delinquency and deprives these children of really scientific help. To characterize them merely by negative qualities is both unjust and scientifically inaccurate.

***

Sometimes I have asked children to copy anything they like out of their comic books. Then I have shown these productions to psychologists (without telling that they were copies from comic-book illustrations) and asked for interpretations -- routine interpretations such as they make of other children's drawings. Here is a psychologist's interpretation of a drawing made by a boy of a typical comic-book illustration of a pirate: "This drawing is bristling with phallic symbols -- the sword, the outstretched arm, the big gun stuck under the belt, the conspicuous belt buckle and the shirt opened down to the belt; the way the legs are posed and the boots are drawn has some phallic quality, too. The actual genitals are extremely accentuated. The figure is that of a very glamorous man. He looks seductive. The whole body is emphasized more than the head, and there is very little attempt at control. This child was preoccupied with sexual ideas. He is very aggressive sexually -- not someone who would ask nicely, but who takes (rapes)."

***

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.

***

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.

***

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."

***

The most subtle and pervading effect of crime comics on children can be summarized in a single phrase: moral disarmament. I have studied this in children who do not commit overt acts of delinquency, who do not show any of the more conspicuous symptoms of emotional disorder and who may not have difficulty in school. The more subtle this influence is, the more detrimental it may be. It is an influence on character, on attitude, on the higher functions of social responsibility, on superego formation and on the intuitive feeling for right and wrong. To put it more concretely, it consists chiefly in a blunting of the finer feelings of conscience, of mercy, of sympathy for other people's suffering and of respect for women as women and not merely as sex objects to be bandied around or as luxury prizes to be fought over. Crime comics are such highly flavored fare that they affect children's taste for the finer influences of education, for art, for literature and for the decent and constructive relationships between human beings and especially between the sexes.

***

The cultural background of millions of American children comes from the teaching of the home, the teaching of the school (and church), the teaching of the street and from crime comic books. For many children the last is the most exciting. It arouses their interest, their mental participation, their passions and their sympathies, but almost entirely in the wrong direction. The atmosphere of crime comic books is unparalleled in the history of children's literature of any time or any nation. It is a distillation of viciousness. The world of the comic book is the world of the strong, the ruthless, the bluffer, the shrewd deceiver, the torturer and the thief. All the emphasis is on exploits where somebody takes advantage of somebody else, violently, sexually or threateningly. It is no more the world of braves and squaws, but one of punks and molls. Force and violence in any conceivable form are romanticized. Constructive and creative forces in children are channeled by comic books into destructive avenues. Trust, loyalty, confidence, solidarity, sympathy, charity, compassion are ridiculed. Hostility and hate set the pace of almost every story. A natural scientist who had looked over comic books expressed this to me, tersely, "In comic books life is worth nothing; there is no dignity of a human being."

***

In modification of the Fernald method of letting children judge the severity of offenses, I have often asked them about punishment. Why do people get punished, what is just punishment, how does it come about that people get punished? Frequently the reply is that it serves the criminal right, whatever the punishment may be: "He got caught, didn't he?" My clinical findings leave no room for doubt that children learn from crime comics that the real guilt is getting caught. They have little faith in any ordinary public processes of having an offense evaluated and justly and humanely dealt with. The law enforcers are criminals in reverse. They use the same methods. If they are also stronger and there are more of them, they win; if not, they lose. In many subtle and not so subtle forms the lynch spirit is taught as a moral lesson. Many children have told me that lynching is all right and have shown me examples from their comic books. In one such story the townspeople get together, hunt the criminal and he is finally shot and killed. The lesson is in the last sentence: "The story of Lee Gillon proves that fearless people banded together will always see that justice triumphs."

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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."

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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 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."

***

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 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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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."

***

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.

***

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!

***

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.

***

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.

***

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!"

***

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, does 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.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24531
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat Jun 27, 2015 5:22 am

The violence that manifests itself in violent crimes is not the expression of an inborn instinct of aggression and destruction. People like to be non-violent. It is always other negative factors in personality development and in the social medium where growth of the personality takes place that lead to murderous acts of violence. The murderer can never kill without a transformation of values which may come from the innermost mind but is always derived ultimately from social prejudgments and prejudices.

***

What brings the science of psychiatry in the psychoanalytic era into such close and fruitful relationship with the art of literature is that psychoanalysis is analysis of a special kind. It does not delve into the mind to isolate disparate elements. Psychoanalysis always aims to relate the detail, the symbol, to the living organism as a whole. It is here that the research of the scientist and the search of the artist find a common ground. Great writers know how to give a unified picture of a whole personality through minute observation of a meaningful expression, a characteristic mannerism, or an unconscious habit.

***

The Superman type of comic books tends to force and superforce. Dr. Paul A. Witty, professor of education at Northwestern University, has well described these comics when he said that they "present our world in a kind of fascist setting of violence and hate and destruction. I think it is bad for children," he goes on, "to get that kind of recurring diet ... [they] place too much emphasis on a fascist society. Therefore the democratic ideals that we should seek are likely to be overlooked."

***

The fight against violent toys by mothers (and grandmothers) is an old one. When Goethe in 1795 heard that a miniature guillotine was being exhibited at the Frankfurt fair he asked his mother to buy one for his six-year-old son August. But she wrote him: "All that I can do for you I like to do and it gives me pleasure. But to buy such an infamous murder machine -- that I won't do for anything! To let children play with something so awful -- to put in their hands instruments for murder and bloodshed -- no, that won't be done."

***

Is anything to be gained by the current cheap generalization that healthy normal children are not affected by bad things and that for unhealthy abnormal children bad things do not make much difference either, because the children are bad anyhow?

***

We have noticed that in Rorschach tests children may see forms that adults usually do not see. Investigated, they often turn out to be forms related to what they have seen in comic books, especially weird and horror comics, e.g. ghost forms, fantastic hands, etc. These are apt to be misinterpreted by psychologists as meaning complex-determined anxieties and phobias, whereas actually they are just reminiscences from comic-book illustrations. Here according to our findings an important inroad has been made into children's imagination and imagery, and of course also into their actions.

***

The Rorschach Test is a valid scientific method. I was one of the first psychiatrists to use it in this country and published research on it over twenty years ago. In my experience with children and adults I have found it a revealing auxiliary method. But in recent years it has been too often used uncritically, interpreted with the bias of a purely biological determinism, leaving out all social influence, and given by psychologists with either faulty clinical orientation, or with no clinical orientation at all. Under these circumstances, the Rorschach Test like any other wrongly applied scientific method has given wrong results. It has been used, for example, to bolster the conception of more or less fixed psychological-biological phases of childhood development. And this is a conception which has caused parents whose children do not conform to textbooks a great deal of anxiety. It has led psychologists to socially unrealistic generalizations. A recent text on children's Rorschach responses describes as the "essence" of the average normal seven-year-old child a most abnormal preoccupation with morbidity, mutilation, pain, decay, blood and violence. But that is not the normal essence of the average American child, nor of any other child! You cannot draw true conclusions from any test if you ignore the broad educational, social and cultural influences on the child, his family and his street. These influences, of which comic books are just one (although a very potent one), favor, condone, purvey and glorify violence. The violent meaning of the Rorschach responses is not the norm for the age of seven; unfortunately it seems to be becoming the norm for a civilization of adults.

***

Comparison of our continuing observations led to definite conclusions. Of course young children are apt to be "wild," and I saw plenty of them in the thirties. But it was a natural wildness. Many children in the period some ten years later showed a kind of artificial wildness, with a dash of adult brutality and violence far from childlike. From comic books they derive ideas of activity and excitement not in the form of concentrated imaginative play, but in the form of crude and combative action.

***

To advise a child not to read a comic book works only if you can explain to him your reasons. For example, a ten-year-old girl from a cultivated and literate home asked me why I thought it was harmful to read Wonder Woman (a crime comic which we have found to be one of the most harmful). She saw in her home many good books and I took that as a starting point, explaining to her what good stories and novels are. "Supposing," I told her, "you get used to eating sandwiches made with very strong seasonings, with onions and peppers and highly spiced mustard. You will lose your taste for simple bread and butter and for finer food. The same is true of reading strong comic books. If later on you want to read a good novel it may describe how a young boy and girl sit together and watch the rain falling. They talk about themselves and the pages of the book describe what their innermost little thoughts are. This is what is called literature. But you will never be able to appreciate that if in comic-book fashion you expect that at any minute someone will appear and pitch both of them out of the window." In this case the girl understood, and the advice worked.

***

Play observation and therapy are sometimes misunderstood by those inexperienced in the method and by the public. Violently destructive play is interpreted as a natural phase of child development and the erroneous idea is propagated that it will be advantageous to the child to let him indulge in violence as much as he likes. For example, a recent popularized medical column is headed "Play Therapy Lets Child Vent His Anger On Toys." And then it goes on to describe, as if it were a common occurrence, how a little boy who hated his mother and sister strangled two dolls and tried to dismember them. The same boy stuck pins into another doll supposed to represent the doctor. The physician who writes the column takes for granted that the emotion which children express in the playroom should be hostility. He says, "The therapist accepts fighting and interrupts only when it is obvious that someone is going to be hurt." He takes it for granted that chairs will be broken! But this is all wrong. Most children do not engage in such violence, and certainly not from ingrained tendencies, and if they do, a good therapist would certainly analyze the causes for such violence early and help the child to understand and overcome it.

***

Children are more isolated than we think, and have few in whom they can confide without fear of misunderstanding or recrimination. Adults rarely realize how serious children are about their conflicts. They want to be straightened out. They shrink from a judge; but in the Hookey Club, where they were even more severely questioned by their peers, they could speak out fully and openly about anything whatsoever. When children question one another, one can readily see how the troubles of children reflect the troubles and conflicts of society. My experiences with the Hookey Club have confirmed me in my opinion that valuable personality assets slumber in delinquent children. By regarding these children as inferior or emotionally sick or psychopathic, we miss the constellation of social and individual forces that leads to delinquency and deprives these children of really scientific help. To characterize them merely by negative qualities is both unjust and scientifically inaccurate.

***

Sometimes I have asked children to copy anything they like out of their comic books. Then I have shown these productions to psychologists (without telling that they were copies from comic-book illustrations) and asked for interpretations -- routine interpretations such as they make of other children's drawings. Here is a psychologist's interpretation of a drawing made by a boy of a typical comic-book illustration of a pirate: "This drawing is bristling with phallic symbols -- the sword, the outstretched arm, the big gun stuck under the belt, the conspicuous belt buckle and the shirt opened down to the belt; the way the legs are posed and the boots are drawn has some phallic quality, too. The actual genitals are extremely accentuated. The figure is that of a very glamorous man. He looks seductive. The whole body is emphasized more than the head, and there is very little attempt at control. This child was preoccupied with sexual ideas. He is very aggressive sexually -- not someone who would ask nicely, but who takes (rapes)."

***

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.

***

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.

***

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."

***

The most subtle and pervading effect of crime comics on children can be summarized in a single phrase: moral disarmament. I have studied this in children who do not commit overt acts of delinquency, who do not show any of the more conspicuous symptoms of emotional disorder and who may not have difficulty in school. The more subtle this influence is, the more detrimental it may be. It is an influence on character, on attitude, on the higher functions of social responsibility, on superego formation and on the intuitive feeling for right and wrong. To put it more concretely, it consists chiefly in a blunting of the finer feelings of conscience, of mercy, of sympathy for other people's suffering and of respect for women as women and not merely as sex objects to be bandied around or as luxury prizes to be fought over. Crime comics are such highly flavored fare that they affect children's taste for the finer influences of education, for art, for literature and for the decent and constructive relationships between human beings and especially between the sexes.

***

The cultural background of millions of American children comes from the teaching of the home, the teaching of the school (and church), the teaching of the street and from crime comic books. For many children the last is the most exciting. It arouses their interest, their mental participation, their passions and their sympathies, but almost entirely in the wrong direction. The atmosphere of crime comic books is unparalleled in the history of children's literature of any time or any nation. It is a distillation of viciousness. The world of the comic book is the world of the strong, the ruthless, the bluffer, the shrewd deceiver, the torturer and the thief. All the emphasis is on exploits where somebody takes advantage of somebody else, violently, sexually or threateningly. It is no more the world of braves and squaws, but one of punks and molls. Force and violence in any conceivable form are romanticized. Constructive and creative forces in children are channeled by comic books into destructive avenues. Trust, loyalty, confidence, solidarity, sympathy, charity, compassion are ridiculed. Hostility and hate set the pace of almost every story. A natural scientist who had looked over comic books expressed this to me, tersely, "In comic books life is worth nothing; there is no dignity of a human being."

***

In modification of the Fernald method of letting children judge the severity of offenses, I have often asked them about punishment. Why do people get punished, what is just punishment, how does it come about that people get punished? Frequently the reply is that it serves the criminal right, whatever the punishment may be: "He got caught, didn't he?" My clinical findings leave no room for doubt that children learn from crime comics that the real guilt is getting caught. They have little faith in any ordinary public processes of having an offense evaluated and justly and humanely dealt with. The law enforcers are criminals in reverse. They use the same methods. If they are also stronger and there are more of them, they win; if not, they lose. In many subtle and not so subtle forms the lynch spirit is taught as a moral lesson. Many children have told me that lynching is all right and have shown me examples from their comic books. In one such story the townspeople get together, hunt the criminal and he is finally shot and killed. The lesson is in the last sentence: "The story of Lee Gillon proves that fearless people banded together will always see that justice triumphs."

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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."

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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 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."

***

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 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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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."

***

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.

***

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!

***

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.

***

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.

***

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!"

***

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, does 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.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24531
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat Jun 27, 2015 5:22 am

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?

***

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.

***

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.

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.

***

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."

***

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?

***

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.

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.

***

"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.

***

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.

***

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."

***

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."

***

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.

***

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 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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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."

***

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."

***

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."

***

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.

***

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"?

***

Whenever there is any court action stemming from comic books the question of what is in comic books does not come up at all. The industry relies then on the constitutional guarantee of free speech. It draws people's attention away from the real issue and veils the business in an idealistic haze. The framers of the Constitution and its amendments would certainly be surprised if they knew that these guarantees are used to sell to children stories with pictures in which men prowl the streets and dismember beautiful girls. The industry regards selling books to children as its prerogative, that is to say as a right to be exercised without external control. To use constitutional rights against progressive legislation is of course an old story. Theodore Roosevelt encountered it when he campaigned for pure food laws.

In these assertions of freedom in the case of comic books, just the opposite is concealed. "We are allowing ourselves," said Virgilia Peterson, "in the name of free speech (oh, fatal misuse of a high principle) to be bamboozled into buying or letting our children buy the worst propaganda on the market. It is a tyranny by a handful of unscrupulous people. It is as much a tyranny as any other on the face of the earth."

***

It is a widely held fallacy that civil liberties are endangered or could be curtailed via children's books. But freedom to publish crime comics has nothing to do with civil liberties. It is a perversion of the very idea of civil liberties. It has been said that if comic books for children were censored on account of their violence "you couldn't have a picture of Lincoln's assassination in a textbook." Would that be such a calamity? There are many other pictures of Lincoln's time and life that would be far more instructive. But the whole inference is wrong, in any case. A picture of Lincoln's assassination would be incidental to a book expounding larger themes. In crime comic books, murder, violence and rape are the theme.

***

When closely scrutinized, the objections to some form of control of comic books turn out to be what are psychologically called rationalizations. They rationalize the desire to leave everything as it is. The very newspaper, the New York Herald Tribune, which pioneered in comic-book critique, said editorially later: "Censorship cannot be set up in this one field without undermining essential safeguards in other fields." The example of Canada alone, and of Sweden and other countries, has shown how spurious this argument is. A committee set up by comic-book publishers stated at their first meeting that censorship is an "illegal method." That certainly confuses things. An editorial in the New York Times entitled "Comic Book Censorship" says on the one hand: "We think the comic books have, on the whole, had an injurious effect on children and in various ways"; but goes on to say: "Public opinion will succeed in making the reforms needed. To wait for that to happen is far less dangerous than to abridge freedom of the right to publish." How long are we supposed to wait? We have now waited for over a decade -- and right now there are more and worse crime comic books than ever before. And would the forbidding of mad killers and rapers and torturers for children abridge the freedom of the Times to publish anything it wants to? Why should a newspaper that stands for the principle of publishing what is "fit to print" make itself the champion of those who publish what is unfit to print?

***

A century ago boys and girls of five and up had to work as chimney sweepers. They got skin diseases from the soot. The proposal was made that the practice of sending children up chimneys be stopped. You can well imagine what their employers would have answered if they had had the benefit of the type of experts the comic-book industry has now. They would have said that only those children who are predisposed get skin diseases, that it is the children's fault if they want to satisfy their need of motility by going up chimneys, that children who don't go up chimneys get skin diseases, too, and besides what better outlet for aggressive instincts is there than to climb up chimneys and do battle with soot? There being no such experts then, the Earl of Lauderdale stated that if something were done for the children by law through an Act of Parliament, private initiative for being benevolent and helping children would be affected and would disappear. And the Religious Tract Society joined in the anti-reform movement and urged these stunted and sick children to wash well on Saturdays, attend Sunday School and read the Bible: "Thus you will be happy little sweeps." It took the British Parliament ninety years to control this legally.

***

Whenever you hear a public discussion of comic books, you will hear sooner or later an advocate of the industry say with a triumphant smile, "Comic books are here to stay." I do not believe it. Someday parents will realize that comic books are not a necessary evil "which, but their children's end, naught can remove." I am convinced that in some way or other the democratic process will assert itself and crime comic books will go, and with them all they stand for and all that sustains them. But before they can tackle Superman, Dr. Payn, and all their myriad incarnations, people will have to learn that it is a distorted idea to think that democracy means giving good and evil an equal chance at expression. We must learn that freedom is not something that one can have, but is something that one must do.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 24531
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Previous

Return to Media Violence Studies

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests

cron