In case you missed yesterday’s posting, Dr. Wertham has turned his attention to television–possibly to pretend he is looking into factors other than comics for kids turning evil or whatever. Granted he’s still blaming media for the cause of being evil instead of just influencing certain acts, and of course he takes an extreme opinion based on his own biases and a questionable version of “research” into the then new medium. I think he just hates new mediums.

And yes, I am saying that certain shows and comics aren’t for kids, but he is still scapegoating here rather than dealing with the societal problems that are the reason the kids he deals with are lacking in the morals department and acting like almost every kid in America was acting the same way. Let’s see how well he digs this new hole.

One thing true of all the media is that many people glibly discount their influence on children. But they have a continuous impact on masses of children that would have been unheard-of in former times and they really mediate between the child and his environment. For example, in the most lurid crime stories the final defeat of the villain is supposed to cancel out his previous triumphs and achievements. That is psychologically naive.

No, that’s dramatically sound. If the hero defeats the villain without any problem the story is boring. This has been falsely slapped onto Superman (Wertham’s mortal enemy) in the past, and I’ve shot that theory down before. The villain has to win a few so that we want to see him or her lose in the end and the hero gets to overcome a problem and save the day. That’s good writing! And yes, you can have a story where the hero stops the villain from ever winning at anything, or even get an advantage, and still be good but they’d have to be either short stories or really that darn good to pull it off. As we’ve established, Wertham doesn’t understand how to write fiction…except the fiction that gets rid of comics.

The race ridicule and nationality stereotypes of comic books is also spread to some extent through other media. The mayor of the city of New York has commented severely on the race prejudice shown in television murder mysteries. (He did not mention the race prejudice in comic books which is much more widespread and harmful and about which he could do something, since they are sold on newsstands on city property.) The excuses for not interfering with this are the same for all media.

This one I have to agree with…but it’s not like books from the time or earlier were any better.

Whenever the question of the harm done by mass media is raised, the easy retort is that it is all up to the family. But the family itself is invaded with an all-round amphibious offensive. Take a peaceful American family on a quiet evening. Papa rests from his work and is reading Mickey Spillane. Junior has just come home from a movie with a “DOUBLE-SHOCK SHOW: The Vanishing Body and The Missing Head.” He settles down to look at one of those good crime television shows where a man is beaten up so mercilessly that
he is blinded for life. His older sister, just this side of puberty, is engrossed in the comic book Reform School Girl!, which blends sex, violence and torture in its context. (The advertisements in comic books have been worrying her about her development and she has just discovered the secret solution, the “BULGE-MASTER” [$5.98], advertised in this book.) Mama had been invited for the evening to see an avant-garde film. But when she read the title of the program, Meditation on Violence, she decided to stay home instead and use the
evening to keep abreast of the latest in child psychology.

Why is mom reading child psychology, which ends up also being about violence later in the paragraph by the way, while Dad is reading Mike Hammer, the son went to a horror double feature, and sis is reading about reform school? I think it’s more likely Mom is reading a trashy romance novel. Meanwhile nobody is listening to the radio or watching television. Even when he isn’t going after comics, he’s going after comics. Oh look, one complaint about movies.

It is essential to recognize that the various media have an influence on one another although that is not generally realized. The newer medium may influence the older. It is well-known that the movies have influenced the theater. We speak of a television-level melodrama in the movies and a comic-book-level show on television.

And yet the newer media are borrowing from the old. Comics draw more from radio than TV, since comics predate TV. I can’t speak for the theater at the time but there have been adaptations of theater in movies, especially during the theatrical heyday of the musical. Basically you have people using supposedly derogatory terms for something they think doesn’t add up to their medium of choice, forgetting they don’t have the same budget or are a new form of storytelling. Today it’s still only a successful IP if it becomes a live-action theatrical movie. Everything else, included animated motion pictures, are low-man on the totem pole.

The paradox is this: All the mass media together have influence on the child, but each follows separate laws. And the lowest medium, the only illegitimate one as far as children are concerned, the crime comic has in fact the greatest influence on all the other media.

I somehow doubt that. It’s just comics are easiest for him to blame because he hates comics for being new and different.

In the last half-decade or so crime comics have influenced all the media in some degree. In that sense one can speak of a comic-book culture, especially for children. Comic books have been in competition with the other media not only with regard to money but with regard to children’s minds as well. I have not found, as many would have us believe, that the good influence of the legitimate media makes comic books better, or restricts their circulation. On the contrary, comic books make the other media worse.

This is the same old song. Comics are responsible for everything that’s wrong in the world. The Nazis created Captain America, I guess. He already thinks they created Superman. Darn Jewish Nazis.

It is true, as is always pointed out by comic-book defenders, that crime and horror shows existed long before comic books. But there is a new special touch – blatant, crude and shameless – that the other media now have to absorb, imitate and rival in order to be able to  compete with the comic- book industry. Children’s minds have been molded to strong sadistic fare. If he does not slap the girl around, what kind of a he-man is the hero? If he does not strangle her or poison her, where is the excitement? And if there is no murder, where is the plot? So it is not possible to improve children’s shows on television or radio as long as crime comic books are left the way they are.

He honestly thinks comics are altering other media. Considering that until recently other media looked down on comics, and some still do–and oddly are hired by DC to make their movies and TV show and by Marvel to actually make their comics–this statement doesn’t hold water.

Some time ago I saw a Western movie in which the villain shoots the sheriff straight in the face. It was a children’s matinée and at that point the children first laughed and then loudly applauded. This was not the so-called natural cruelty of children that adults like to speak about. This particular type of response was inculcated in these children by the most persistent conditioning in habits of hate ever given to children in the world’s history.

Note that he doesn’t say what the name of the movie is so this can be investigated. And I find it hard to believe that all the kids found a man being shot anywhere funny unless the acting was that bad or it was some kind of comedy.

There is at present in all the media, especially as they affect children, a pattern of violence, brutality, sadism, bloodlust, shrewdness, callous disregard for human life and an ever-renewed search for subhuman victims, criminal, racial, national, feminine, political, terrestrial, supernatural and interplanetary. Brutality is the keynote. It is self-understood that such a pat tern in a mass medium does not come from nothing. There must be clues in real life as to why violence is in the air.

And you’ve missed all of them but crime comics.

The quantity of violence in all the media is stupendous. It has become almost a national pastime for committees of women’s clubs to count the murders in children’s programs during a week. But quantity alone does not give the real picture. Hamlet is not just a play about violence. It has a plot, poetry, character development, philosophy, psychology. And yet, in the course of the play Hamlet kills five people. It is the context that counts, not the quantity.

You’re using Hamlet? The story of killing relatives, suicide, cruelty–yeah, that’s a great story for kids to learn how to become a proper adult. As for “context”, this is something you’re not very good at, Doctor. You though “Teen-Age Dope Slaves” would turn kids to drugs, which means we must have read two different comics. You think Superman, the guy who stands up for truth and justice, is a fascist symbol. You think Blue Beetle is a man who turns into an actual beetle!

Granted that this cult of violence originates somewhere in our social life, there is a dynamic reciprocal relationship between the audience and the creators of mass entertainment. The same influences come to bear on both producers and audience. Gradually, through constant reiteration, brutality is accepted and the producers can say that this is what the children (and adults) wanted in the first place. In speaking of children they use the refinement of a false argument by saying that this is what children need. The audience, on the other hand, feels that this is what it is supposed to like, in order to be virile and up-to-date. So there is a vicious circle, with normal business needing morbid audiences and healthy audiences spoiling normal business. The aberration becomes the norm and the norm creates the aberration.

That’s not how ratings or statistics work. Or creators will focus on one demographic and target that at the request of advertisers who want to find the most suckers. If you have any complaint it should be that the creators are ignoring more groups and that’s all the rest of us have left to watch or read.

What all media need at present is a rollback of sadism.

Or at least an option for the rest of us who don’t like sadism. Not all media has to serve your tastes. Kids deserve options, but Wertham has a rather strict view of sadistic based on the few times I’ve been able to examine some of his targets.

For a while, before 1945, it seemed that the crime-comic-book industry had a monopoly on the brutalization of children. Now it has some competition from television and the other media. So children may get the idea that violence is natural from any or all of the media, as well as from other children exposed to these media too.

More declaring the comic to be the source of all evil.

In the Hookey Club a boy once described a movie where the hero strangled the girl. “Why did he have to strangle her?” I asked. The answer was “Well, there has to be some adventure in the world.” The story is told of the two little boys who had gone to see a romantic movie. “It was boring,” said one. “Not to me,” said the other. “I didn’t mind. Whenever they kissed I closed my eyes and pretended he was choking her.”

Who else thinks this story is bull? Why would two boys willingly go to a romantic movie? I know little boys don’t like the idea of kissing, but (a) why go to a movie full of it and (b) why would you want the girl choked? And you didn’t answer the question of why the hero in the first story strangled the girl.

In all this consideration of other media one should never lose sight of the fact that, in complete contrast to comic books, movies – and radio as well – are an enormous educational influence, that they have given us unforgettable artistic experiences and that they are indispensable instruments of what could be best in our culture. To some extent this is also beginning to be true of television.

And what keeps comics from doing that? Oh right, word balloons and FTAM! Then he moves on to “pocket-sized books”, claiming they have told good stories, but even here “comic style violence” is being mean to him. He gives this example off the back of one book.

[name deleted] was having trouble with women. The first one was dead-strangled in her bed as she waited for her business man-lover to come out of the shower. The second had a lovely name, a lovely face and an even lovelier bosom. The third was a frustrated widow. Her alcoholic strip tease in X’s apartment left him cold – but she was much colder later on, with a bullet through her heart . . . a tasty dish for those who like their crime stories rough, tough and sexy.

Sounds like a children’s book! Certainly it is a book for adolescent-minded readers brought up on crime comics.

Nothing about that says “children’s book”! Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Doctor. Your editor should have realized that by now! Tell me, should they have bothered making any new stories since your childhood? You know they made porn in the 1800s too, right? Then Wertham goes into a book (of course he chooses only the worst examples) that claimed it was accurate on the subject of nymphomania, with a psychiatrist’s backing.

The high point of the book is the detailed description of the heroine poisoning her lover. He is in horrible agony, shakes, falls and gets a series of convulsions. She watches all this with ecstatic joy. Every convulsion of the dying man is “like a virile thrust to her. Her own body twitched and moved spasmodically.” When he finally dies,” . . . she reached her own paroxysm.

I don’t know enough about nymphomania…nor do I want to…to accurately assess the accuracy (that’s oddly not redundant), but I don’t think that’s how that works. You have to wonder if the claim of a renowned psychiatrist’s approval isn’t a lie. We’ve seen media do that with reviews, just by taking words out of context. He goes on to discuss a second book about the male equivalent, satyriasis. (Yes, I looked it up.) He focuses on one scene with the character he claims (and I question such claims at this point) is the hero of the story beating a young woman up.

She “enjoys the blows.” “It was like the time she had watched the Negro being beaten and stoned and what she had felt then she was experiencing again.” Sadism (or masochism) as sexual fulfillment – that is the “educational experience” in these books.

And BDSM types got upset that Fifty Shades Of Grey was an irresponsible portrayal of their…I don’t know what you’d call it, but it still freaks me out even knowing what “rules” are set up in these encounters. Finally for this part we’ll look at bubble-gum cards of the time and if Wertham is accurate and truthful they do sound disturbing. A bit too disturbing for me to post.

To influence children’s parents, bubble-gum makers use the same methods that the crime-comics industry uses. There is a little magazine for juvenile card collectors. One number announces a new “Wild Man” series. At the masthead it says: “Dedicated to Child, Church, Home, School, Community.” It is reported that bubblegum manufacturers have more than $10,000,000 annual profits.

He just likes to think everyone is doing the evil thing, doesn’t he? I’m sure there were plenty of bubblegum trading cards that didn’t have graphic images like the ones he lists, including what he claimed were more jungle savages and violent dismemberment. I know nothing of these cards so I can’t judge his accuracy, which has shown enough holes in the past.

Tomorrow we learn that even toys aren’t safe from Wertham’s sanitizing of the world and his judgement of media. Yes, even toys have been corrupted by those devil-spawn crime comics! Join us tomorrow.

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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