Monday, August 31, 2009

That Superbeing Philosophy III

This will be the last post on this subject for awhile. I found this article to be a calm contrast to the screaming headlines and sensationalism of the “Superbeing Philosophy” series penned three years earlier in the Southtown Economist.

Chester Times, Chester, Pa. 31 July 1948.


There is a school of thought among child psychologists which subscribes to the belief that the common denominator of present day unusual aggression of little boys, and a strong manifestation of the sex instinct among small girls is some of the comic books sold throughout the country.

The editors of the Times aren’t sure whether that’s sound reasoning or not. However, in an effort to get a clearer picture of the comic book phenomenon it was decided to get reactions of a good cross-section of Delaware residents.

Orrin C. Evans,* a member of the Times staff, was given the assignment, because it was felt that in view of the fact that before joining the Times staff he was in the comic book business he wouldn’t be accused of being biased against the comic books.

He is familiar with many of the problems incident to preparation of script, developing situations with artists, and editing of comic book text.

Last Wednesday, during sessions of the 35th annual convention of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, held at the Benjamin Franklin hotel, in Philadelphia, Chester’s Chief of Police Andrew J. Desmond, Jr., attacked comic books in a radio address.

The script of his address, giving Times readers an appraisal of comic books from the standpoint of the police, is printed in a parallel column.


So they tied up the girl, and put her in a cave so the snakes would kill her.

If you’re a juvenile -- either the nine-year-old or the 35-year-old type -- you go for the script. You go for it to the extent of 60,000,000 copies of comic books (too many emphasizing that approach to entertainment) which are published monthly.

Because city officials consider them harmful to children, Indianapolis has banned 35 comic books, Detroit and Hillsdale, Mich., 36 comic books from newsstands.

How do Delaware countians feel about these books? Do they consider them harmful?

We already know how Dr. Frederick Wertham, MD., director of the Psychiatric Service of Queens General Hospital and of the Lagargue Clinic, in New York City feels.

His reaction is based on an appraisal given him by an 8-year-old clinic patient.

That child told Dr. Wertham: “The two I like best (comic books) are about crooks. The crooks rob the liquor store. They stab two women with a knife. One crook started killing people -- five cops, six women, and eighteen other people. If anybody crossed him he didn’t give them any chance. He found himself in the electric chair.”

Is that literary fare of murder and mayhem bad for the kiddies?

Here’s what Delaware countians think of it:

Rev Clarence Howell, pastor of Linwood Methodist Church: “I am positively opposed to such comic books. The children absorb a lot of it, and it soon becomes a reality. It’s very bad for them, and very few escape the harmful influence of comic books.

Miss Doris Geyer, employed as a secretary by a Chester insurance firm feels differently, however: “I don’t think they do too much harm, although I admit I have seen some of the boys try to act out some of the characters. But I don’t think they take it too seriously.”

F. Herman Fritz, superintendent of schools in Chester is “definitely opposed to comic books stressing murder and sex. I positively do not approve.”

However, Dr. LeRoy Gates, a dentist and Sunday school teacher, feels that the stories in the comic books are “taken more or less as a make believe situation. Parental training that is right will offset any bad effect of such comic books. I saw crime pictures in the movies when I was a kid, and I don’t think they had any bad effect on me.”

In a certain public school in New York City two police officers circulate on the grounds and in the corridors of the school to prevent violence.

In another school, older pupils threaten younger ones with violence and with maiming, rob them of their money, watches, and fountain pens.

Could that happen in Chester as the result of “psychological impressions” gained through avid reading of the wrong type of comic books?

Mrs. Lydia Driscoll believes so. A housewife and mother of two girls, she said: “I definitely think such comic books do harm to growing boys. The violent, vicious stories they read in the comic books put the wrong ideas in their heads. Up to a certain age they believe it’s make-believe, but the impression has been there.”

A dissenter from this viewpoint, however, is Edwin B. Kelley. A grandfather, he thinks: “If properly pointed up, such comic books serve a good purpose. The good guy always wins, and the stories emphasize that ‘crime doesn’t pay.’”

But then one thinks of the many violent crimes committed recently by boys and girls.

A 12-year-old boy kills his younger sister; a 13-year-old burglar operates with a shotgun; Another 13-year-old shoots a nurse and is sent to a reformatory (where, incidentally, he will read more comic books); a 17-year-old killer leaves a note signed “The Devil”; tow 12-year-old boys and one of 11 shoot a man on the street with a semi-automatic; three 16-year-old boys kill a 14-year-old “for revenge.”

A revolting, ugly picture. And psychologists still are trying to determine to what extent reading of suggestive, wrongly-slanted comic books have contributed to these youth’s delinquency.

Mrs. William G. Keller is dead set against comic books. “I have three children in my home and I don’t let them bring them into the house. There is too much trash in them. One of my children is a particularly avid reader, and very impressionable. It wouldn’t do for him to get hold of them.”

She encourages her children, she said, to read the comic strips appearing in daily newspapers.

“They give the that type entertainment and release they want, and they apparently are carefully edited so that they are good clean entertainment.”

Robert Goldberg, a 20-year-older, is all for them, though. He reads comic books “almost religiously.”

“I think they’re all right,” he said, “the kids see what happens to criminals in the end. They certainly show that it doesn’t pay to be a criminal.”

And Mrs. Ida Billingslia has much the same ideas.

“I have a 10-year-old daughter who reads them regularly,” she said, “I’ve never seen her try to imitate or quote anything she’s seen in comic books. Of course boys may be different. I don’t know about them. But I believe if a child is raised properly it will only take the situations out of comic books which are right.”

Robert M. Schulz, Chester’s recreational director, is for comic books -- with qualifications. He believes they can have a “good effect if they are edited carefully.”

“I don’t see, however, how comic books emphasizing murder and sex can have a good effect. I do know that during the war the most popular magazine among servicemen were the comic books.”

Pulling no punches in his attack on the “wrong type” comic books was Rev. LeRoy Patrick, pastor of Fifth Presbyterian Church, and a lecturer on religion at Lincoln University, Oxford, Pa.

“My positive impression is that they are deleterious. It’s easy to see how absorbed the youngsters become in them. If you can think of young kids having jaded appetites, just think of what the pronounced sexual characteristics in most of the women characters in those books must have upon them.”

Asked about the “good” comics, like Bible Stories and Classic Comics, he said he has a feeling that such comics are not widely sold, because the kids have become so conditioned to the other type books.”

Now -- how do the police feel about comic books?

It may be recalled that last year the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association achieved national publicity by condemnation of the gaudy, lurid type of comic book. The Williamsport Sun, the Wilkes-Barre Record and other papers throughout the state and nation editorially lauded the policemen for their action.

Samuel Siegle, past superintendent of police of Haverford Township, spearheaded the police-chief’s drive against the comic books.

“If we have arrived at the stage where children must be terrified and startled in order to secure entertainment, society is in an unfortunate position,” said Siegle.

By ANDREW J. DESMOND, JR., Chester Chief of Police

How do I feel about some of the comic books now being marketed?

Well, I have in mind one particular case where a 14-year-old boy, after reading numerous comic magazines, decided he was going to be the “Scarlet Spider,” or the “Desperate Avenger,” or some such individual and rob a lumber yard.

Patterning his scheme after a popular comic, he arranged a pile of lumber overhanging the path along which the night watchman would make his rounds.

As the watchman approached the boy toppled over the pile of lumber. The man, warned by the clatter of boards, jumped back, whereupon, in the best “Scarlet Spider” manner, the boy dropped a weight on his head, seriously injuring him. When taken into custody the boy readily admitted where he had secured his ideas and insisted he was only trying to have some innocent excitement.

And this case is not an unusual one. Anyone examining the book I have in mind will find that the method used by the boy was one of the less spectacular and bloodthirsty.

Skimming through the pages of some of the comic books on the market today you can have your choice of being devoured alive by crocodiles, stamped to death by elephants, torn apart by infernal machines, or shot and stabbed by anything from a spear to an atomic bomb.

I don’t believe you can turn to any page in some of the comics where at least one individual is not being put to death by the most fiendish means.

Many will recall that J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, recently stated in an article published in a national magazine that these comics are one of the principal outside influences for the cause of juvenile delinquency.

He said, “Some of the influences for delinquency are the crime books, crammed with anti-social criminal action. The glorification of un-American vigilante action and of the criminal are extremely dangerous in the hands of the unstable child.”

The fallacy of the statement that the comics serve a good purpose inasmuch as criminals lose in the end is best illustrated by the statement that was made when a police officer arrested a 15-year-old gang leader.

The boy had several comic books in his back pocket; one of them entitled “Crime Does Not Pay.” The arresting officer asked him:

“Doesn’t the comic book always tell you in the end that you can’t win?”

“Sure,” was the answer, “but I never read to the end.”

That youth later confessed that his gang had slugged a taxi cab driver in a robbery holdup, and had committed numerous other crimes, all based on adventures in these same books.

I have in mind another case -- slam-bang out of the pages of one of these comic books -- where a threatening letter was sent to several outstanding persons in the community.

Then an unknown caller, in a childish voice, would telephone the person, and, in stilted and obviously fictional language would say:

“If the blood money is not deposited at the north gate of the cemetery before the stroke of midnight, your doom will be upon your head. This is the last warning from the “Hooded Avenger.””

What happened after that call? What invariably happens -- a trap was laid.

The “Hooded Avenger” walked right into it, and it was discovered he was a 14-year-old boy who had taken the context of his extortion notes and the material for his phone calls verbatim from a particular comic magazine.

What happened to this boy?

He was placed on probation to his parents until he is 21-years-old, and I feel certain that the sudden taking into custody and the detention at the police station until his parents could be notified, plus the lecture given by the judge, will deter him from following in his hero’s footsteps again.

One suggestion I’d make to improve the situation is that it is necessary for parents to supervise the child’s reading. They should provide books on sports, sea stories, hunting, and numerous other types, which, while interesting and full of action are not the gory sensational tripe being peddled to the child today.

Believe me, crime isn’t comic!

*All Negro Comics


  1. The question of comics' effect on kids will never be answered satisfactorily because too many conflicting social, moral and religious agendas are mixed into the discussion to permit an objective conclusion. As a young comic fan I went through a "Wertham is the Devil!" phase, but now I'm not so certain.

    As new media face the same old criticisms of their excessive violence, producers make the same old arguments that graphic violence is harmless make-believe. Yet those same producers rake in billions of advertising dollars because studies consistently show that repetition (immersion, more like) plants permanent ideas in viewer's heads. Hourly commercials for fast food make an audience crave McDonald's, but somehow ten times that amount of torture and murder doesn't make them crave violence. That troubles me.

    At least Dell Comics were Good Comics!

    By the way, any quote from J. Edgar Hoover that criticizes "Un-American vigilante action" kills me. And it's an IRONIC death!

  2. "Hourly commercials for fast food make an audience crave McDonald's, but somehow ten times that amount of torture and murder doesn't make them crave violence. That troubles me."

    I don't think it should be that troubling. Most people like to eat, and McDonalds dresses up their food products to appear enticing on the screen, so it's a reminder when it appears - "hey, you like to eat, why not eat some McDonalds?" I've had people who aren't into the whole "meat" thing react with revulsion to such commercials, however.

    I think it is far too simplistic to think that mere exposure to violence in media is going to somehow make someone - even an impressionable child - turn violent. Plenty of people see the violence in today's media and commit no violence themselves.

    It would seem to me to be far more likely that someone who is already prone to violence would enjoy (and thus seek out) a violent comic (movie, TV show) because it appeals to their own desires, beforehand. And then there are those who enjoy it purely as a form of escapism.

    What troubles me about the anti-violence (anti-sex, anti-whatever) crusaders - of all eras - is their willingness to restrict access to this material across the board, attempting to limit everyone's access to it in order to "save" the small percentage of unstable folks who MIGHT copy or imitate the acts they see in media.

  3. I have to say I'm sometimes as troubled as Ron. My own opinion is that what is simplistic is to accept wholeheartedly that children and adults are unaffected by what they read, view and listen to. I don’t believe that this necessarily turns every child into a serial killer, or every adult into a mass murderer, but popular culture definitely influences children. There is ample evidence that some children took their cues from violent sexual movies, television, and film. Just look at the affect Britney Spears and the like have had on sexualizing teen-age girls, the riots in theatres on showings of movies like The Warriors, or the 19th century plague of child runaways emboldened by the world-wide adventures of the penny dreadful and dime novel heroes.

    Just because most people don’t emulate the worst excesses of popular culture does not mean that some don’t. In the fifties children were much less sophisticated than they are today -- believe me I was there -- unlike the popular conception of a white-bread Father Knows Best world the reality was that it was a very violent decade, and there is no doubt in my mind that people do, and always have, emulated the dominant popular culture, in fashion, politics, sex, and in the acceptance of mindless violence.

    That said, I can tell you that as a kid I loved these comics and love them still, and I was mightily influenced by what I read, viewed and heard on the radio in my growing years.

  4. But can you really know whether the movies actually caused the riots, novels created runaways, or Britney corrupted teens - or was it rather that Britney appeared to legitimize things teens already wanted to do, movies provided an excuse for latent thuggery, or novels inspired a way out of bleak living situations?

    Or do you think is is more likely that the video game Doom caused the Columbine shootings and Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne actually made kids commit suicide - rather than that these things were brought about by dysfunctional family situations and other factors, and the seemingly disturbing media involved was more a symptom of the problem rather than a cause?

    The problem with being "troubled" about the media and popular culture is that it may influence the public, but it also reflects the public. Slasher movies wouldn't sell if some people didn't want that kind of stimulation, and that means there may be someone out there prone to becoming a slasher under certain conditions.

    I'd be more concerned about media if you could show it was the one primary source of influence on the public, but even the most devout couch potato is subject to multiple influences.

    Wertham ended Seduction of the Innocent with an anecdote where he told a mother whose child had done something horrible that "it wasn't her fault", that it wasn't any failing of her as a mother, that comics made her kid go wrong.

    And that always struck me as far more disturbing than any injury-to-the-eye motif, that someone's parenting could be so ineffectual that a work of fiction proved to be more of a guiding force than a child's own mother - and that it would exonerate them from any responsibility for keeping their own child in line.

  5. I don’t detect anything original in your arguments; I’ve heard them all before. Is there a textbook somewhere?

    No I don’t think Doom caused the Columbine shootings and Wertham’s views were definitely wrong-headed; he saw a beaver in a drawing of an armpit, who could take that seriously? Nor have I come across anything that convinces me that reading a comic book can be a direct cause for murder. I’m not so sure, however, that teens in the fifties might not have taken ideas for crimes or assaults from the worst of the forties and fifties comics. Most kids I knew in the fifties wanted to be juvenile delinquents because the media made it look so cool and many of them were not from disfunctional families at all.

    Books can be very potent forces for good or evil; viz the Bible, Koran, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or the pimp textbooks of Iceberg Slim. If pictures have no influence on human behaviour why are cartoons so widely used by governments as tools of propaganda, as they were by the West in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam? Or by Germany and the Middle East to foment anti-Semitism?

    I have no ax to grind for the banning of books or movies, but I am interested in the effects of popular culture on the human animal and one thing I find troubling is the 'case-closed' mentality I encounter whenever the discussion comes up.

  6. Consider it defensiveness, if you like: far too often, where media is concerned, someone's declaration that they are concerned about something is followed up rapidly with the equivalent of "and we've got to DO something about it".

    Even voicing the opinion implies there's a problem to be fixed - why be troubled if nothing's wrong? - so when someone tosses out a comment like the one by Smurfswacker that kicked this off, it's not hard to see Wertham's ghost fluttering around the corner.

  7. I think you are over-reacting, Anonymous, relax,don't take things so seriously, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and I'm sure Smurfswacker has no intention of starting a modern crusade to ban comic books or video games. It seems to me that was not what he had to say at all -- in what I considered a fairly mild comment.