I have to keep reminding myself there’s only two chapters left.

Thus far we have seen that Dr. Wertham is a literary snob and that it has affected his view on comics and the rights of the publisher. And I would agree to keep the more violent and vulgar comics out of the hands of kids but when he’s lumping so many comics under his “crime comics” banner it’s hard to take him seriously. The only comic he likes is not a comic but an illustrated book. He still thinks Superman is a Nazi icon created by two Jewish men over a decade before Hitler’s rise to power. And he keep beating the same messages into the readers head to make sure you see his perspective and only his perspective.

We’re still on the subject of “dealing” with comics legally. Wertham actually suggested putting the more violent and “naughty” comics where kids won’t see them but adults will. And yet he would include Wonder Woman among those ranks because the only one he’s seen sitting with her at the breakfast table is another woman so of course they’re lesbians because….reasons. And yet kids are still getting their hands on the comics even Wertham’s supposed defenders of comics would agree is pornography. So I don’t know what Wertham wants besides “get rid of comics and read a book”, which means I probably answered my own question. Let’s try to finish this chapter today, shall we?

Whenever there is any court action stemming from comic books the question of what is in comic books does not come up at all. The industry relies then on the constitutional guarantee of free speech. It draws people’s attention away from the real issue and veils the business in an idealistic haze. The framers of the Constitution and its amendments would certainly be surprised if they knew that these guarantees are used to sell to children stories with pictures in which men prowl the streets and dismember beautiful girls. The industry regards selling books to children as its prerogative, that is to say as a right to be exercised without external control. To use constitutional rights against progressive legislation is of course an old story.

“Use constitutional rights against progressive legislation.” He considers this a problem. I hate to get political on this site but…really? Basically Wertham is saying that the Constitution is getting in the way of his fight against comics. But that’s kind of the point of the Constitution. to limit government and let people decide their culture and future. Wertham himself admits a few times in this chapter that allowing the government too much control is bad but at the same time insisting in this case it’s different so he can launch an attack on an entire medium because he doesn’t like it and thus assumes it alone is responsible for all these truants and criminals who are too young to even drive a car. Maybe the reason people aren’t listening to Wertham at this point is that he has such an extreme point of view against comics that the only people who agree with him are of the same high culture mindset or people looking for an easy scapegoat because they don’t want to deal with the larger societal problems stemming from the Great Depression and World War II?

In these assertions of freedom in the case of comic books, just the opposite is concealed. “We are allowing ourselves,” said Virgilia Peterson, “in the name of free speech (oh, fatal misuse of a high principle) to be bamboozled into buying or letting our children buy the worst propaganda on the market. It is a tyranny by a handful of unscrupulous people. It is as much a tyranny as any other on the face of the earth.”

So you’ll fight tyranny with tyranny or at least allow an opening for future tyrants?

What is censorship? The industry has obscured that by claiming that the publisher exercises a censorship over himself. That is not what censorship means. It means control of one agency by another. When Freud speaks of an internal censor in the human mind, he does not mean that instinctive behavior can control itself. He specifically postulates another agency, the superego, which functions as censor. The social fact is that radio, books, movies, stage plays, translations, do function under a censorship. So do newspaper comic strips, which all have to pass the censorship of the editor, who sometimes – as in the case of the Newark News – rejects advance proofs. Comic books for children have no censorship.

“Huntsman” - Victorinox Swiss army knife with ...

“Huntsman” – Victorinox Swiss army knife with knife chain and belt clip (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which is why I’m not against essentially “R-rated” comics being kept away from children and given a “mature readers only” label or a warning about the violence and sexual content. But Wertham would make Uncle Scrooge R-rated if he could because someone breaks out a knife and there’s an ad for Swiss Army Knives in it. Or maybe the Swiss Army Knives are fine because Boy Scouts use them but Superman is probably read by some of those same Boy Scouts. In fact Superman is often accused of BEING a big boy scout.

The contrast between censorship for adults and the lack of it for children leads to such fantastic incongruities as the arrest of a girl in a nightclub for obscenity because she wrestles with a stuffed gorilla, when any six-year-old, for ten cents, can pour for hours or days over jungle books where real gorillas do much more exciting things with half-undressed girls than just wrestling.

What comic are you reading? I have never heard of jungle comics where women are hooking up with primates! (Except for their boyfriends. 😀 ) At least not from that time. There was that Ultra-Humanite origin from Power Girl that introduced the term “bloody monkey sex ” onto this site. But from a 50’s jungle comic? Not likely. Although I’ll refer you to the novel I mentioned earlier this chapter.

It is a widely held fallacy that civil liberties are endangered or could be curtailed via children’s books. But freedom to publish crime comics has nothing to do with civil liberties. It is a perversion of the very idea of civil liberties.

You may remember this from another jump ahead I did in this chapter, about portraying Lincoln’s assassination in textbooks. I was just thinking about this line. It isn’t a perversion. Yes, the Founding Fathers might object to some of the material, Wertham’s extreme view of “crime comic” aside, but I don’t think all of them would object as much as Wertham does. And this does have something to do with civil liberties. They have as much right to print this as you do to print this and I do to comment on it. I’m not against keeping mature content out of immature hands but he has been trying to curtail their rights. For all his talk…what little there was…of not being in favor of censorship he’s certainly championing it now. And he is trying to get rid of this medium, especially to kids. The only “good comic” is an illustrated book because it’s still a book without word balloons and written sound effects. He’s complained about every action story whether it falls into the actual description of “crime comic” or not while creating an extended, and inaccurate, definition of his own. He acts as if the majority of children and teens are being damaged by these books, but the only kids he’s talked to are troubled inner city kids, and seen only the violent children in the news. He has skewed his commentaries so that you see comics as the enemy rather than a balanced look at the problem of media influence. I have reviewed a few of the comics he’s probably looked at and called horrible, yet only one of them has even barely scratched his depiction of them.

And that’s the big problem here. It’s one man’s opinion so I expect it to be biased. On the other hand, these opinions really don’t hold up to scrutiny for someone who knows comics and the comics and storytelling world, much less someone on the other side of the next century who grew up with some of the very comics he’s scorned and didn’t see what he’s telling me kids my age of introduction into comics were doing in his time period. I’ve read Superman and Batman stories from the 1950s thanks to a pair of compilation books that were in my public library when I was a kid I borrowed multiple times and never had the reactions he claims kids had. Why was I so blessed?

An editorial in the New York Times entitled “Comic Book Censorship” says on the one hand: “We think the comic books have, on the whole, had an injurious effect on children and in various ways”; but goes on to say: “Public opinion will succeed in making the reforms needed. To wait for that to happen is far less dangerous than to abridge freedom of the right to publish.” How long are we supposed to wait? We have now waited for over a decade – and right now there are more and worse crime comic books than ever before.

And they were decades old when I was a kid. I was around when underground comics made a comeback and one of my friends got together with one of his other friends and published their own comic. (I don’t know how many issues or how wide their reach was across Connecticut–probably just the one store.) When I started making comics I didn’t do anything more violent than slapstick and it wasn’t until the 90s that I drew my first death scene, and it wasn’t gory at all, and the personal responsible was insane at the time, a victim of his powers warping his mind. (Plus one of the people he killed was guilty, the innocent considered guilty by association even though she didn’t know her dad was evil.) The story was about my superhero for that story helping him to control his powers and restore his sanity…as written by an 18-year-old who hadn’t written a lot of competent stories by then and possibly a victim of the 90s. The death wasn’t for shock or “yay, dead drug dealer” but to show how warped the former hero had become by his own powers.

My point is I live in a time when exactly what the New York Times editor at the time said would happen DID happen. For all the bonehead decisions the Comics Code Authority made overall it was a good system, demanded by the people who then forced any company not compliant with the code not just off of the newsstands and drugstore racks but right out of business. Although some titles and namesake publishers returned with the rise of the underground comic we did have a system for knowing which comics were okay for kids…until the CCA screwed up so badly that the publishers just ignored them and some writers still played games to get what they actually wanted past the censors.

While the industry wants to put all the burden on the children to protect themselves as best they can against injurious influences, John Kieran has expressed his belief that books for little children should be censored: “They have their foods selected for them, and the same applies to books. If the right books are given very young children to read, if the reading habit is started early, then when the children grow up they can select their own books.”

I don’t have a problem with this (although for at least Wertham if not Kieran the “right books” wouldn’t include comics), but who selects that food for them? Usually the parents outside of the school lunch and even that can lead to problems, like Michelle Obama’s school lunch program that didn’t sit well with students for good reason.

Wertham moves on to the subject of “the Winters case”, specifically Winters V. New York. The quick summary from the linked to site:

[A] case that involved the conviction of a man for distributing sensationalistic crime magazines. “The line between the informing and the entertaining is too elusive for the protection of that basic right,” the Court argued. “What is one man’s amusement teaches another’s doctrine. Though we can see nothing of any possible value to society in these magazines, they are as much entitled to the protection of free speech as the best of literature.”full decision

Thus, by 1950 the court had recognized that the First Amendment protected more than political speech narrowly defined. In addition, the court had acknowledged that there was no clear-cut line between the delivery of information and entertainment.

A panel from an Uncle Scrooge comic by Jack Br...

A panel from an Uncle Scrooge comic by Jack Bradbury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wertham drops a title of Bargains In Bodies and claims the books sold by Mr. Winters (I had to hunt down the case as it was, so I don’t know the bookseller’s first name) “was nothing but crime and bloodshed illustrated with gruesome pictures of victims and other such material”, but we’ve already seen Wertham exaggerate so often it’s hard to believe anything he says at face value. Granted I’m not looking this stuff up. On the other hand I do agree that the First Amendment isn’t supposed to protect us from things we don’t want to see or to hear said but to protect our rights to say it and our rights to voice our disapproval. That’s one of the good things about living in America.

In the United States Supreme Court the majority overruled this opinion. They made the dubious assertion that such words as “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent or disgusting” are “well understood through long use in the criminal law.” In contrast, they held that massing stories to incite crime and stories of deeds of bloodshed and violence is too “vague” and unclear. If they had looked into this literature for children, sold not in 2,000 copies but – at the very minimum – in 250,000 copies, they would have found fifty-two murders and patches of blood in one book and eighty-one acts of violence in another. There is nothing “vague” about that. In other words, they did not take into account fully Judge Cardozo’s concept of the “morality of the community” because they did not know what was going on in the children’s segment of the community. They actually objected to the New York law because it “does not limit punishment to the indecent and obscene”! They rejected the emerging new morality expressed by the New York State Court of Appeals.

The case wasn’t about defining morality. That’s the job of the people of this country. The court should not get involved in cultural issues because defining the culture, pop or otherwise, is not the job of the government. While that culture may affect what happens in Congress, the court is supposed to interpret law based on the Constitution Of The United States as well as the state Constitution where the Federal has no say in the matter. The Supreme Court decided that the First Amendment doesn’t target objectionable material, but protects everyone’s rights to speak their mind and that a narrow view of “political” (and here in 2017 everything is political now) violates those terms.

I have no doubt that the next generation will regard Justice Frankfurter’s dissenting opinion in the Winters case, in which Justice Jackson and Justice Burton concurred, as one of the great documents of legal and social philosophy of our time. He pointed out that the majority opinion could have been written by anybody who had never read the magazine in question.

He didn’t have to. That didn’t change the Amendment.

Justice Frankfurter pointed out “the bearing of such literature on juvenile delinquency.” He took full account of the acknowledged fact that there is uncertainty about the alleged “causes” of crime. But as I understand his opinion, since one does not know exactly the causes of crime and juvenile delinquency, that does not mean that one should not act. On the contrary, since one cannot be absolutely precise one should play safe with regard to dangerous influences on children.

Of course Wertham thinks that. He has a mad-on for comics and he’ll go with anything that supports his bias against the enemy of classic literature as he sees it.

Justice Frankfurter pointed out the heart of the problem when he considers it wrong to find “constitutional barriers to a state’s policy regarding crime, because it may run counter to our inexpert psychological assumptions or offend our presuppositions regarding incitements to crime. . . .” That is exactly what happened in the case of crime comic books. Psychiatrists and lawyers were so convinced that delinquency must have obscure, hidden and complex causes that they closed their minds to my findings that simple factors may touch off complex mechanisms.

Or you just want a clean and easy scapegoat and of course the newfangled medium is the best target and easier than dealing with the real causes. The comics he targets are at best an influence on a mind already lacking a conscience and leaning toward those kinds of acts anyway. Like the Columbine shooting being blamed on Doom despite the majority of players of the game NOT shooting up their school.

Justice Frankfurter made it clear that such a law would not interfere with freedom of speech and certainly not with that of the legitimate writers, their publishers and booksellers, including those who write fictional or fact stories of crime: “Laws that forbid publications inciting to crime [are] not within the constitutional immunity of free speech.”

Unfortunately yes it is. We may not like it (and I find it bizarre that the man behind the song “Cop Killer” now plays a rough cop on TV) but that is their right, and you’re right to protest against it and force them out through other means, like boycotts and the like.

Guys, there’s still more and previously I’ve said the heck with it and moved on for the sake of format. But when the law is involved and how it can positively and negatively affect a new medium I have to keep going. We’ll finish the Voltronathon next week (and frankly I wanted to wait one more week on this one–you’ll see why when it posts) because there’s too much important stuff left to say here.

Remember, only two chapters left after this and I’m taking next week off for Star Trek Discovery.

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. :)

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