I know kids are impressionable but what impresses them and inspires them are as different as…well, kids. Not all kids are into the same thing just like not all adults have the same interests, which is a benefit to the species as a whole. It’s how we have advancements as varied as airplanes and air conditioners, various kinds of arts, and numerous recipes for every possible taste bud. Variety isn’t just the spice of life, it’s essential for humanity to progress.
It’s the way Dr. Wertham is portraying the more graphic comics as well as slams against the entire medium that makes it hard to agree on the points that he’s right, because he then takes it too far and the end result is that he comes off to modern comic fans as going overboard and being some kind of kook. Wertham is pushing all these horrible tales of crimes committed by kids and teens and blaming comics not as the inspiration but the source of why these kids are behaving as they are, despite numerous other things going on in the 1950s, especially in the cities.
Read along with me because there is more to go through in this chapter as Wonder Woman continues to be blamed, and oddly the bondage stuff isn’t what’s bothering him.
In some comic books it is shown how the youngest tots are picked up bodily, held upside down and shaken so that the coins will fall out of their pockets. Not only do I know from boys that they have practiced this, but similar cases have been reported, like the one where children invaded a settlement house, stabbed one of the workers, smashed equipment and “turned boys upside down to get the pennies from their pockets.”
Outside of the stabbing this is something I’ve seen in cartoon and comedies. I don’t even know if that works for every time of pants and shorts out there. But according to Wertham only comics offer bad influences even though they aren’t doing anything different from books, movies, and TV shows at the time.
Often comic books describe real crimes that have been featured in the newspapers. In adapting them for children the following points are stressed: the daring and success of the criminals is exalted; brutal acts are shown in detail; sordid details are emphasized; if there are any sexual episodes they are featured.
The way he writes about these stories implies that this is their goal, to show that being a criminal and hurting people is fun rather than demonstrating how bad these “bad guys” really are and kids getting the wrong idea, the most likely thing happening. And this is very much intentional. He doesn’t want to give comics a single opening, and most people aren’t going to track these comics down with a more open mind than Wertham. So he can say what he wants and people will believe him because he’s published in a book and a doctor. That’s where the danger lies.
In 1952 three men escaped from a penitentiary. They stole cars, evaded the police, kidnapped people, held up a bank, and were finally caught in New York where they were living with three girls. A real children’s story! In the first picture there is an unmade bed, a half-nude man and a girl. The prison break is described like a heroic feat.
This is from some comic he has but he doesn’t like to list names because he claims they change the names. And yet Crime Does Not Pay comes up quite often. Where do the half-naked people in bed come in? Are they married or is she paid for her “time”? This is information we continue to lack.
All this is only a small sample from my collection and an infinitesimal part of the whole story. Juvenile delinquency is not just a prank nor an “emotional illness.” The modern and more serious forms of delinquency involve knowledge of technique. By showing the technique, comic books also suggest the content. The moral lesson is that innocence doesn’t pay.
Again, trying to imply that is the intent rather than admit his patients and other kids are getting the wrong idea, because they aren’t actually reading the dialog. We’ve seen that last chapter.
If it were the aim of adults to terrify children as persistently, as clearly and as graphically as possible, they would have to invent the comic-book industry. When I first announced my findings that these comic books are primers for crime, I was greeted with these arguments:
Remember when I said lines like the first sentence there made it hard to defend Wertham? Well this section is one where I have to. The arguments you are about to see are contradictory and stupid. It’s like the comic industry didn’t know how to defend comics. Kind of like comics today, where some of the creators seem to believe their medium is low-man on the totem pole, good only to create movies so we can do whatever we want with them.
1) It is not true. Only the rarest comic book does that.
I don’t know about “rarest” but it probably varies from story to story and child to child.
2) It is not true any more, though it may have been true in the past. Now that is all changed.
Maybe after the Comics Code was used to drive non-kid friendly comics and publishers out of business, but not by the time this book came out.
3) If true, it was always thus.
You’re point is? You just said Wertham was right about every exaggerated criticism he’s made in this book. If he is right, always being that way is a bad thing. Wertham claims comics exist to scare and corrupt children.
4) Crime comic books have no effect at all on children’s behavior.
This is like a counter exaggeration. Kids that are easily influenced, some of which I’ve even acknowledged Wertham made a case for, are documented. Does it inspire them to commit crimes? No, despite Wertham’s claims to the contrary. However, they did inspire the crime itself. Not being Sesame Street or have the E/I icon does not mean a kid isn’t learning something from a TV show and comics are no different. You don’t have to intentionally educational to educate, both good and bad.
5) Crime comic books are a major force in preventing juvenile delinquency.
Ignoring Wertham’s point of view…how? Even the “catharsis” argument of video games can’t claim that it prevents violence for people determined to commit violence.
6) Crime comic books are not read by children, but only by adults.
That’s just naive.
7) Comic books affect only “emotionally unstable” or “insecure” children and not the average child.
I agree with the last part, but I think it takes more than being “emotionally unstable” and I don’t know how “insecure” even comes into it.Lack of conscience and seeing something that’s more graphic than they can handle both come into play based on their reaction.
What is the relationship of crime comic books to juvenile delinquency? If they would prevent juvenile delinquency, there would be very little of it left. And if they were the outlet for children’s primitive aggressions, this would be a generation of very subdued and controlled children.
I hate to agree with him but he’s right. Argument #7 makes no sense even to the guy defending comics.
Our researches have proved that there is a significant correlation between crime-comics reading and the more serious forms of juvenile delinquency. Many children read only few comics, read them for only a short time, read the better type (to the extent that there is a better type) and do not become imbued with the whole crime-comics atmosphere.
Do you notice the cheap shot? At no point is Wertham even considering meeting comics half-way. He talks a good game about the funny animal comics but he probably wants to ban those, too.
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.
Dr. Wertham predicted modern sex ed.
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?
Did the judge say he never came across a case in his court or a single case in the ones he’s followed, or heard from fellow judges or DA he may have talked to at a party? And the judge doesn’t have a defense:
“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.”
That’s what I’ve been saying. Again, Wertham isn’t asking for restrictions of these comics to kids, and he keeps lumping lighter fair like Superman and even Superboy in with Crime Does Not Pay, or attacking a story like Teen-Age Dope Slaves, which I’ve already shown won’t turn kids into drug addicts unless they’re really stupid kids.
Comic-book reading in child-care institutions and reformatories is particularly harmful because these children are so restrained otherwise. Superintendents may not take official cognizance of it, or may have the illusion that only Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse’ are available in their particular institutions. A boy of thirteen was brought to me. He had just spent two years in a model reformatory-like institution. (Reformatories do not like the name reformatory, but they cling to reformatory methods.) This boy had got into trouble for stealing. He was a great comics reader, but in the reformatory “they would not allow the murder and mystery ones.” The boy himself told me that the real practice was somewhat different from the rule. Reading crime comic books was “the only fun” he had had while in the institution.
Then again we’ve already seen Wertham has a strict rule of what constitutes a “crime comic”, which would include Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse if he ever read them.
Crime comics are certainly not the only factor, nor in many cases are they even the most important one, but there can be no doubt that they are the most unnecessary and least excusable one. In many cases, in conjunction with other factors, they are the chief one.
Speaking of contradiction, wouldn’t the most important factor also be the chief one? I’m willing to admit it could be a factor of what they chose to do, but Dr. Wertham refuses to admit it’s not the cause of kids committing crimes.
Edith was a delinquent girl of fourteen. Over the years the family had had contact with some twenty-five social agencies. It was a history of illness, vocational dislocation, disruption and financial difficulties. The girl, good-looking and anxious to get help, had serious aspirations to make something of her life.
Surely in such a case one cannot disregard the social conditions, nor can one ascribe delinquency directly to them. One must search for the particular in the general, the individual in the social, and vice versa.
We aren’t told what the social conditions are. We are told what the cause is. Wonder Woman of course.
What goes on in the mind of such a girl? Where does the rationalization come from that permits her to act against her better impulses? Her ideal was Wonder Woman. Here was a morbid model in action. For years her reading had consisted of comic books. There was no question but that this girl lived under difficult social circumstances. But she was prevented from rising above them by the specific corruption of her character development by comic-book seduction. The woman in her had succumbed to Wonder Woman. By reading many comic books the decent but tempted child has the moral props taken from under him. The antisocial suggestions from comic books reach children in their leisure time, when they are alone, when their defenses are down.
Again, we don’t know what the girl did (although apparently Wertham is blaming Diana for illness as well as “vocational dislocation”). What about Wonder Woman, who back in the day often made friends and showed that women can do anything a man can do, made this young girl lose her job, get sick, and not connect to people?
Judge Jacob Panken has observed three separate cases where children got hold of lighter fluid, saturated another child with it and set him afire. He found in these three instances that these children, coming from different boroughs, favored a particular comic book which has on its cover a burning human being in flames. He felt that in each instance the comic book shared the responsibility, that “it is the straw which breaks the camel’s back.”
How much do you want to bet he means the Human Torch, at the time an android who fought in World War II alongside a teen sidekick named Toro who had superpowers? Comics also got blamed for kids throwing on a cape and trying to fly. Who is watching these kids? We know they aren’t doing their parental duty and checking into what they’re reading.
Wertham goes into the case of Howard Lang, a 13-year-old who brutally murdered a seven-year-old. Like a lot of the cases he’s mentioned in this chapter it’s horrible to be sure, but you have to be lacking some serious connection in human life to act like that, and the comic alone isn’t going to cause that. And that’s what Wertham keeps indicating, that the comic alone is behind all this.
There is no doubt that the impulse to commit a delinquent act is important. What counteracts the impulse, however, is equally important. In the children I have studied, I have endeavored to determine what perspective of life the child had and what it came from. Children, like adults, are impelled in different directions, good or bad. It is up to us to determine the factors which in the individual case tip the scales. To disregard the comic-book factor is unfair to children, particularly in the light of the severe punishments they so often receive, after they have become delinquent. A little attention beforehand would do away with a lot of detention afterwards.
On the other hand, to put all of the blame on comics they shouldn’t have been reading in the first place is taking the easy way out and attacking a medium you have little or no interest in even if you couldn’t blame crime on these comics. Dr. Wertham is constantly pushing that if these comics were gone these kids wouldn’t be committing crimes, but what about all the other factors that makes this comic appealing to these kids when we’ve seen kids in this book who are repulsed by them? That needs to be looked at as well, but Wertham is treating the comic as the root cause of the problem rather than a symptom of the problem of a lack of conscience and sanctity of human life.
Next time…wait, that’s it? This chapter is done a day early? Now I don’t know what to do. I’ve prepared to go over this book pretty much all week. So here’s a poll. Do I talk about something else or review another comic from Dr. Wertham’s hit list?
Sometime after lunch I’ll write whatever you decide.