Context is important in writing. You have to get across to the reader what is happening or at least how the characters perceive it. Changing the context changes how it’s viewed. In politics this is used to great effect to turn people against someone who doesn’t share their views, be it a politician or a commentator. I’ve seen people say one thing on one show, something completely different on another show, and it’s the exact same clip. This is also used by attorneys to get their client off or push for maximum damages. Altering the context is the heart of spin doctoring.
And that’s honestly what I’ve seen done here. I know who Superman, Wonder Woman, and Blue Beetle are. Sheena and Classics Illustrated I know by reputation. The kinds of literature Dr. Wertham believes are the only things kids should read I also know from experience or reputation because they are part of other stories, including stories in comics, and I could make plenty of complaints discouraging reading these books. Heck, some groups do! How many times have you heard about attempts to get Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn out of school libraries because of the use of the “N-Word” or because of their antics? And they aren’t the only books targeted, but they are books intended for kids to read or have become so simply because they’re about two boys who are friends in spite of public opinion due to Huck’s history.
Wertham isn’t trying to improve comics, at least not at this stage. He is out to eliminate comics from storytelling or somehow ban kids from reading anything not involving Mickey Mouse…although I’ve read a few Mickey Mouse comics that would fall under Wertham’s “crime comics” banner, so I keep wondering how much actual attention he’s been paying to comics?
Get refreshed folks because now we’re on the subject of kid crime not existing before comics.
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.
“A world war and a long depression” are also two things we didn’t have before the beginning of the comic book era. You also didn’t have the baby boom and the larger number of kids that followed, dead or unemployed parents to the levels they were, at least one parent waiting for the kids when they came home…Wertham tosses in a comment that there are other factors but so far all of his blame has been on comics. Comics don’t create criminals. A lack of morals and occasionally desperation teamed with disgust for anyone doing better than you combined with anger causes criminals. Why are these kids drawn to committing these acts? It’s not that they saw it, it’s that they’re lacking a reason not to do so in their own 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.
When hasn’t it been? Books, toys, games, things to write or draw with…all on the market whether you mean metaphorically or financially. Instead of working to fix what’s wrong in society Wertham wants to take the easy way out. If every comic publisher went under, every comic disappeared from kids’s closets and newsstands, and every comic strip vanished from the newspaper, would that solve the problem? No! Because the reasons those kids were drawn to those violent images to the point of imitating them would still exist! If there wasn’t a market for these bad comics Wertham claims exists they wouldn’t be made because there would be no reason to unless the mobs or gangs were actively recruiting kids or some cult was trying to actively corrupt them as Jack Chick would claim about virtually anything he didn’t grow up with, even Christian rock music.
The root causes would still be there: no money, growing up with one or both parents or having parents so wrapped up in their problems that they couldn’t take five lousy minutes to be parents, lack of strong moral teachings…these were the things that were causing kids to act out because nobody was really looking to teach them otherwise. We’ve had adults trying to hide these things rather than confront the problems, including the lady I keep bringing up from earlier in this book. If comics or video games were gone today, the reasons they were drawn to those stories or games would not and they would just figure out new crimes for themselves. Where do you think those crimes came from in the first place?
How unprotected children are is shown by the glib use of the word teen-ager in talk about juvenile delinquency, putting into one category such different age groups as that of a boy of thirteen and that of a young man of nineteen.
I still wonder where that hyphen disappeared to, but what would you call a teenager, doctor? You’re calling a fifteen year old a “child”, which he would find insulting.
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.
And yet you aren’t writing a book about fighting the actual disease. Instead you’re demanding a placebo.
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.
Of course there’s more Superman hate. And y’all complain about what he said about Batman and Robin? Committing crimes, especially ones in which people are being beaten and threatened is not the “Superman formula” because Superman was against such things. He roughed up a lot of bad guys in the early days (before his strength levels went through the roof) but he certainly wouldn’t be on these kids sides then much less by the 1950s.
And I know that there were comics with a lot of graphic violence, but he’s still not asking why those kids he usually talks to are drawn to that kind of stuff when he has give us kids who don’t like that kind of imagery. Wetham brings us a story from one of his Hookey Club members about a friend of his who started a protection racket because he saw it in comics. But it’s not like protection racket stories were new to fiction or to real life. I read stories describing how a crime was set-up as a kid, but those set-ups were used to show how the hero or heroes finally brought their operation down. Remember the Spider-Man, Storm, and Power Man anti-smoking comic? The one with the great and powerful Smokescreen?
The story detailed how Smokescreen and his gang were making money gambling on high school sports (because you’re guess is as good as mine) and the ways they were purposefully ruining the star athlete’s career so they would easily come out ahead during the big track meet. (Again, you’re guess is as good as mine how they were a successful gambling operation. I’m sure Smokescreen upgraded to Yu-Gi-Oh competitions at some point.) The goal was to warn teens and kids away from guys like that and from being distracted from pursuing their dreams. How well the comic succeeded is anyone’s guess, but that was the point.
Maybe Wertham’s problem is getting patients who cheer on the bad guys? Like this sparkling example of humanity.
The contempt for law and police and the brutality of punishment in comic books is subconsciously translated by children into conflict with authority, and they develop a special indifference to it. Gerald, a boy of eleven, stole from stores with a group of older boys. One night after such an exploit two police-men followed them. Gerald had a B.B. gun, turned around and shot at one of the policemen. He was charged with armed robbery. When the whole group was in Children’s Court the judge talked to them very seriously. Gerald told us all about that. “Didn’t you feel strange in court?” he was asked. “No,” he replied. “I read the comics and I feel I am used to it.”
I read plenty of comics and books about crimes, watched a lot of TV shows and movies from numerous time periods (black and white and color) and not once has it caused problems with authority. School taught me that authority figures don’t have my best interest since teachers and administrators did nothing to stop the bullies, most of whom probably weren’t comic readers. If anything the aforementioned media convinced me to cheer on law enforcement and superheroes as they fought the bad guys who I connected to my antagonizers (many of whom are better people now), not to act against them, and any media then or now that cheered on the bad guys or try to make them sympathetic I tend to avoid.
Anyone who has studied many truancy cases knows that children are tempted to use medical alibis. I know some who got the idea and even the methods of execution by transposing into their own childhood setting the lessons of comic books. In one which has the “Seal of Approval of Comics Magazine Publishers” young men fake disease to get out of the army. Coming out, as it did, during the Korean War, this lesson was directly useful to upper teen-agers and indirectly to schoolboys.
“Didn’t I bluff my way out of the army?” says the hero-criminal. “Got a medical discharge without having anything wrong except indigestion! If you work it right, no doctor in the world can prove you’re bluffing!”
Because kids never tried to fake being sick before, right? Wertham follows this up with more examples of crimes depicted in comics as if no other media has ever depicted crime before. We’re supposed to make the criminals look bad so the audience is happy to see them go down. If kids are getting the wrong idea when plenty of people get the right one, is the problem the media or the particular audience member?
“From now on – I’m making dough the easy way – with a gun-! Only SAPS work!” That lesson, incidentally, is true of crime comics as a whole: glamour for crime, contempt for work.
Didn’t Huckleberry Finn talk a bunch of kids into doing work so he and Tom could go fishing? How did that end again? Didn’t Long John Silver promote the joys of being a pirate? Wertahm gives a lot of examples of crimes depicted in comics, both fictional and adapting actual criminal activities, and a number of these books don’t sound like they were intended for kids, like not letting your seven year old watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I wish this was the message Dr. Wertham was trying to get to people, but when he’s shown a lack of knowledge of comics, when he has condemned comics for not being read like books, and with history showing the protests that led to the Comics Code, which Wertham said didn’t go far enough from what I’ve read elsewhere I remain doubtful. Tomorrow we’ll go into more of this chapter since we have more Wonder Woman bashing and a list of arguments from his critics that are actually stupid. Stay tuned.