So what is this “Hookey Club” I’ve been trying to get too all week? Granted the only thing special about it is that it’s the last thing to discuss with this chapter and I’ve been trying to get over with it. But when he claims something I used as a refuge from bullying causes bullying I’ve to got try even harder to be fair. I know he means well and he deals with a lot of troubled (not necessarily bad or criminal) kids all day, but I keep feeling like he’s searching for an easy answer. Could a kid of weaker conscience be influenced by something he or she sees? There’s plenty of evidence of that, although it was usually something they shouldn’t see or they were already a little on the crazy psycho side. But it sounds like, even though he uses the word “influence” he’s saying comics cause these kids to pursue these actions and I’m going to take offense to that. Remember, this man is saying that Superman will drive kids to perform criminal acts.

So….the Hookey Club. After the second World War Wertham came up with the idea of a meeting place for delinquents and predelinquents. And no, I don’t know how you determine what a predelinquent is. Even spell check doesn’t know what that is. This group was affectionately called the Hookey Club one time and the name stuck, truancy being a big issue with this group. It’s actually a good idea. So let’s check his findings with what we as comic fans know comics to be.  Here’s the link once again to this chapter so you can follow along.

The name Hookey Club started in this way. I was confronted with several children one day who were truants. While interviewing them as a group, they began questioning one another. This went so well that I asked them to return in a group. Little by little, whenever children with truancy problems came, my assistants would feed them into the group- therapy class. Once, before one of the weekly meetings, I said to a social worker, “I see the Hookey Club is coming in today.” She laughed and repeated the remark, and the name stuck.

It’s as good a name as any. The members ranged between thirteen and sixteen, which Wertham still calls children instead of teenagers. Truancy was the minimum offense although there were some who committed worse acts. Wertham claims the program worked with a high success rate. So what is this program?

The sessions were strictly secret, with only myself and usually a stenographer present. All details remained confidential. At each session the case of one boy or girl or some general topic on someone’s mind was discussed. One child functioned as chairman to maintain order. Every boy or girl at the session could question the child whose case was taken up. And everyone could express his opinion about the case. Among the children were always some experts in various forms of delinquency who questioned the child who was up for discussion. Whatever a child might have learned from comic books for the commission of a delinquent act, the group never accepted that as an excuse. Nor did any child ever spontaneously bring it up as an excuse.

And yet only this excuse is looked into. I think that’s the problem with focusing exclusively on the “dangers” of comics for 14 chapters. It comes across as he is coming down on comics as the cause, but it seems like he’s trying to protect himself from people who like comics by telling us that he wasn’t accepting that as a sole excuse…but he’s not really telling us anything else. If comics are somehow having an influence explain the other factors. Maybe a parent reading will actually take a closer look at their own households. Remember that this book is treated as the book that influenced (unintended but “heh” just the same) parents and senators to force the creation of the Comics Code we know after the original Code, which was based on the Hayes Code for movies at the time, fell into disuse rather quickly.

In the Hookey Club the group was both judge and jury. I functioned merely as advisor. The children could recommend that a boy be allowed to leave school and be given his working papers, or that he should stay in school. They could suggest that a boy should not be taken off parole or that he should be. When I had to make a report about a child, the Hookey Club members discussed whether the child should be referred to the Children’s Court or should receive supervision by the Juvenile Aid Bureau or should just be left under Hookey Club jurisdiction. Sometimes they suggested that no report be made until they had seen the child in question longer.

Frankly this does sound like a very good program. And if it’s as successful as Wertham claims I hope they still use it for minor offenders (not to be confused with offenders who are minors, because some adults might benefit as well).

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.

I don’t know why “Hookey Club” is in bold so often in the article I’m copy/pasting from. I do like this idea. There are a lot of adults who take the same approach with every child and teen. Some kids respond better to a soft touch, while others require a harder touch to get their attention. Fire and brimstone doesn’t work for everyone but that doesn’t mean abandoning it and losing the ones it will. Some adults don’t know how to reach out to children, some outright hate children, and some try to treat them like little adults, and the same goes for teens. That doesn’t work very often. I’ve spent my time around kids too, only most of them never got into legal troubles and kids are as different as adults, and yet they aren’t adults.

Forms of delinquency that adults know little about and children frequently encounter, like juvenile extortion rackets, were discussed. “Why did you steal the five dollars?” the thirteen- year-old chairman of one session asked. “I’ll explain it to you, answered the fourteen-year-old whose case was being probed. “The older kids in school were getting up a mob and if I did not pay them some money they’d get after me and beat me up.” To an adult this may sound like an untrue excuse, but there were always some juvenile experts in the Hookey Club who recognized a social reality when they saw it. Often boys who practiced the extortion racket themselves were questioned by the group:

After that woman in chapter one who just wanted to hide the criminal acts kids were doing in their own neighborhood, I can see why nobody would have known about an extortion racket. I have trouble believing a thirteen-year-old ever started dialog with “I’ll explain it to you”, though. 🙂

Q: Where did it happen?
A: In the school yard.
Q: How did you know he had money?
A: I asked him how much money has he got, he said a dollar.
Q: How old was the boy?
A: About thirteen.
Q: How did you know he couldn’t beat you?
A: I took money from him before, two weeks before that I got a wallet and fifteen cents before that.
Q: Did you do anything worse than the other things?
A: Yes. I stabbed a boy.
Q: When was that?
A: That was last year. The boy was about twelve years old. I stabbed him with a knife, a pocket knife. I stabbed him in the back. They put me in the shelter for two weeks.

Remember, these are kids talking to each other. Supposedly. The therapist and stenographer aren’t supposed to be doing much. I have to wonder how accurate the transcription is. I know they’re keeping names out except for that specific case because it was in the papers, but listen…or read…how this next part goes.

In such cases I often found that the whole comic-book ideology and methodology were apparent in both those who answered and those who questioned. The boys evaluated this influence in a matter- of- fact way. A boy replied to questions about a burglary he committed:

“I read comic books where they broke into a place. I got the idea to break into the house. I wanted the money. I couldn’t go through the front door because I didn’t have the key. I didn’t think of the comic book.”

Questioner: “You don’t have to think of it, it is in the back of your mind, in your subconscious mind.”

“Mind if I borrow this? I may have some other villains someday fans insist I kill on purpose.”

Apparently comics aren’t an excuse for the answerer but the questioner can bring it up all he or she wants. And maybe the fifteen or sixteen year old would talk about the “subconscious mind” but you have to think that at some point they were told comics convinced them to do bad things. Remember, these are Wertham’s patients and we don’t know how early in the formation of the Hookey Club this all started.

A boy who had been arrested because he kicked another boy was questioned:

Q: What did you do?

A: We were pitching pennies in school. This kid was cheating. One guy grabbed me and pushed me against a water faucet He bent down to get the pennies. I took my foot and kicked him in the head. He had two or three stitches in the head.

Q: It wouldn’t have been so bad if you had punched him in the head, but kicking is not right. When you see a comic book, the point is with most fellows, they see that a certain fellow in there does that, they want to be like him and think they are tough and can do the same. In the comic book they might get away with it, in this case you don’t.

ANOTHER BOY: The guy who thinks he is a tough guy, he isn’t really tough.

So it would have been better for the kid to punch the other kid in the head rather than kick him in the head? That’s a few stitches versus a concussion. I ran “punch in the head versus kick in the head” into Google and got this thread at Comic Vine. And there were actual martial artists who commented. The consensus seems to be kicks have more power but punches have more accuracy. Remember though that the answerer had just been pushed against a water faucet and was bending down to get the pennies. I’m pretty sure the punch would have caused more damage in this case, depending on the size of both kids. It almost sounds like self-defense, but we don’t know that the cheating kid is the same one who tried to take the pennies.

The effect of comic-book reading was scrutinized by the club members, because there were always some who had reading difficulties. The members were more critical than some of the pseudo-educators who proclaim that comic books are good for reading. At a session where classics comic books were mentioned, a fourteen-year-old boy said in reply to questions:

I don’t read the comic books. I just look at the pictures. I can read, but I just don’t take the time out. Sometimes, when it is a good story, I read it. You would be surprised how much you can learn just by looking at the pictures. If you have a good mind, you can figure things out for yourself. I like the horror science-fiction ones. I just look at the pictures.

Well then you’re doing it wrong. I know comics are referred to as a visual medium quite often, but that’s not completely accurate. The context for those images comes from the dialog. Why are people fighting? Who if anyone is in the right? If you’re just leafing through the pictures you’re hardly getting the complete story. Comics require reading as well as visual stimulus. Maybe the kids just aren’t readers of any kind. Maybe take them to a museum. You can’t blame the comic for providing visuals that help tell the story when half of the story is being ignored. It’s like in this book where we get random dialog that seems to prove Wertham’s point but we don’t see the art or know the context of the story. Remember, Teen-Age Dope Slaves does nothing to make drugs look glamorous, especially the withdrawal, but according to Wertham it can lead a kid to trying narcotics.

Going over the protocols of the Hookey Club it is hard to see how adults can be so naive about the role comic books play in the lives of children. The accounts of the sessions bristled with revealing bits about comic books, a topic that came up again and again in very different connections: a boy bought his switchblade knife through an advertisement from a comic book; a girl bought some phony medicine from a comic book to reduce her weight, which she was self-conscious about; different methods of stealing, burglarizing and hurting people were learned from comic books; comic books were cited to justify cunning, distrust and race ridicule; and so on.

Okay, so selling weapons through comics…although again should they be reading these comics, is a bad idea, although I wonder if anyone used switchblades for self-defense or what other uses there were. That’s an odd thing about switchblades. I know there are people who use them for non-violent purposes since you can carry one without needing a belt sheath or accidentally stabbing yourself in the leg, but have you ever heard about or from these people? The weight loss scam is a crime in itself or should be. As far as race ridicule…I think we can blame the 1950s as a whole for that.

The excuses of the industry’s experts that comic books show methods to hurt, wound and kill people in order to teach children self-defense did not go with the experts of the Hookey Club. They knew better. Nor did they believe that comic books taught not to commit delinquencies. They knew that what they demonstrate is that one should not make mistakes in committing them.

I would be Batman in this shot. And by “Batman” I mean running away scared and calling the police.

But is it intention versus result or do some kids or adult actually learn positive things and the Hookey Club just weren’t those kids? One of my first comics was about a man killing homeless people and thought he was doing a good thing by ending their suffering. The last part you got if you read the story, and the former could be gleaned from the pictures, but I never killed anyone, homeless or otherwise. I was sorry I didn’t have the money to give to a homeless person who gave me directions one time. Last I knew he was still alive.

A girl of fourteen who had been stealing had a comic book with her at one session:

THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD CHAIRMAN: Which comic books do you read mostly?
A: Girls read mostly Crimes by Women
Q: Which crimes do women commit?
A: Murder. They marry a man for his life insurance and then kill him, then marry another man and then just go on like that until they finally get caught. Or they will be a dancer and meet the wrong kind of a guy and get involved in a bank robbery.
Q: What’s the fun for you in reading that?
A: It shows you other people’s stupid mistakes.

And allegedly she learn to capitalize on those mistakes instead of keeping an eye out for bad people via those mistakes. Is that really the comic’s fault?

Here are some samples from Hookey Club proceedings:

A FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD DELINQUENT GIRL: In some of the crime comic books kids pick up ideas. They give them ideas of robbery and sex…
Q: Sex?
A: Yes, plenty of sex. They show you unexposed [sic] women, men beating up girls and breaking their arms. The fellows see that and they want to try it. They try to wrestle with them and get ideas. I know of fellows who do imitate comic books. When I was young I used to read comic books and I watched the fellows and how they imitated what they did in the books. They tried it with the girls around my way. They tied them up. The boys were around ten or twelve, the girls were the same age. They used to always read the comic books. I asked them what made them do that. They said they saw it in the comic books. They read Crime, Murder Inc., Crime Does Not Pay, most of those crime books.

So your friends are stupid. We’ll be getting more into sexual depictions in a later chapter so I’ll save my ranting for that. The thing is these kids are getting the wrong idea because they are misunderstanding what’s going on or are reading comics meant for more mature readers, who do understand. And just the depiction doesn’t mean they’re condoning it. There are a couple more discussions about learning how to do things from comics that sound to me like they’re trying to warn others how the crooks got away with shoplifting so they can keep an eye out for clever shoplifters. Know their tricks and you can beat them. These kids learned to improve on them. The fact that they want to says more about the kids than the comic.

From a discussion on fighting in school:

THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOY: I learned from crime comic books when you want to hit a man don’t get face to face- hit him from the back.

FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD (contradicting): In comic books they hit them in the eye!

Shot that one down.

From an all-round discussion on fairy tales:

Superman is a fairy story.”

“No, it is not a fairy story. It is a comic book. The comic books, they are mostly murder or something funny, but the fairy tales, they are just stories.”

“The comics like Superman are not true, they don’t happen, but they might happen or could happen. The fairy tales, they just can’t happen.”

“In the fairy tales they don’t get killed.”

Superman and Action Comics had been around for about 20 years by this point. Calling Superman a “fairy tale” rather than science fiction (a bit on the mild side but still classifies) seems just weird by that point. And you should read some fairy tales in their original telling. Death happened all the time. I think the woodcutter actually cuts the wolf open to rescue Red-Riding-Hood and her grandma, and the Little Mermaid turns to sea-foam when the prince chooses someone else and she’d rather die than kill the man she loves even if he chose someone else (who isn’t an evil sea witch in disguise). I think even Pinocchio dies at the end of his original story. So I’ve got news for you kids: you got the cleaned-up endings. They hella die in fairy tales, and not just the evil witches.

At one Hookey Club session I had another psychiatrist present as a guest. The question of comic books and my criticism of them came up:

FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD (addressing Wertham): I think it is stupid. You are the only psychiatrist who is really interested. Maybe there are five others… out of five thousand – how can you get any headway? You spend close to maybe a thousand dollars and it is stupid. You can’t stand a chance against these comic-book publishers.

FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD: That is right, because they got the police to put in a good word for the comic books. Like before, they used to have policemen and policewomen say it is a good influence for the children. They had a police lady and a police chief in every edition of Crime Does Not Pay. That is one of the reasons why you have no chance.

THE FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD: I noticed in Crime Does Not Pay they give two dollars a letter for what’s on your mind. People write beautiful letters saying this comic book is good for children – anything to earn two dollars.

I can’t confirm the $2 per letter part, but I think Wertham should have left this part out even if it actually happened. It comes off as an ego moment. The other part is a bit shocking though. Remember, this is the 1950s.

ANOTHER FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD: Gals don’t approve of guys going to poolrooms in Brooklyn. They pay for protection. They take a switchblade and if a guy don’t pay them a dollar, they will rip up the table…. I have been in with them…. You could learn that from a comic book, too. I read some of that in Crime Does Not Pay.

SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD: The guys, the big racketeers and stuff, they pay the guys maybe to put something in crime comic books that is good. The other boys think it is a good idea. So they start doing it and get into the Youth House, and when they get back they work for the racketeers. They make a lot of money and everything and stuff. They want the young boys to read the crime comic books to get ideas. The boys are about seventeen when the racketeers use them for dope and stuff, to peddle it, and to run the numbers… I think crime comic books are there to make the kids into bad boys, so that they can make some money. I figure maybe these gangsters they say: a couple of years from now, when these guys grow up, I’ll give them a number racket and I can be the big guy then. Sometimes they need gunmen to eliminate the other big guys. The comic books show about that, too, about racing and stuff.

GUEST PSYCHIATRIST: What was that you said about Youth House?

THE SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD: The racketeers want to send you to Youth House, and Warwick, too, so that you get really bad…. They want you to go there so that people will be scared of you…. If you have a record, everybody will be scared of you. You know how people are in the neighborhood, people say so-and-so was in Youth House and in Warwick… If you walk in with a gun, they are scared of you.

THE FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD (addressing the psychiatric guest):This is no insult to you. If you got a thousand dollar check for these funny books, would you talk against them? They give some people side money, so they write, “Approved by Dr. So-and-So: Good Reading Matter for Children.”

My psychiatric guest felt that the Hookey Club was a little rough.

So do I. They’re basically accusing doctors who saw different results or saw the intentions of these stories and didn’t see the same thing Wertham did of outright lying to get a paycheck. That isn’t to say there aren’t a few unscrupulous doctors out there; just that you should mass-accuse all of them of selling out kids.

From there Wertham moves on to something I mentioned earlier in this chapter about having kids draw what they saw in a comic and having a therapist who didn’t know any better find all the phallic symbols and whatnot that doesn’t really sound honest as proof of anything. Flash Gordon was my all-time favorite Saturday Morning cartoon, and seeing Aura in the outfit they put her in didn’t make me see women as sex objects. TV commercials nowadays could have that effect. The rest is more beating the same points in and getting kids into “good literature” because having them idolize Long John Silver is better than idolizing Superman I guess, or maybe these kids won’t be distracted by the images to pay attention to the words? I never had that problem. I read comics and novels. And we’ll read more of this book next week because we’re finally done with this chapter.

Next Time: The Wrong Twist

By the way, when looking up the suggested links by the service that works with WordPress, I saw stories about kids doing bad things, including one where a kid shot another kid. I don’t know the context but I bet Wertham would blame comics somehow.


About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

One response »

  1. Sean says:

    Just like in our time period, there are some comic books, movies, and television shows that kids under 14 should not be reading or watching. Some comics, movies, or television shows are more violent or more sexual than others. That was also the case in the 1950s. A comic book or video game can’t be blamed as the sole factor on why a child or teen acts the way he or she does.


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