Due to last night’s delay (all is well now thankfully) this one is going to go well over the 3000 word count in order to finish this chapter off. Luckily there’s no Friday Night Fight this week as voting continues on the Prize Fight.

Hey, we’re finally talking about TV shows in a chapter about the other new medium. Thus far we had the opening monologue about TV only to discuss movies, pocket books, radio, and toys. (Not mentioned of course was classic literature.) Doctor Wertham is trying to tackle the critics who accuse him of ignoring violence in other mediums, but even when he discusses them it’s because of crime comics. Crime comics are ruining everything. Why can’t everything be the same as when Wertham was growing up? Now you have these new media formats coming up, kids want to play action stories involving guns…it’s just so terrible!

Look, I do question some of the games Wertham has accused kids of playing, but I’m seeing more and more that Wertham operates from his own filter. It makes me wonder what he’s exaggerating and what he’s actually heard about. I keep bringing up the Blue Beetle thing because it shows he lacks perception of how a child explains things. And based on things he’s written before I also question his understanding of stories and how it is perceived by others, especially kids. There’s also this thought that every kid thinks and responds the same way, that “hivemind” I keep talking about. And this is the guy responsible for child therapy. It does make me concerned, and it’s worth bringing up because parent groups today still do it. And when it comes to television there is no better example. I’m all for not exposing five-year-olds to Game Of Thrones or Hellraiser but there are parents who would have a problem with He-Man for seven-year-olds. How is that a good thing? So what does Wertham say about TV?

Television is on the way to become the greatest medium of our time. It is a marvel of the technological advance of mankind. The hopes it raises are high, even though its most undoubted achievement to date is that it has brought homicide into the home. Its rise has been phenomenal.

Because there’s never been violence in plays before…actually, he doesn’t mention anything about stage plays or opera, which I recall one animated short discussing the sin and chicanery in opera. And I’ll bet you Wertham would rather a kid go to an opera and see someone dragged into hell still alive than watching Superman defeat some thugs.

For every set in 1946 there are now (1953) more than two thousand. Television has a spotty past, a dubious present and a glorious future. That alone distinguishes it from crime comic books, which have a shameful past, a shameful present and no future at all.

Past: Comic books started as a collection of comic strips from the newspaper, which apparently had the same criticisms as comic books from what I’ve been researching. Present: We have already observed evidence of Wertham exaggerating or not understanding what’s in a comic or how to even read a comic. Future: We live in it. We know that comics have been used to aid in the war on drugs, domestic abuse, child abuse, animal abuse, civil rights, struggles in other countries, education in science and technology, and how yummy Twinkies are. Comics have done a lot of good in this life. They have also achieved that creative expression Wertham talked about in previous chapters, with everything from stick figures to watercolors being used in sequential art to both success and failure depending on the individual story. Time has proven Wertham wrong. Even doing “good art” in his mind doesn’t lead to good comics because the “painted art style” rarely leads to doing what comic art does since both tell stories in their own way and rarely do they mix.

Then again, his idea of a “good comic” is an illustrated book. He’s not a good judge of comics.

Many people do not realize fully television’s immense potentialities. That seems to hold true for some of the producers and, in the ascending line of power, the sponsors and advertising agencies as well. There have been some plays, news programs and documentaries which one can hardly forget in one’s adult education. They are still experimental, but they vibrate with possibilities. There have been excellent children’s shows, like Chicago’s Zoo Parade; Mr. I. Magination; Uncle Lumpy; Mr. Wizard; Kukla, Fran and Ollie; Paul Whiteman TV Club; etc.

English: Publicity photo of Kukla and Ollie fr...

Publicity photo of Kukla and Ollie from Kukla, Fran, and Ollie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I only know Kukla, Fran, And Ollie by name, and Mr. Wizard because of the remake on Nickelodeon back in the old days. (Same scientist.) But note that this is what Wertham thinks is the only things that kids should watch. No action shows, no crime shows, no crimefighting, no good versus evil. I have nothing against these shows. I’ll happily defend Barney the dinosaur. However, that kind of limits kids’ options, and whatever his critics may think THIS is an example of sheltering kids from evil’s existence. Does he mind Sunday School mentioning the Devil?

The trouble with television is that it has no vision. Formulas and felonies triumph over everything else. According to Norman Cousins, “the standardized television formula for an evening’s entertainment is a poisoning, a variety show, a wrestling match.” What more could anyone want? For one thing, a fuller exploitation of the possibilities.

It’s a brand new medium. It’s trying to find its place as a medium. It needs to establish what it is before it can figure out where it’s going. And it’s not going to be limited by one group’s preferences and point of view. Everyone is going to have something to watch at some point. And now Wertham doesn’t even want murder mysteries. He must hate Sherlock Holmes. Or does Sir Arthur Conan Doyle get a pass because he wrote books? And what’s wrong with variety shows and wrestling?

It would be quite wrong to blame the television industry alone for that. A medium cannot be better than the life it mediates. There was once an excellent program called Rebuttal. Its purpose was to give people who in these tense times are under attack by supermen on subcommittees a chance to be seen and heard. This program lasted only for a few weeks. It was not the public nor was it the television producers who did not want to continue it. It was the lawyers of the various people under attack, who advised their clients not to commit themselves.

So you say. Nowadays everybody with any opinion is popping up on the internet between YouTube, Tumblr, and social media. Attack dogs come from all sides. And honest talk show hosts either voice the opposing viewpoint or allow people on their show who does. It’s easy to find all points of view on a topic if you actually look for it instead of sticking to only those you agree with.

It is the bad things that television does that unfortunately command most attention. About one-third of all programs for children have to do with crime or violence. Untrained viewers may miss this proportion because as in crime comics they do not realize that crime is crime and violence is violence even in the patriotic setting of a Western locale or in the science-fiction setting of interplanetary space. If you are looking for a realistically televised violent act your chances of finding one are statistically greater if you look for it on a children’s program.

“Realistically televised violent act”? You couldn’t find that on an adult crime drama, never mind kids shows. I think Wertham thinks any crime or action/adventure story is bad for kids.

Two different children told me excitedly that they saw on TV how molten iron was poured on a man. I asked each of them why that was done. Neither knew precisely. One said he guessed it was done for revenge; the other guessed it was done because the man knew too much. That is about the extent of motivation in these violence-for-violence’s-sake shows.

As I have asked about most of the comics he mentions…what show were they watching? No kids show I have ever seen, and I did grow up with some 50s kids shows in syndicated reruns, ever had molten iron poured over someone. I’m not even sure you’d get away with that on adult shows back then. Today is a different story and I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing or not. But a 50s kids show? I highly doubt it. And I have never liked “violence for violence’s sake” type stories but I think Wertham and I strongly disagree on what that means.

One might assume that the violence on television is just an addition, an adjunct, to make stories more exciting. But not only does the whole structure of these shows contradict this, there is also internal evidence. An experienced TV writer gave an interview about the way it is done. “You have to work backwards,” he says. “You’re given a violent situation and you have to work within that framework.” In other words, the violence is not an addition, but the hard-core of what the television makers want.

Has anyone seen or read this supposed interview? Because this sounds like bull to me.

The brutality in TV crime shows is so insidiously glorified that many people do not recognize it as such any more and accept it as smart. Here, for example, is the famous detective who “fights crime without gun” and “can break a man’s arm without wrinkling his gray flannel suit” (or his conscience). He also knows how to “break a bad guy’s back if necessary.” All this of course, just as in comic books, “as a method of self-protection.”

So how DOES someone protect themselves from someone trying to kill him, Doctor? If he doesn’t have a gun and he only causes injuries that can be healed before the villain goes to jail, what’s the issue here? You were talking about the two-fisted heroes of Jack London stories not too long ago. (I’d say in this chapter but at this point it’s all blurring together.) Isn’t that what the detective so famous you won’t introduce him is doing?

The deductive approach to crime and crime detection, the Sherlock Holmes touch, has been supplanted on television to a large extent by sadism.

No he hasn’t. He may not have the level of genius Sherlock Holmes does (Batman would later on and still showed signs of being a detective in the comics around this time) but he still has to put clues together and solve the mystery. What DOES Wertham consider “sadistic” at this point?

We asked a nine-year-old television captive {really, Doc?}, who in telling about the programs seemed to distinguish between mysteries and thrillers, what the difference was between them. His reply: “Mystery is like a heavy amount of suspense, as much suspense as can go, like somebody comes with an axe in the dark and chops somebody up. A thriller is not too much suspense, but quite enough to give you a lot of thrill.” To such children classic stories like the League of Red-Haired Men or The Purloined Letterwould seem incredibly trite.

Shows what you know. Sherlock Holmes had plenty of television series, including two incarnations on TV currently, Elementary in the US and Sherlock on BBC (airing in the US on BBC America). He was also on the air in the 50s. My fellow Friday Night Fighter, Brian Snell of Slay Monstrobot Of The Deep, is such a huge fan than he runs his own Sherlock Holmes fansite. Holmes and Watson are just fine. The books are still popular, which is why movies, TV shows, video games, and yes comic books have been made about them and their adventures, even building on the mythos for better or worse.

Murders, gunshots and violent acts are as plentiful on TV as raisins in a raisin cake – in fact some producers seem to think they are the raisins. An average child who is no particular television addict and takes what is offered absorbs from five to eleven murders a day from television. If he would confine himself exclusively to adult programs, the number would be less.

I’ve been avoiding saying this because I want this to be a serious discussion, but I have to because…this is a bold-faced lie! Yes, there were cowboy shows where the bad guys would kill people and even some of the good guys when forced to, but are Old West and science fiction shows exclusive to kids?

About one-third of all programs for children have to do with crime or violence. Untrained viewers may miss this proportion because as in crime comics they do not realize that crime is crime and violence is violence even in the patriotic setting of a Western locale or in the science-fiction setting of interplanetary space.

Oh right, he does.

In a serious vein, the television version of Macbeth with the head cut off on stage and later shown in close-up is typical of the crudity of style and cruelty of content. Whether viewers are emotionally disturbed by such things or whether they are made indifferent and callous by them, they certainly are not elevated or introduced to Shakespeare.

I admit to only knowing of the story through that one episode of Gargoyles, a series that takes a lot of its lore from Shakespeare’s more fantastical plays, meant for older kids. But if that is a scene in the play, they are going to take the advantage TV has over the stage and show what they couldn’t do with theatrical effects. They’re probably doing it because they can, not simply for shock value. The same for the scene in King Lear he mentions over someone getting their eyes poked out, one of Wertham’s favorite go-to complaints about comics.

Outside of the regular television critics, some of whom have stressed the harmful aspects, the literature about television and children is not very helpful. It can be summarized by saying that nearly all these authors want us to study the child, but not the television industry. It emphasizes the individual child (always abstractly) and the individual family, not the general aspects of what television actually does.

It’s kind of hard to give case-by-case examples of EVERY CHILD IN THE COUNTRY! You keep grouping kids into some abstract hivemind, walking in-step with what you think kids are like.  Children are individuals, stimulated by different things based any number of different factors, and not always the same ones as other children, and what’s shared still comes with different experiences.

The assumption seems to be that when anything goes wrong the child must be morbid but the entertainment normal. Why not assume, if such sweeping assertions must be made, that our children are normal, that they like adventure and imagination, that they can be stimulated to excitement, but that maybe something is wrong with what they are looking at?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and family looking over...

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and family looking over wall and pointing, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And why do you take an extreme view of what qualifies as “death and destruction”, as you put it? Also, to use another quote, why does everything have to involve “constructive things”? I’m not for violence for violence’s sake, but you seem to be part of that mentality that denies kids entertainment for entertainment’s sake. I’m not against a story that educates, and we would at least agree that any story regardless of intent (except Wertham thinks they’re all trying to push violence on kids) does on some level educate about life if nothing else, but the things you see aren’t the things I saw as a kid, or see today and would, when discussing a story with a child, look at.

In one brief article “Television for Children,” for example, I find no less than three times the phrase “indiscriminate viewing” on the part of the child. That reveals an anti-child attitude. If you repeat three times that the child “views indiscriminately” you might say at least once that what is there to view is offered indiscriminately. If a child is too fascinated by television programs the author suggests diverting his interest “with cookies and milk.” I do not know whether the author, like the rest of us, indulges occasionally in any vices; but if he does, would he stop in the middle for “cookies and milk”?

Depends on how good the cookies are. 😀 And I wouldn’t say, as he claims his opponents say, that we shouldn’t be concerned about what children are exposed to on TV. We just have a different idea as to what that exposure is.

Lay writers have considerable difficulty in steering their way through the vast generalizations of the experts without becoming confused or getting misled. Robert Louis Shayon tried to do this in his book Television and Our Children. He comes to the conclusion that “what television can do to your child will depend on what your child is, what you are educating and guiding him to be before he looks at television.” I think it is the other way around: What television can do to your child will depend on what television is, what you are allowing it and guiding it to be before it gets to the child.

Or both is true. What TV can do to your child depends on the child and what show they are watching. I wasn’t turned evil by TV OR comics.

My studies of the effect of television on children grew out of the comic-book studies naturally – I might say inevitably.

You would. He’s upset that kids dropped comics, not for books, but for television or that they might…gasp…be into comics AND television. I’m into comics and television. I’m also into books, movies, video games, theater, two kids playing in a sandbox…….

Sometimes it is not easy to determine the influence of television with precision because so many children have been conditioned in similar directions either before or at the same time by comic books. A ten-year-old boy sent to the Clinic for fire-setting brought us some of his comic books: Detective Comics, Planet Comics, Master Comics, Space Western, Batman. He said he liked TV and looked a lot at Roy Rogers, Sky King, Captain Video, Space Cadet, Captain Midnight, Space Patrol and Flash Gordon. A little thing like fire-setting did not rate with him.

Flash Gordon comes from comic strips. I wonder if he knows that? Probably not given his track record. But notice here that Wertham is trying to connect arson to Roy Rogers and Flash Gordon! How? Why? I also watched a random episode of Captain Video And His Video Rangers. The episode, about attempting to create an intergalactic mail service as part of a serialized story, featured one man threatening others with a gun as part of a plan to seize control of the service (for what reason I couldn’t tell you) and that was it. There was also a secondary serial about cowboys that didn’t really fit and some really strange commercials for Post Raisin Bran. Nothing about this show was violence for violence sake.

We lead children on to look at the wrong things, then blame them if they develop a craving for what they see. Much as I have searched for it, I have been unable to find that crime and violence programs satisfy psychological needs in children. One would have to assume that the need for outlets of violent aggression in children has suddenly tremendously increased.

To be honest there’s positive and negative evidence of both, moreso in video games. Does the competition breed aggression, is the aggression already there…my point of contention is does violent media turn one violent when the proper moral values are already in the home and are some kids not drawn to more violent stories? I wasn’t. I like a good action story, and it does involve punching and shooting, but not anything really violent and certainly nothing really gory. I watch the original RoboCop as a TV edit and have no desire to see the full gore. Even the TV version (which still had the “viewer discretion” warning) featured a dude covered in acid and I looked away from that. I imagine the recent less-violent re-imagining (on my Finally Watched list) would be more my style.

I have found that with regard to simple values necessary for social orientation, television has confused some children, troubled others, and made still others (who are not supposed to be affected at all) callous and indifferent to human suffering. Whether such a child then commits a delinquent act or not often depends merely on incidental causes. That was the case with thirteen-year-old Anthony who was a truant and who was questioned in the Hookey Club. He said: “I spend about six hours a day on television. My favorite programs are Lights Out and mysteries.”

“What happens?” he was asked.

“People get murdered. People kill for money, for property or for power. {various murderous acts and reasons are listed but this post is long enough.} (This was related in a matter-of-fact way, as if describing a self-understood circumstance.)

Or that it was a story Anthony isn’t emotionally attached to because it’s fiction. I only know Lights Out from an old Bill Cosby stand-up routine, but I think it’s some kind of horror series. (That used to scare young Bill into setting traps for the monster that would backfire on his dad, which he probably exaggerated.) Young Bill would listen to the late-night radio show anyway even though his parents told him not to. Is Wertham’s solution to ban that show, too, even though kids are supposed to be in bed when it’s on? It’s not like nowadays where nobody seems to care if the kid is awake to see it or not, and networks have pretty much abandoned the family hour after actors lobbied to strike down the FCC rule.

About seven months later this boy was arrested for stealing. I examined him again and closed my report to the Children’s Court with these words: “This is a typical case of a boy who has spent many hours a day looking at television programs, many of which glorify crime, violence, lawlessness, and depict these scenes in emotionally alluring detail. Under these circumstances, it seems to me not surprising that a boy succumbs to temptation and I believe that the adult world is more to be blamed than this individual child, who has made a good effort to adjust himself. I should point out to the Court that the observations of the bad effect of television programs on this boy were recorded on the chart several months before he was arrested for these delinquencies.”

The heroic adventures of a thief. As played by a frog.

In other words the boy isn’t responsible for his actions, comics and television is? Personal responsibility? He’s a dumb kid who didn’t read enough Robin Hood.

That the good ending of a crime story cancels out the effect of all previous mayhem in a child’s mind is as untrue for television as it is for comic books.

Worked for me. “These are bad people who do bad things and the hero stops them but it’s not easy so the bad guys comes off as a real threat to the hero. But it’s all fiction because real people can’t fly or lift mountains or live in space and shoot rays from their wristbands.” Maybe you just keep meeting dumb kids?

The ideas children absorb from endless TV viewing are certainly not healthy. A nice little girl of ten was undergoing a routine examination at the Clinic, having been referred by a social agency. She was the kind of child who does not play and every day after school for hours she watched TV. I asked her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “A nurse,” she said, looking at me with big serious eyes.

“Why?” I asked her.

“So that I can poison people” was her immediate reply.

Look, I know there are some messed up kids out there. I remember a story about a little girl who was a sexual deviant because she was molested by her drunken father as a baby! And yet this story somehow feels like bullcrap to me.

For some children, television has one good effect, in contrast with crime comic books, which have none. I have not seen it mentioned, but children express it often in one way or another. Television gives a feeling of belonging. Adults get that when they not only hear but actually see in their own living room a famous star performing or a prominent figure interviewed on programs like Meet the Press. Children get the feeling not only that they are taken into the adult world on the screen, but share the same entertainment with older children and adults – even with the neighbors! This is of course totally different from the solitary overheated entrancement of comic-book reading.

Wait a minute! You’ve been telling us time and again that kids get together to trade comics and share stories. That’s isn’t a feeling of belonging? And what isn’t “solitary” about reading a regular book? That’s one of the things I like about reading a book. I’m in my own vision of the author’s world. Maybe I’ll discuss it with people later, like what this article series usually does, but it’s still done alone. If anything there’s more community with other comic readers according to what has been written in this very book, and some of those same comics are read by adults, so kids share them with adults too. Do you even read what you’ve been writing anymore?

Childhood used to be the time for play. Here television has made tremendous inroads. Children look at television (and/or comic books) and often do not play any more, or their playing time is markedly shortened. They get no positive constructive suggestions for their play. What they see on TV (except for a very few children’s programs, such as Frances Horwich’s Ding Dong School) they cannot act out or imitate or work through in their play. If they would it would be dangerous play, hurting themselves or others. This, I believe, interferes to some extent with their healthy growth, because play is an important factor in normal development.

I am all in favor of play. I highly support and insist on kids being allowed to play. But play involves telling stories, and not all of those stories involves playing house. Some of them involve good guys defeating bad guys and I’ve seen and partaken in that form of play many times against imagined enemies because nobody wanted to be the bad guy and get fake beaten up. Did nobody play The Scarlet Pimpernel or Long John Silver when you were a kid?

Children’s play on the street is now of a wildness that it did not have formerly. Children, often with comic books sticking out of their pockets, play massacre, hanging, lynching, torture. The influence of comic books – and also of television – is discernible in the nature of these games. Normal play has, I believe, curative forces. But if it gets too violent, these curative forces are extinguished.

I have never in my life seen a kid playing any of those games. And we still have comics and television (did he forget that he wasn’t talking about comics and didn’t have any correction fluid available?) today. If there is any reason kids don’t play on the street is that the parents are worried they’ll fall on the asphalt, get shot or kidnapped, or some other worrywart perspective.

In television cases as in crime-comics cases I have found a law to be operative. All those factors seemingly insignificant or trivial coming from the child’s previous life or from other media enter into the chain of causation if they tend in the same direction. Television has added one more agency in the bombardment of children with negative incentives.

What if they move in different directions? I must have had a better upbringing than I thought since Superman never taught me to beat people up and wait for someone better to help me. I was voted “most independent” in high school for a reason!

It is the faults of television that are like crime comics. Inherently the two are nearly opposites. Television is a miracle of science, on the constructive side of the ledger one of the greatest practical developments of scientific principles of physics. Comic books, on the contrary, are a debasement of the old institution of printing, the corruption of the art of drawing and almost an abolition of literary writing. Television is a signpost to the future. Crime comics are an antisocial medium that belongs in the past.

He doesn’t stop, does he folks? Speaking of which:

Television has taken the worst out of comic books, from sadism to Superman. The comic-book Superman has long been recognized as a symbol of violent race superiority. The television Superman, looking like a mixture of an operatic tenor without his armor and an amateur athlete out of a health-magazine advertisement, does not only have “superhuman powers, but explicitly belongs to a “super-race.”

YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT SUPERMAN WHATSOEVER! From now on I’m ignoring all the Superman references I can. It’s clear Wertham understands Superman about as well as I do quantum physics!

Of course television and crime comic books also meet when comic books are based on television programs. Take the example of Captain  Video. This comic book is certainly as bad as other crime comics. There is a lot of assorted violence. Morbid fantasies are conjured up for children, like the one that suddenly mankind’s legs do not function: “All of us have recited our theories and admittedly found them inapplicable! There is no hope for mankind’s regaining the use of its lower extremities!” The treatment for this infirmity costs “one million dollars for each patient.” The hero has a “dreaded electronic ray gun whose scintillating bolt results in complete paralysis.”

Captain Video and his friends seemed to move around well enough in the TV episode I watched without any problem beyond the restrictions of the spaceship set. And the ray gun sounds like it’s firing what modern sci-fi would call a stun ray, a non-lethal way of temporarily knocking out the target. This is a problem?

When Pathfinder magazine wrote about this television show it had an illustration with the legend: “Gory after-dinner crime for juveniles defeats happy puppets” and classified the program as a “juvenile crime show.”

Did the definition of “gory” change between the 1950s and today?

To this the advertising agency objected, writing (in a letter published by Pathfinder) that the program “is not classified, nor has it ever been classified, in the crime category.” They wish to call it a “science fiction” show. That is the familiar comic-book-industry alibi. Anyone who wishes to do anything about improving television programs either from within or without must first realize that scientifically not the disguise but the content is decisive, that crime is crime, paralyzed legs are paralyzed legs, violence is violence and torture is torture, whether the time and place are now and here or in the remoteness of science fiction.

What does Wertham call science fiction? Jules Verne and HG Wells had “violence” in their stories.

What is the future of television, especially for children? It should be almost impossible to keep it as bad as it often is now. More and more people will demand television instead of tele violence. In contrast to the crime comic-book industry with its hacks and hackneyed product, there are many gifted, wide-awake young men and women in the television industry anxious to show what they and the medium can do. I have spoken with some of them and I know that they would like nothing better than to devote their lives to the further development of television as a medium of entertainment, information and instruction. I doubt whether a medium like television, pregnant with the future, and commanding such superior personnel, can be held back in the long run.

So why does television get a pass that comics don’t? Because they don’t read like books do while TV at least imitates movies. That’s the only reason I can think of. But first we need to get rid of comic books. Anyway we’re done with this chapter, but tomorrow’s Saturday Night Showcase is going to tie-in to this. Who wants to see the gory and violent Captain Video in action?

Next time: The Triumph Of Dr. Payne

And the end of this book!

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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