Fun fact: according to my stats I just hit 100 subscribers here at BW Media Spotlight with 93 willing to admit it. My YouTube is also four away from 100. I may do something special if that joins the site at 100 but I’d have to figure out what. Audience participation is something I’m still trying to figure out.
Meanwhile it’s time to return to participating in the suicide of my happiness. There’s only one more chapter after this and I plan to take it down next week. As for this chapter we’re up to the part where Wertham goes after toys. Yes, toys. I really think this chapter is Wertham trying to convince us that he isn’t just targeting crime comics…and yet he still blames everything on crime comics. I’d say it’s getting pathological at this point but I’m not the psychiatrist here so I might be using the word wrong. Of course he’d never claim he’s nuts.
For those of you who also read my Sunday postings over at The Clutter Reports, you already know that I have been a fan of toys since I was old enough to be allowed to like toys by society. Because of course adults aren’t supposed to like kids things. Kids things are fun and we’re supposed to be serious and angry at the world or some junk like that. Adults don’t go to Disneyland unless they have kids. Christmas is meant for kids, not grown-ups who don’t eat figgy pudding anymore. However, play is important for adults too; we just play differently than kids, but now I’m off topic.
Kids need play and kids like to play adventure stories of heroes and villains. And I get the impression that Dr. Wertham hates kids knowing anything about evil. Sorry, doc, that fruit was eaten centuries ago.
To some extent children’s toys are a medium, too, and here the influence of comic books and other media is demonstrable. Toys are fitted into the school-for-violence pattern of child entertainment.
Did toy guns and play weapons not exist before comics?
For example, a central toy firm supplies many stores with toys. Its catalog has an elaborate chart showing what each toy “will contribute to development: mentally, physically, socially, vocationally.” This is all tabulated for age and sex. If you look under “age group 2 to 4 years you find holsters and guns, and more holsters and guns, some of which apparently contribute to the development of the child mentally, physically and socially, but not vocationally. One does not contribute at all, so evidently there are refinements in the education of children aged two to four which are not readily apparent.
So are kids not allowed to have toys that don’t “contribute to development”? Everything has to be educational? I don’t know why a two year old would want a toy gun, seeing as most toddlers don’t know what a gun is. Wait, is Wertham mistaking “safe to be around” for “contribute to development”? The warnings as I know them are about whether the toy contains any small parts that might be a choking hazard, not that it’s marketed to that age groups. At this point I wouldn’t put it past him to have the same level of understanding about toys that he does about storytelling…which is little if any.
There used to be only about ten companies manufacturing toy pistols, knives and other such weapons for children. Since the boom of television, however, there are almost three hundred of them.
Is it because of television or because more toy companies came into business as the Depression ended and more financially well-off people decided to invest in the toy industry? Action stories are popular and kids wanted to play the shows they saw. I did, and that often included toy spaceships and action figures, and only occasionally included toy guns.
The fight against violent toys by mothers (and grandmothers) is an old one. When Goethe in 1795 heard that a miniature guillotine was being exhibited at the Frankfurt fair he asked his mother to buy one for his six-year-old son August. But she wrote him:
“All that I can do for you I like to do and it gives me pleasure. But to buy such an infamous murder machine – that I won’t do for anything! To let children play with something so awful – to put in their hands instruments for murder and bloodshed – no, that won’t be done.”
I’m kind of on her side. Granted I didn’t live in 1795 and culture could be different then but that still seems like an odd toy. Nowadays it would be a gag gift for cutting carrots, and that’s still weird. Not too many people die from being shot at by a cap gun though…unless someone shot back with the real thing.
What would the old lady have said about the present armament program for American children? Toys not only satisfy the child’s imagination, they direct it. If we are really concerned about the growth of children’s social feelings, we need a disarmament program for the nursery.
“Why can’t our kids play non-violent games like we did.” Considering how many kids I know had toy guns and didn’t grow up to be murderers and mobsters (pardon my repeating myself), I think he’s overly concerned. But what else is new?
The violence which movies have been showing since the middle forties differs in quantity, quality and emphasis from the Jack London two-fistedness of the twenties. Canadian-provincial censors at a national convention have had the courage to say that sex in movies is a relatively minor problem, but crime and brutality is nowadays a major one. In some advertisements of movies the comic-book influence is noticeable.
The movie Problem Girls is advertised with the slogan “Nothing Can Tame Them!” There is a drawing beside the title showing a voluptuous girl hanging from her wrists which are tied together in typical comic book fashion. She has long streaming hair, is barefoot and seems to be clad in a clinging night gown. Next to her is a woman who is punishing her with a water hose. The whole setting has nothing to do with punishment or correction. It is strictly a perverse, sexually sadistic scene, of the type sold surreptitiously as obscene photographs.
I’ve seen another version of this poster that has the same image flipped, and still another that includes that image plus a scene of two girls fighting on a bed while a woman tries to break them up. Doing more research than Wertham ever does, which means a five-minute read of Wikipedia although I’m sure he could have found a review or at least talked to someone who saw the movie, this is punishment…by evil people. The movie centers around a psychiatrist who learns about shady dealings at a private school for girls involving an attempt to steal an heiress’ inheritance. The psychiatrist is the hero trying to thwart their evil scheme. Had the scheme somehow involved comics I’m sure Wertham would have seen himself in the role. Actually, based on the description the poster seems misleading. Considering the Wikipedia entry has the full synopsis and doesn’t mention side stories…yet there’s that one poster of the two girls fighting…what else happens in this flick?
Some time ago I saw a movie which had this episode: A young woman was nursing her baby; a man tears the baby away from her, throws it to the ground and kicks it away, then he hits the young mother over the head with a fence paling, knocking her over, and kicks her off the scene.
And no name given to the movie. I guess he was worried we’d be more willing to look into his claim.
Sometimes children pattern their behavior after movies plus comic books. I saw a ten-year-old boy in the Clinic who had a long list of misdoings in school. He had pushed a little girl down an entire flight of stairs, which he got from the movies, and he twisted little girls’ arms behind their backs, which he got from comic books. He did not tell me that as an excuse. He felt as guilty about his fantasies as about his acts.
Did he tell you that at all? At least he felt guilty once confronted (or about being caught…who knows?) but is Wertham assuming or is that what the kid said?
Hollywood has been surprised that abroad some of its movies based on good books have been banned for minors. That happened, for example, in Sweden, despite the famous titles of the books. Of course it all depends on the ingredients of the movie. Swedish parents objected to too much violence (plus sex) for their children. Great Britain, Australia and other countries followed suit in attempts to keep movie violence and sadism away from their children.
Of course Wertham thinks Les Miserables is a good book for minors, and that was set partially during the French Revolution. But it’s classic literature and that’s all he needs. Apparently kids will emulate Al Capone but not Long John Silver, unless it’s from the comic version.
An American teacher made the typical defensive argument that the children could distinguish between entertainment and truth. This fallacious argument is heard frequently. Fiction and fact are not totally separated; there is a dynamic relationship between them. In this instance a British teacher answered that even many adults in England felt that the values in the movies applied to American life in general. All such criticism of American mass media is played down or goes unreported in the American press. It would be important for the public to know about it.
Why, because one teacher made the claim that supports your viewpoint? And yes, some kids do know that what happens in a movie or TV show is fiction. It depends on how young and how they let their imagination run away with them wondering if fairies do exist. By the way, fairies in folklore could be a lot nastier than Tinker Bell. Look it up sometimes.
Some movie writers look in crime comic books for new tricks. For instance the producer of the movie serial Atom Man vs Superman, which was shown in about half the movie theaters of the country, is said to be “an avid reader of the comics, from which he gets many of his ideas.”
I’ve seen that serial as a kid and I’ve been able to re-watch part of it since I own the DVD with both miniseries. It’s actually not that bad. Not really violent, no sexuality, the hero saves people…but that hero is Superman so it’s automatically evil. Also they used cartoons to show off Superman’s powers, which is kind of weird after seeing The Adventures Of Captain Marvel.
All the media have one characteristic in common: The mothers are fighting a losing battle with the experts. Many experts, self-styled and otherwise, say that children laugh all this off, or, if they don’t, there must be something wrong with the children (not, of course, with the media).
I question the “something wrong” part, or as Wertham writes later in the paragraph “something more deeply personal”, according to another defender. Some kids handle blood and scary things better than others. This doesn’t mean that the ones that “handle it” turn psychotic or anything. I didn’t like a lot of gore–and still don’t. That’s not a bad reflection on the kids that did, and I’m sure they had their limits as well; they were just higher. That’s not “wrong”, it’s just some kids like scary things more than others. There’s a reason I never dressed as a monster for Halloween except for that one time, which I hated, or if you count the year I went trick or treating in one of those cheap Stormtrooper costumes they used to have in the 70s and 80s.
Quite apart from the mail I have received, I have polled hundreds of mothers on this and unless they repeat what experts have told them in lectures or over the radio or in articles, they feel the way Mrs. Walter Ferguson expressed it in her column “A Woman’s View”:
“Because no good mother has an opinion different from my own and all the other mothers who completely agree with me. Join the hivemind!” So what did the GOOD mother have to say?
“Every thinking mother knows how these outside forces (comics, movies, radio and TV) have influenced her family. . . . Today most children use their leisure to look at Westerns in movie theaters, to pore over unfunny comics which picture criminal activities or to listen to the same sort of thing over the radio. When television becomes as widespread as radio we can expect it to make a profound impression upon American children. . . .None of the women I have talked with believe these things are good for children. They only hope the impressions left will not be too deep.”
Don’t worry. They were, but mostly the good parts. More fear of the new medium not borne out by the future.
Unfortunately psychiatry – or rather, some of its modern practitioners – has taken a defensive attitude about crime and sadism in the various media. They have provided a rationalization for that which they should help to prevent. There are three reasons for that.
Oh you’re going to love this part, folks.
One is that hardly ever are these pronouncements made on the basis of actual study or even knowledge of what is going on. The same psychiatrists who will spend three years and hundreds of hours with an individual neurotic patient will pronounce on what happens to children from a ten-minute inspection of comic books (if that) or pronounce on children’s movie programs without ever having been to a Saturday matinee with a child audience and with children’s programs.
This from the man who thinks the Blue Beetle turns into an actual giant beetle. This from the man who thinks Superman is a Nazi. This from the man who thinks Batman and Robin are gay because Robin’s real first name is Dick. This from the man who thinks Wonder Woman is a lesbian because a girl who fights crime yet shows compassion for others and fights for oppressed women. This from the man who thinks a comic about a man crashing from drug addiction will hook kids on drugs. Apparently they can figure out more in ten minutes than Wertham can allegedly reading the actual comic!
The second reason is an over-individualistic outlook. On the basis of what they know of individual cases, psychiatrists pronounce largely on crime, delinquency, war, social organization and world peace, leaving out all mass-conditioning and all historical, social and economic forces.
Because children have their own hivemind and all kids are exactly and completely alike regardless of financial status or moral upbringing.
The third reason is that the psychiatrist, despite his formal training, still remains a member of the society in which he moves and, as the whole crime comics issue has shown, is not so immune from the social pattern as he may think.
Or they’re not cultural elitist snobs who find it hard to go back and forth between word balloons, sound effects, and art that isn’t done by a Raphael who isn’t a ninja turtle. It could be that too.
In what I’m assuming is the final part of this chapter we finally get back to the target of this chapter’s title…the television.