There are some of you out there who are probably wondering why I’m going through this. Sure the website has gained followers since I started this review, but so did The First Phase Shifters And The Omega Capsule. This has also drawn in a lot more likes that I’ve ever gotten. And while I’m glad to see more people interested in my commentary it’s not like I’m being paid tons of money to do this. (Although if someone out there wants to pay me tons of money I could use it.) And to be honest I think I’m burning out on this (I have a solution, check back tomorrow) because all summer I’ve done almost nothing but analyze this book.
The thing is I know I’m talking to a brick wall, since this is a book published decades ago written by a man who doesn’t know as much about what he’s fighting against as he thinks and wouldn’t want to anyway due to his biases. But it is important to bring this stuff up. Like I said yesterday, you can’t declare an entire medium as being just for kids simply because it’s new. Comics had to shake that off. Cartoons are still fighting it. Video games seems to work around it but they and comics seem to be doing so by abandoning younger audiences for their work and that’s not a good solution either. Unless it’s porn kids shouldn’t be left out simply because you have to censor yourself. To do this we need to convince parents that you can’t write off an entire format just to shove the kids off on something and move on. You need to pay attention to what your kids are watching. Even seeing, for example, the Minions of Despicable Me and saying “that’s fine” doesn’t work when YouTube has creators who are cheap jerks with a weird fetish playing off of clickbait while enjoying being subversive. Because they’re a#$%#$^%s mainly. Pay attention to what’s influencing your kids.
However, Dr. Wertham seems to think that the comics are the root cause rather than simply a bad influence easily countered by good parenting, which is hard when parents are both working and that’s if one is able to find work or didn’t die during the war. Comics were cheap to get (even adjusted for inflation they would have been under a dollar…compared to around $4 on shelves today) and kids needed an escape from their problems that books didn’t always offer…because they were also expensive. I really want to understand the mindset of these adults who don’t understand media, children, and children’s media. And we’re up to more examples of comics evilness so lets just race through this part, shall we?
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.”
The “blood and bra formula”. I expect to see this line again, don’t you? And was the problem the fact that there was any violence, as if they only want stories with no physical conflict, in which case there are a few classic books that also need to be tossed out, or how that violence was depicted. There is a difference, but not to Wertham and friends.
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.”
Part of the environment, yes. PART! But Wertham as been acting like only the comics are to blame, not whatever drives them to enjoy the more violent stories. I was never into those stories and I’m still not. What was different between us? The Comics Code? Wertham didn’t think that went far enough any more than the first attempt by emulating the Hayes Code.
Sister Mary Clare, a trained and experienced teacher, published a study of the effect of comic books on children under eleven. She found that the innocuous comic books of the humorous and animal type that parents know about form “an insignificant minority.”
They can also contain some of the same depictions, just more comedic and less graphic, and may be responsible for the furries of today, which some people also assume are a bunch of bestiality junkies or some crap. Humor can be violent too. Look at Tom And Jerry or the number of times Daffy Duck has been hit with shotgun blasts. I wonder if these people read these funny animal comics or just see something cartoony and assume it’s okay. And you know what they say about “assume”. It makes an anthropomorphic donkey out of you and me.
She found that comic books have “their greatest appeal during the years when the children’s ideals are being formed, that is, from 3 or 4 to 12.” She sums up the relation of comic books to delinquency: “Children want to put into action what they have learned in their ‘comics,’ thinking they can have the thrill that is theirs only vicariously as they read. Sometimes they set out to imitate the hero or heroine, sometimes it is the criminal type that appeals…
So has this never happened with books? Are they unable to spark play in a child’s imagination of any kind and wanting to be Long John Silver or Captain Nemo? That’s actually rather sad, and a horrible to say about books. And we know kids imitated what they heard in radio dramas or saw in the movie serials and that new teevee thingy. Are you sure you understand kids?
She deplores particularly the harm comic books do to children’s eyes.
If you’ve been reading along you know the person who originally posted these articles added in his or her own notation: what the hell? Seriously, how do comics give MORE eyestrain than a book? There is a reason I keep putting in images to break the text wall that are these longer articles, folks.
One of her cases highlights what comic books do to the minds of many children. She asked a nine-year-old boy which comic book he liked best and he answered without hesitation: “Human Torture.”
“You mean ‘Human Torch,’ don’t you?”
“No,” he said positively, “Human Torture.”
Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a sadly common phrase but I couldn’t find any comic called “Human Torture” so I don’t know what this kid was reading. I’ll bet good money I don’t own that neither Sister Claire nor Doctor Wertham even attempted to find it. Remember, he thinks the Blue Beetle actually turns into an insect.
Dr. B. 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.”
And what is your solution, Dr. Liber? I think that’s the chapter I want to see. The one where Wertham gives his “solution” to “the problem of comic books”. We’re going to have a field day.
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.
So do a lot of actors. They like to be able to let loose and act up a storm. Most actors don’t want to actually rob banks or murder a few dozen people because it’s Tuesday. But here’s the most baffling thing I’ve seen in this chapter.
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 boyfriend 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.”
I have so many questions about this boy’s sanity. First off AT WHAT POINT HAVE YOU EVER SEEN SUPERMAN BEING ROMANTIC WITH ANYONE! And that’s assuming that we aren’t using the more erotic version that you kids today only use the term for, if you even still use it. Yes, Superman was in a flirtatious relationship with Lois at this point but (and those more historically minded can prove me wrong) they didn’t become a couple until the Silver Age, which was after this book came out in 1954. If anything it was Clark that kept FAILING to connect with Lois because of the “mild-mannered” act he performed back then to keep his identity a secret. So how would you have any idea how Superman would “make love” and why would you bother? I mean, what did this boyfriend attempt?
And to assume some more (and remember what I said about “assume” earlier) is it possible that she’s using “Superman” as a placeholder for comic characters or “how they’d do it in the comics”? Oh, that’s quite possible. I spent a good part of my childhood arguing with my grandfather (because I was five) that not every cartoon character was “the Mickey Mouses” (he was from Portugal and came to the US legally to avoid WW2). When we talk about search engines we say “google it” even if we aren’t using Google. (Personally Bing finds images much better and I get refer stats from search engines I’ve never heard of.) When Nintendo was the leader in gaming, that name would end up being a placeholder for video games. “Want to go play Nintendo?” So I wonder if Superman is the only comic she knows even though she’s dating a comic fan. (Ah, the days when that didn’t get you slapped with a geek card and rendered you undateable. Wish those days ended when I was a kid, although I had plenty of other reasons for not being dateable.)
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.”
And what’s the “Superman type”, doctor? Superman is my favorite superhero so these constant attacks get on my nerves. And you lot complain about his one short commentary about Batman? Superman and Wonder Woman are more plentiful targets.
What do the experts for the defense have to say? We can disregard their remarks that there are comic books which are read only by adults. One expert herself admits that “wherever there are comic books you will most certainly find children.”
Okay, how about “kids aren’t supposed to be reading these comics and why isn’t anyone keeping track of that”? That’s been my remark.
At this point Dr. Wertham goes over the cases of kids imitating superheroes. You know, kids jumping off of buildings with a cape, which we’ve all heard about for years. Of course, now that the anti-Superman/pro-Batman crowd (I like Batman too, but he’s not better simply because he lacks superpowers…considering how “prepared” he is, a supergenius inventor, chemist, historian, and detective who knows every fighting style known to mankind…how does he lack superpowers again?) But there are also some odd examples of kids hanging themselves. Let me post a few of these, so ignore the number. I have a question here.
2) A twelve-year-old boy was found hanged by a clothes line tossed over a rafter. His mother told the jury that she thought he re-enacted a scene from comic books which he read incessantly. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and scored comic books.
4) A boy of ten accidentally hanged himself while playing “hanging.”
5) A fourteen-year-old boy was found hanging from a clothesline fastened over a hot-water heating pipe on the ceiling. Beside him was a comic book open to a page showing the hanging of a man.
6) A ten-year-old boy was found hanging from a door hook, suspended by his bathrobe cord. On the floor under his open hand lay a comic book with this cover: a girl on a horse with a noose around her neck, the rope tied to a tree. A man was leading the horse away, tightening the noose as he did so. The grief-stricken father said, “The boy was happy when I saw him last. So help me God, I’ll be damned if I ever allow another comic book in the house for the kids to read!”
There’s a few more but you get the point. Frankly, it sounds more like the kid in #6 committed suicide. Apparently when a suicidal person makes the commitment the weight comes off of him or her and they do seem happier just before the end, according to more recent studies. But I want to know why these kids are playing hanging by hanging themselves? Why would you be that curious what it feels like to be hanged but not be smart enough to have someone around to keep you from dying? Was Judas a trendsetter? No, seriously, I don’t care what was in the comic, because it was in Old West stories as well in other mediums. Finding a scapegoat is usually easier than solving a problem or making sure it doesn’t come up again.
Let’s end tonight’s part on the subject of comics as folklore.
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 man kind 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.
Bing gave me this definition: “the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth”. Meanwhile, Wikipedia says:
Folklore is expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture or group. These include oral traditions such as tales, proverbs and jokes. They include material culture, ranging from traditional building styles to handmade toys common to the group. Folklore also includes customary lore, the forms and rituals of celebrations such as Christmas and weddings, folk dances and initiation rites. Each one of these, either singly or in combination, is considered a folklore artifact. Just as essential as the form, folklore also encompasses the transmission of these artifacts from one region to another or from one generation to the next. For folklore is not taught in a formal school curriculum or studied in the fine arts. Instead these traditions are passed along informally from one individual to another either through verbal instruction or demonstration. The academic study of folklore is called folkloristics.
So Wertham asks the question if comics are folklore, or rather answers the question without asking 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 marijuana, 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?
Living in 2017 gives us some foresight so…not for poor Jo-Jo. None of us have heard of him. Superman and Wonder Woman however have been tackled by great writers and filmmakers over the years. They are now iconic to American and even international culture. When we think of superheroes, despite Batman’s current popularity or what certain parties say about Superman, we think of Superman. Wonder Woman was almost an ambassador to the UN until modern feminists told classic feminists their icon has too much cleavage. Kids eyes light up seeing superheroes in their hospital window washing the windows. Far from stock: they are now legends, and to be honest the legends of Wertham’s day didn’t start out that way either. Legends are formed over time. They are never legendary when they first appear, be it in life or in fiction. So yes, based on the definitions of folklore I posted, they qualify. Superman fights for truth, justice, and the American way while Wonder Woman shows that women can stand up for themselves and matter in the world. Sorry, Jo-Jo, but I’m sure someone out there loves you. Or at least knows who you are.
Not that Wertham’s thoughts on Wonder Woman, or women in general, would support this. Tomorrow we’ll go into that as we finish this chapter off. Hopefully.