Normally, Chapter By Chapter is me reading a fictional book one chapter at a time to study each part of the story. In this special review series however we are looking at Seduction Of The Innocent, a non-fiction book as the writer, Dr. Fredric Wertham, tries to make the case that comics were a bad thing for kids in the 1950s. The book had a huge impact on the comic industry and fans. We will examine what he is saying not exclusively by today’s standards, but the time in which the book was made to see where Wertham was right, and where he was horribly wrong.
Advertising in Comic Books
“But they have raised no cry,
I wonder why.”
– Countee Cullen
We already know that Dr. Wertham is going to place as much blame as he can on comics, but when it comes to advertising a lot of the comments he makes are still made by advertising critics today, as well as various parent groups who hate anything marketed to kids. Admittedly this is the chapter in which I most agree with him thus far, but don’t worry. There are still plenty of things that I have to take the good doctor to task on.
Advertising and kids are a tricky thing. A lot of parent groups out there get upset when anything drawn is used for a non-kid product, as if Elvira could sell beer to someone who is too young to even spell puberty much less experience it. Although Wertham will make that point. In this chapter Dr. Wertham tackles pimple ads, breast enhancement, binoculars, the famous Charles Atlas and those kinds of ads, but also gets into his favorite topic: violence, because before this week is done we’ll discuss gun and knife ads. As usual the solution is BAN IT ALL but there are a few more biases that Wertham has which we will see popping up here, because classic literature isn’t his only holding point. However, the big focus are on….
Remember to read the chapter first at the link above, then join us. Don’t make the same mistake Wertham keeps making and not do proper research into your “enemy”.
One is apt to forget that besides delinquent and emotionally disturbed children there are many children who are just plain unhappy. That is particularly true of adolescents. If you gain their confidence and give them a chance to talk to you under suitable circumstances you will find that one of their most frequent and serious worries has to do with the growth of their bodies.
Is that really news in the 1950s? Because I’m sure anyone who has been a teenager already knows that.
Biologically these variations in physical development in boys and girls usually have little significance. They become worries and plague the children in their social context. Unsuitable reading (he probably means comics -SWT), chance remarks by adults, kidding by other children, over-concern of parents, incautious remarks by doctors and so on are apt to set off worry and unhappiness over being “different” or “abnormal.” Sexual maturation, mental and physical, may add associations, guilt feelings and fantasies. It is usually the same areas of the body that are involved in these worries. In boys it is the face (complexion and hair), the body build in general (muscular strength, height and weight) and the primary sexual characteristics. In girls it is the face, the general body build (fat distribution and weight) and the area of greatest psychological sensitivity, the breasts.
Okay, I missed the “kidding by other children” part, which just makes some of what he says in this part of the chapter even stranger.
No better method could be evolved to cause such worries or to aggravate them than the advertising in childrens’ comic books. I understand that there are advertising associations or advertising councils interested in keeping products advertised, as well as the manner of their advertising, on an ethical level. If that is true, they must have looked the other way with regard to the stupendous amount of advertising in comic books. In any case, they “raised no cry.” Advertising is, or could be – quite apart from its selling aspect – a wholesome educational influence. That in comic books is not only anti-educational, but has done untold harm to children from the point of view of public health and mental hygiene, not to speak of common human decency
Advertising can be a “wholesome educational influence”? Mind expanding on that? This is one of his more confusing self-defenses. What’s educational about ads except to tell you something you might want or could really use exists in the world and this may be the right version for you? And of course he has to sneak in another jab at comics being “anti-educational”.
There are different types of adolescents, the Stanley Hall type, the Thomas Wolfe type and others. Whatever their social status, their native ability, they are all more or less susceptible to the worries and anxieties exploited by the scare advertisements in comic books. These advertisements are apt either to cause hypochondriasis or cater to it. In some children such hypochondriacal reactions assume serious forms. In the semipornographic, semiobscene magazines for adults sold at the newsstand, some of the same products and some of the same advertisers can be found. Sometimes the names of the firms are different, but the addresses are the same. When these advertisements are in comic books they are slanted to children and adolescents.
“Hypochondriasis” isn’t recognized by my spellcheck, but it is a word. Basically it’s where “hypochondriac” comes from. I have a feeling this is where Adam Conover from Adam Ruins Everything would be prepared to pop in and tell us about all the ways advertising companies have caused all the overblown minor concerns that we’ll be looking at today, from pimples to body types, as if it was their goal to make people feel bad about themselves and swoop in with the cure. Or rather “cure” as a lot of these things are not what one would call helpful. We know this, and granted many kids don’t.
Teens are probably the most susceptible to beauty and body aids that don’t require doctors and surgery. And Dr. Wertham thinks a fifteen year old is a child, not a teenager. (What DOES he consider a “teen-ager” I wonder?) So outside of that one example of a nine-year-old shoving tissues into her shirt or maybe the twelve and thirteen-year-old just assume every time he says “child” he means “teen”. It makes a bit more sense in this section.
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?
Remember that he is blaming the comic for this, as if your average comic publisher (note he mentions magazines once or twice the whole time) has time to make sure every single product works as advertised, accounting for differences in bodies which means some products don’t work for everybody. In fact most products don’t, which is why there are so many types. Does that mean a lack of fraud? Heck, no, but that’s something that should be handled by the government, not Julius Schwartz.
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.
And the fact that they didn’t take time to pursue the false advertising is a bad thing, but hardly the fault of comics.
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.”
In case you thought changing words because of an alleged connotation was a recent occurrence. What are we calling handicapped, mentally impaired and short people this week? Merriam-Webster, if you would?
1a: a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution b: a proposition in mathematics or physics stating something to be done
2a: an intricate unsettled question b: a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation c: difficulty in understanding or accepting I have a problem with your saying that
So if your skin is breaking out and you can’t fit into your pants, that’s a problem. It may be a minor problem to you, but you are no longer a teenager (ignoring all the adults who still deal with body image issues of course).
Here we begin with all the crazy breast enhancement ads, like this winner.
When Tom H- met Mary W- and Alice B-, folks wondered who the lucky girl would be. Both girls were pretty and charming, and grand fun, and enjoyed the same interests Tom did. But, somehow, it was Alice whose lips Tom bent to in the moonlight . . . it was Alice whose “I do” rose breathlessly at the altar. . . .
So were these two part of the hive mind? There has to be some difference between Mary and Alice that set them apart. According to this ad, it’s that Alice had a better bust. Not that Alice was the better cook or that Mary didn’t want kids or anything like that. Nope, it was the chest line. I’ve seen shows about why some people are more attractive to the opposite gender and breasts are considered a reason. The reason given is that larger, fuller breasts have some proof of fertility, and it’s all about the drive to reproduce or something like that. I was in the hospital at the time, where my sex drive was virtually zero, as demonstrated by the lack of my flirting with any of the pretty nurses save one at the convalescent home that I knew wasn’t interested and wasn’t one of the ones taking care of me anyway.
The point is that believing breasts attract men is nothing new, and it could be that’s all he had to go on. I once chose between two attractive women at a nightclub based on one having a nicer shirt. I chose poorly and had no dance partner the rest of the night, but my point is the more equal they are the harder it is to choose. Just ask Davy Jones.
Tom’s choice was not surprising. For it is the woman with a beautiful, alluring bust contour who most often wins the admiration, popularity and affection every woman desires. And there can be no COMPLETE feminine beauty without a warmly rounded, lovely bust contour, symbol of woman eternal. Look through history. Look around you today. It is the woman with graceful, appealing figure lines who enjoys social and romantic triumph. Yes, there are many lovely Marys whose wit, charm and friendliness cannot compete with the natural law of man’s attraction to beauty fulfilled completely.
Mary was later revealed to be a “black widow” when she married a rich old man for her money and tried to bump him off when he wasn’t dying fast enough. In all seriousness though, I do agree that the ad is preying on lonely women, but not every guy goes for one particular body type. I find smaller-breasted women easier to cuddle with while others like watermelon-sized boobies. For all I know Mary is more my type. Murderous golddigging aside of course.
BREASTS LOSING FIRMNESS? screams another ad (on the same page on which a doll is advertised). This one promises to lift your breast “into a vital-beautiful form.” It tries to persuade the adolescent girl that there are three kinds of inferiorities:
1) those with normally firm bosoms who want that added lift and separation that make the difference between an ordinary appearance and real figure beauty”
2) those whose breasts lack “firmness”
3) girls with PROBLEM BOSOMS ($1.98)
One thing I noticed in this article is that Wertham takes time to put the price of all of these “cures” into his dictations, as if to sarcastically say “look at how this problem can be solved for a measly $2!”. The thing about these ads is that they aren’t targeting teens. How many teens are thinking about marriage? Remember, Wertham loves to point out that kids are reading comics intended for adult readers (not necessarily porn) but acts like they’re targeting kids who shouldn’t be reading them. We all know that one boy who brags about sneaking into an R-rated movie in the theater. Do we blame the movie studio? Wertham would.
And then we get into that nine-year-old I mentioned:
She put tissue paper inside of her dress so that she would have a bosom. She must want to grow up too fast. She wants to grow up and be fixed up beautifully. There is nothing wrong with her. She reads comic books all the time. She reads Jumbo, Archie, Jeanie, Millie the Model, also Nellie the Nurse. One day my husband picked up a comic book.
“Who the hell reads this?”
“What, all those naked women?”
“Well, that is all they sell for the children, what can you do?”
Two points I want to make here, and darn this book for reminding me of the first one. In the Doctor Who episode “Tooth And Claw” (forget “Love & Monsters”, THIS is the worst episode) Rose is constantly being called out for being “naked” by Queen Elisabeth. In the episode she was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and I think either overalls with legs like a pair of short or just shorts. It was one of the many hair-ripping stupid running gags of the episode, so I wonder what dad is calling “naked” in an Archie comic?
The other point is that “what you can do” is BE A PARENT, LADY! Talk to your daughter about what she’s seeing in the comic, convince her she’s getting the wrong impression and that at nine years of age the only males worried about her breast size are pedophiles. Maybe she’ll ignore those ads, which were meant for older women who want to keep their breasts looking young and perky, even if it’s a lie. So many parents mentioned in this book are failing to parent!
And it’s not like these “miracles” aren’t sold today, although it’s now about bras that are meant to make men think you have a better chest line, or plastic surgeons offering to make your breasts actually bigger. I remember an episode of Punky Brewster during the teenage years (they brought the show back in syndication in the 90s) that made fun of advertisements and “wise advice” where one of Punky’s friends had an exerciser that claimed to make her breasts bigger while the other heard that eating cheese puffs would lead to larger boobs. Punky called out the stupidity of both ideas (without calling her friends stupid for falling for it).
I was not planning to spend this much time talking about breasts. And no, it’s not because I’m a man! Tomorrow we’ll get into the “bulges” part of the title and discuss fat people and skinny people. Yes, you CAN be too skinny.