Why does this guy’s ramblings matter and why this chapter specifically? Because the complaints being made against comics were also being made against video games, with people demanding government take action often by people who didn’t know what they were talking about. The Jack Thompsons and Joe Libermans of video games were the Fredric Werthams and Sterling Halloways of comics. When a new medium comes along kids will favor the new thing but eventually older people see the potential for entertainment in it, so the creators try to cater to older audiences. But then you have the real old audiences who see this as an affront to what they kids should be doing.
And I’m not against sending the kids outside to play when it’s a beautiful day out, but I still see ads where video games always looks like the bad thing do to. The only ads I’ve seen where kids and their parents and grandparents play video games together were ads for the Nintendo Wii and Wii U, since Nintendo was looking at people who grew up with games and their kids. Rare is the ad with dad and son playing together that isn’t selling video games and even rarer with the grandparents. There’s an instant dislike to media we didn’t grow up with and someday something else will come along like comics, television, or video games that will either be written off as a fad or declared the enemies of children, and the government will be forced by their constituents to “do something about the problem”. For the children of course, but it’s really just “get rid of that newfangled thing”.
When I asked for a law against children’s crime comics I expressed the logical result of my clinical studies. But at the same time I was crystallizing and giving expression to the vague gropings of the more enlightened part of public opinion which seeks a curb on the rising tide of education for violence. Justice Frankfurter admirably translated this vague groping into verbal clarity by assuming that the legislators who framed the statute on which the Winters case is based had expressed their reasons in words. This, Justice Frankfurter said, is what they would or could have said:
And from how it’s written, do so as one long sentence. Conan The Adventurer only wishes it could fit in as long a run-on sentence.
“We believe that the destructive and adventurous potentialities of boys and adolescents and of adults of weak character . . . are often stimulated by collections of pictures and stories of criminal deeds of bloodshed or lust so massed as to incite to violent and depraved crimes against the person; and . . . we believe that such juveniles . . . do in fact commit such crimes at least partly because incited to do so by such publications,…
But this book has constantly made it sound like comics themselves were the root cause rather than inspiring a specific crime. I’ve seen adults inspired by movies to commit crimes with a lot of thought, like Money Train, or at least claim they were inspired by such movies in the possible hope of being let free. “I was a victim of Hollywood.”
…the purpose of which is to exploit such susceptible characters . . . such belief . . . is supported by our experience as well as by the opinions of some specialists qualified to express opinions regarding criminal psychology and not disproved by others . . .
As was spoken by the narrator of The Powerpuff Girls “being a genius doesn’t make you a smart guy”.
in any event there is nothing of possible value to society in such publications, so that there is no gain to the State, whether in edification or enlightenment or good of any kind . . . and the possibility of harm by restricting free utterance through harmless publications is too remote and too negligible a consequence of dealing with the evil publications with which we are here concerned.”
And yet who did future Presidents go to for helping promote a pro-fitness or anti-drug campaign? Comics.
From this legal document I derived courage in what through no wish of mine, but by its own logic, had developed into a contest with the crime-comic-book industry. What respect they had for freedom of expression I could, see from one of the minor episodes. As my material accumulated I decided to put it in book form. One day one of the most prominent experts for the defense visited my prospective publisher and told him what an error it would be to publish a book by me. This expert said I was “completely wrong in my ideas about comic books and that I “stand absolutely alone” in my opinions about them. It is certainly fortunate that there are still publishers whose respect for freedom of expression takes other forms than those of the comic-book industry!
I’m not sure where the actual spin was but less assume that’s what the expert said. Obviously he wasn’t alone and that isn’t an excuse not to publish something. As far as being completely wrong, history and this analysis leans against Dr. Wertham. At this point Wertham goes on to discuss the “mental-hygiene” profession and why they have failed to do their job.
We have not less, but more alcoholism. We certainly do not have fewer neuroses.
Instead we have a neurosis for pretty much everything, especially if you’re a violent criminal. And we have the pill to help you. Which isn’t to pretend medicine doesn’t help, but for some issues there are other methods. It helped with my hyperactivity as a kid. Granted it didn’t do much for my temper.
We have more and more violent juvenile delinquency and drug addiction has invaded the schools. The reason for this relative failure is that mental hygiene has separated itself so much from other fields and has succumbed to an ostrich policy with regard to concrete social evils, explaining them away rather than helping to fight them. The intricacies of parent-child relationship explain a great deal, but they alone cannot carry the weight of a really dynamic mental hygiene. The influences from outside the family must be added.
Except Dr. Wertham (notice how somehow during this series I started addressing Wertham directly? I didn’t want to do that), in the way he has written this book, has at best paid lip service to the child’s currently lifestyle and parent-child relationship. Had this been about the influence of media in general, with a section on comics, we might not need this conversation at all. But he has all but ignored every factor except comics and made them look like the cause of kids being evil.
Interestingly today I saw a review of the book and movie The Bad Seed, a story in which a child is really a serial killer, which in the 1950s was still shocking. Now we have the Home Alone kid as a murder before Macaulay Culkin was old enough to shave. For real. Back then it’s another story. It was also around the same time the “nature versus nurture” debate was just getting started. Were kids born evil (possibly inheriting it from one or both parents–in the book the little girl’s mother was also a serial killer) or did it happen due to life experiences. Dr. Wertham would just blame comics.
Speaking of the food, drug and cosmetic act, an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association points out that legislation in these fields “stemmed from the unusual responsibility held by those who produce and handle such essentials as food and drugs.” What I submit is that mental health is an even greater responsibility. That is why I advocated a public-health approach to the comic-book problem.
It’s a greater responsibility to you because you’re in it. I’m not against the mental health industry as a whole, although I can point to certain members of it that makes Dr. Sofen (Moonstone/Meteorite) from our Thunderbolts readings look like a saint or at least those who think they’re helping but have the wrong approach. There are also very good ones. But when the people who deal with mental health so often disagree as to how to approach what or if what is even a “problem”…I mean, we know when food is bad but these guys can’t agree on when the brain is bad.
What should a public-health law accomplish? Its purpose is not the punishment of crimes, although as an example that may be necessary. When proposing a comic-book law I have often been told:
“You can’t make a law unless you enlighten the public first.”
“Good laws cannot help when there are bad attitudes.”
Can’t they? Over and over again the objection has been made to my proposals that you have to educate the people first.
We need to educate the doctor first. And yes it is important to have the public on your side. That’s how law in the US works; the will of the people to determine what the law should be. Wertham not surprisingly is working to subvert the current culture against a medium whose big crime is really “doesn’t read like the one I love” and scapegoating an easy solution over actually dealing with shell shock (or PTSD nowadays), broken homes, and a still struggling economy.
If nothing else, a comic-book law would make people think. It would inform them that there are responsible people who take seriously the subtle harm that crime comics do. One of the functions of law is to inform the public.
That’s a weak motivation at best. Law is agreed upon by the public or the people hired by the public to (allegedly) serve the public’s best interest as agreed upon by…the public! Perhaps if your approach and perspective wasn’t so extreme you could get people to see what media influence can do positively and negatively. But that’s not happening because “comics are the agents of Satan”. Remember, this chapter’s title is “The DEVIL’S Allies”.
A good example of the obstacles in the path of public-welfare laws is a court case of 1892. A landlord had failed to provide running water on each floor of a large tenement house. That seems to us now a self-understood requirement of public health. But at that time the Court of Appeals ruled: “There is no evidence, nor can the Court judicially know, that the presence and distribution of water on the several floors will conduce to the health of the occupants. . . There is no necessity for legislative compulsion on a landlord to distribute water through the stories of his buildings; since, if the tenants require it, self-interest and the rivalry of competition are sufficient to secure it.”
I could be proven wrong in the comments but was running water as easy as it is today? If so then the decision is stupid. Then again, I don’t know what “the rivalry of competition” has to do with anything. I wonder if there is some historic context that is missing here?
This is like what the comic-book industry and its experts and legal defenders say now: How can a court judicially know that a child needs good reading? Why not leave it all to the competition of the good books (leaving out the defenselessness of the tenants in the one case and of children in the other)?
No, in this case you’re the one denying a particular choice of entertainment rather than going for a proper alternative. Then again we already know your alternative to comics. NOT comics.
The threadbare argument that only the predisposed are potentially harmed by comic books is without merit from the point of view of public health. In the first place, it is not true. I have seen many troubled children and juvenile delinquents who were predisposed to achieving good things in life and were deflected from their course by the social environment of which comic books are an important part. Postulating beforehand who will be harmed by what, has long been replaced in public-health thinking by scientific observation. During the great flu epidemic of 1918 we learned that many regular subway riders and slum dwellers were immune while strong young men from the country succumbed. There is not only a psychopathology, there is also an epidemiology of juvenile delinquency.
You know, the disease analog is starting to wear thin with me. The common cold affects us all eventually, if it doesn’t disrupt some as much as others. But Wertham is only dealing with the major victims, and not the kids who aren’t “turning evil” due to comics. And how do you determine what a child is “predisposed” to do when you have barely acknowledged any factor besides comics and sometimes gone out of your way to ignore those other factors? As far as this book demonstrates anyway.
I had occasion to try out these ideas of mine in a totally different field – although at one point comic books were involved there, too. I was giving expert testimony in Wilmington in the Delaware test case concerning segregation in elementary and public schools. I presented to the court in detail the thesis that regardless of the quality or inequality of the physical facilities, the fact of segregation itself constitutes a definite hazard for the mental health of children.
See, Wertham can be right now and then. Although I remember a movement in the I think late 90s to basically restore school segregation. By some black people sadly.
Segregation in school is only one factor in the social context of other factors, I went on. One cannot postulate a fixed hierarchy of factors operative in every case: The very fact that these children are exposed to race prejudice in other spheres highlights the school segregation. In this connection I mentioned the race prejudice taught in comic books. The court accepted my public-mental-health point of view and ordered the children admitted to the schools from which they had been excluded.
Even when the subject isn’t comics he has to bring comics into things. Don’t get me wrong, he did a good job here. Although a century has changed and we still act like a different skin color makes any difference…and I can’t remember the last time I heard a “dumb blonde” joke so go figure?
The analogy with the comic-book question is obvious. But whereas in the ease of school segregation something new was accomplished, with crime comic books the same reasoning did not work.
Maybe because the analogy isn’t so obvious. At least to me.
One obstacle was the attitude of some writers, editorialists and columnists on child welfare whose minds are closed to something new.
They regard juvenile delinquents as if they were totally different from other children. Even liberal writers write of “the mark of Cain which an evil destiny brands on some of our children.” They believe that emotionally strong children are unaffected, while only emotionally insecure children are exposed. This is pure speculation. It means the distinction between an invulnerable elite and a vulnerable common group. Reflect what snobbishness is involved.
Again, no comment. By the way, how do we know what child is emotionally strong? We’ve seen the “norm” is never a proper standard, and I bring up that “nature versus nurture” debate from earlier.
He is a naughty child, I’m sure –
Or else his dear papa is poor.
Wertham only works in extremes, even in what he thinks goes through the minds of others.
The belief that delinquent children are totally different from others is one reason why they are so harshly treated. Even the difference be tween a mild delinquent act and a serious one is not the difference between black and white. I have seen children at every stage of this sequence: A young boy experiments in talking about sex with a little girl; he has the impulse to inspect her; he experiments; he wants her not to tell; he threatens her with one of his comic-book-bought knives; he really harms her. Is it reasonable to assume that each act has a different causation, the serious act a “very deep” cause and the mild act a very superficial one?
Of course the knife is “comic-book-bought” because he loves his hammer collection. Yes, this is bad for a boy to force his inspection on her. Some doctors even think “playing doctor” (not the version you do with your spouse or dating partner, I mean the innocent kind) is healthy on some levels for exploring the physical difference between boy and girl while others immediately assume he’s a sexual predator in training. It’s hard to tell what to go with, or if just maybe it’s different for each child.
He also uses the ostrich argument that the child-delinquency rate “was actually declining.” It was not. Moreover, delinquency statistics are most unreliable.
So then what are you using to then claim they went up? He also accuses the people behind the statistics of lying.
Whenever a social or private agency needs more appropriations or contributions to combat juvenile delinquency, the delinquency rate goes up; when they make reports accounting for the money spent, the rates go down.
You don’t trust anymore that disagrees with you, do you Frederic?
The violence is, in [Harper’s magazine’s “Personal & Otherwise” dept.]’s opinion, the “product of a moral and social confusion.” How can one better defend the status quo than by blaming something so vague and general, to the exclusion of concrete facts? P. & 0. reproaches me for over-simplification and states that I neglect socio-economic conditions. Does he think that comic books drop from heaven? They are a clear expression of economic conditions and are a part of the social environment of these children.
No, they just look for solutions instead of scapegoats.
From here Wertham goes on to talk about a Senator coming to him for help on the cause of delinquency and of course he goes to comics. That’s an article in itself but I’m done with this chapter. Next week I break for the new Star Trek and the two weeks following it’s time to end this book. And I’m going to have to go somewhere else to find those two chapters so I’ll need the time anyway.
Next Time: Homicide At Home