V. NIAGARA OF HORROR
BY ALBERT E KAHN
Chapter 5 from The Game of Death
In our culture the perversion of children has become an industry.1. "Kill, kill, kill, kill!"
ON JANUARY 23, 1952, Life Magazine featured a lengthy article describing the remarkable career of a young American author whose works, despite the fact he had been writing for only five years, were probably more widely read than those of any other writer in the United States. The author was a detective story writer named Mickey Spillane. According to the Life article, Spillane's "six volumes of sex and slaughter have sold more than 13 million copies."
Aptly entitled "Death's Fair-haired Boy," the article in Life related that a total of forty-eight individuals, "some of them criminals," had violently perished in Spillane's novels to date and that these sudden deaths were rivaled in number only by "the role of young women" who had seduced or had been seduced by the hero of these novels, the "ferocious detective, Mike Hammer." Regarding the exploits of this protagonist of Spillane's books, Life stated:
In his new book, Kiss Me, Deadly. . . Mike Hammer shoots one of the villains through one eye so that he can watch the expression in the other.
In Spillane's One Lonely Night, added the Life article, the up-to-date detective, Hammer, had conducted a fervent one-man crusade against the "Red menace" in the United States. Hammer had proposed this simple method of ridding the nation of its radical citizens:
"Treat 'em to the unglorious taste of sudden death. Get the big boys and show them the long road to nowhere and then none of these stinking little people with little minds will want to get that big. Death is funny. . . people are afraid of it. Kill 'em left and right, show 'em that we aren't so soft after all. Kill, kill, kill, kill'"The biographical data which the article in Life presented on Mickey Spillane indicated he had served an ideal apprenticeship for developing his literary formula of "sex and sadism." Before becoming an author of detective novels, Spillane had been a comic book writer. (1)
'The comic book industry," reported a New York State Legislature study in 1951, "has, since the termination of World War II, achieved the greatest volume of circulation of any type of book or magazine that this country has ever known."
During 1952, more than 100,000,000 copies of comic books were sold each month in the United States -a total of well over a billion copies for the year.
Surveys indicate that 98 per cent of all American children are regular comic-book readers and that the average child reads between twenty and twenty-five comics a month. (2)
Comic books are the greatest book publishing success in history and the greatest mass influence on children.And the influence of comic books has fitted the need of the Cold War, since they have been accustoming millions upon millions of young Americans to concepts of violence, savagery and sudden death. . .
The name "comic book" is misleading. Scarcely of a humorous nature, the overwhelming majority of comic books are macabre compendiums of mayhem and murder, perverted sex and sadism, weird and ghastly adventures, crime, brutality and bloodcurdling horror. Crudely drawn in garish colors, cheaply printed in magazine form on pulp paper and sold for ten cents apiece, these publications pour an unending torrent of filth and bestiality into the minds of American children. They depict human beings as fiendish degenerates, glamorize the lynch-justice heroics of muscle-bound "supermen," exalt the use of force and violence, and make of agonized death a casual, every-day affair. (3)
"If there is only one violent picture per page, and there are usually more," stated Gershon Legman in 1949 in an incisive essay on comic books, entitled Not For Children, "this represents a minimum supply, to every child old enough to look at pictures, of three hundred scenes of beating, shooting, strangling, torture and blood per month, or ten a day if he reads each comic-book only once. . . . With repetition like that, you can teach a child anything. . . At the moment it is being used to teach him. . . that violence is heroic, and murder a red-hot thrill."
A 1951 analysis of ninety-two comic books reported the following content:
216 major crimes; 86 sadistic acts; 809 minor crimes; 287 incidents of anti-social behavior; 186 instances of vulgar behavior; 522 physical assaults; and the techniques of 14 murders in detail.
Commonplace in the comic books are such episodes as women being branded on the breast with hot irons; children being thrown to wild animals or buried alive; persons being stabbed, shot, strangled and scalded to death; individuals having their hands chopped off, their teeth punched out and needles thrust into their eyes.
"How long we struggled I don't know -but an ominous silence seemed to clear my senses! Her body was completely limp and her eyes bulged from their sockets from the pressure of my fingers that were knotted around her neck! . . . A few quick slashes with a kitchen knife entirely obliterated her features! Then, after pulling her teeth and removing her jewelry and clothing, my wife was completely unrecognizable."Here are some representative titles of the approximately five hundred comic books, almost all of them monthlies, which are now being made available to American children:
A steadily growing number of comic books deal exclusively with the subject of war. Among them are these:
Know The Truth! See the facts of war come alive at a mile-a-minute clip! . . . Thrills explode on every page as the fury of war comes forth . . .
History of Battle! The story of glory and gore with all its moments of terror and tension . . .
Fox-Hole Guts! Death shrieks in every shell! . . .
Truth! Action! History! Guts! Thrills! Suspense! The drama unfolds in War Front.
Such are the images of human degradation and war which are being crammed wholesale into the impressionable minds of the nation's children through the medium of the comics.
"Never before in the history of the world," notes Gershon Legman, "has a literature like this, specifically for children, ever existed." (4)
Growing numbers of Americans are voicing grave concern over the pernicious influence of the comic books on children. In some communities, citizens have organized boycotts against newsdealers handling comics that feature crime, war and horror stories. In several towns, the newsdealers themselves have imposed voluntary bans on "comic books glorifying crime." Due to public pressure, bills calling for the censorship of comics have been introduced in a score of state legislatures.
At Congressional hearings held in Washington in the winter of 1952 by a Special House Committee, churchmen, educators, child specialists and public officials forcefully condemned comic books for "poisoning the minds of children," serving as "manuals for the guidance of potential dope addicts," and "providing blueprints to youths in starting criminal activity." Among the witnesses was the mother of a seventeen-year-old youth who was then on trial in Michigan on the charge of having stabbed to death a gasoline station attendant during a hold-up. Urging that crime comics be outlawed, this mother testified regarding her son:
He was always a good boy. He never got into trouble. But he started reading these things. . . . He bought all he could find. . . . He would just lie on the bed and read his comic books or just stare at the ceiling. . . . They had such a hold on him that he had nightmares . . . He started talking like the hoodlums in the stories. . . . They led him to drinking and then to taking dope. . . . He was a wonderful boy until he got hold of those books. . . .
Certain individuals, however, not only emphatically deny the comics are harmful to children but even find highly positive values in them. Various child psychologists and psychiatrists, the judgment of some of whom is possibly influenced by their being employed as paid advisers to comic-book publishers, contend that comics provide children with an excellent medium for "working out their natural aggressions" and "finding release for innate hostilities" in a "fantasy world."
Reflecting this viewpoint, Josette Frank, the Educational Associate in charge of Children's Books and Radio on the staff of the Child Study Association of America, writes in the pamphlet, Comics, Radio, Movies and Children:
The fact that a large number of comic books deal in crime, or at least in violence of one kind or another, reflects the desire of a large number of people, including children, to read about crime and violence. This is nothing new. The greatest literature of all time abounds in violent deeds. These, in their own time, reflected the deep inner needs of people. They still do.
The comic-book publishers themselves -whose business is now grossing in the tens of millions of dollars a year- are, naturally enough, among the most eloquent exponents of the virtues of their products.
According to them, comics not only play a major patriotic role in helping maintain Cold War morale on the homefront but also have a vital service to perform in acquainting foreign countries with "the American way of life." One such publisher, Leverett Gleason by name, urged in the fall of 1951 that the U. S. State Department "shower Russian children with comic books to indoctrinate them through special adventure stories.". . . .(5)
In the opinion of the noted psychiatrist, Dr, Fredric Wertham, the comic-book publishers resemble "characters out of their own books" and "have the minds of racketeers." Having for a number of years conducted an extensive study of the effects of comics on children, based largely on his own clinical observations, Dr. Wertham reports:
. . . we are getting to the roots of one of the contributing causes of juvenile delinquency when we study the influence of comic books. You cannot understand present-day juvenile delinquency if you do not take into account the pathogenic and pathoplastic influence of the comic books. . . they immunize a whole generation against pity and against recognition of cruelty and violence. (6)
Dr. Wertham adds:
If you want a generation of half storm troopers and half cannon fodder, with a dash of illiteracy, comic books are good, in fact they are perfect.
Echoing this opinion, Gershon Legman observes:
The effect, if not the intention, has been to raise up an entire generation of adolescents -twenty million of them- who have felt, thousands upon thousands of times, all the sensations and emotions of committing murder, except pulling the trigger. And toyguns, advertised in the back pages of the comics -cap-shooters, b.b rifles. . . , paralysis pistols, crank'emup tommy guns, six-inch cannon crackers, and rayguns emitting a spark a foot and a half long- have supplied that. The Universal Military Training of the Mind.
2. Blood and Thunder
ENORMOUS AS is the current circulation of comic books in the United States, the extent of their influence upon the minds of young Americans is rivaled by that of another and even more newly developed mass medium: television.
By the end of 1952, there were television sets in the homes of more than 21,000,000 American families.
"Television," states the New York Times radio and television editor, Jack Gould, "is influencing the habits of the nation to a degree unparalleled since the advent of the automobile." According to Gould, TV is having profound and far-reaching effects "on the way the public passes its leisure time, how it feels and acts about politics and government, how much it reads, how it rears its children. . ."
Some concept of TV's effect on the rearing of American children may be derived from this sardonic comment of Dr. Dallas Smythe, director of studies for the National Association of Educational Broadcasters:
While the typical theme of Hollywood pictures has been "Boy Meets Girl," the typical theme of TV is "Boy Meets Body", a violently dead body usually.
Both in January 1951 and January 1952, Dr. Smythe conducted a study of one week's television programs in New York City, with monitors watching and carefully classifying all of the programs on everyone of the city's television stations. Of the total time allotted to programs specifically for children, it was found that about 8 per cent came within the category of "Information and Instruction," while 60 per cent came within the category of "Drama." Regarding the latter, Dr. Smythe reported: "The largest single type of Drama program in New York was Crime drama."
The results of a similar survey on the West Coast were made public in a startling article in the June 1951 issue of TV Magazine, a trade monthly published in Hollywood. The article, which was written by the magazine's editor, Frank Orme, summarized the findings of one week's monitoring of TV programs for children in the city of Los Angeles.
"Close to 1000 crimes," reported Orme, "were televised by the seven Los Angeles stations on children's shows during the 1st week of May 1951." These were some of the findings of the survey:
Cited in Orme's article as characteristic episodes on children's programs were the following:
A man falls screaming, into a flaming pit.
A bound man is shot to death at close range.
Girl is shot dead by gangsters.
A 16-year-old takes part in a street gun-fight. He kills one man, grins with pleasure, then shoots another.
Gang tortures a man by burning his feet. He sweats and screams. An old man is brutally murdered while his little grand-daughter clings to him.
Murderer shoots girl in a jealous rage. Camera close-up on her hand as it quivers and slips slowly down the cabin wall.
That Los Angeles and New York have no monopoly on such TV programs for the edification of the young was shown in a survey conducted in Chicago during the Christmas season of 1952 by Jack Mabley, the TV columnist of the Chicago Daily News. Mabley published his findings in a series of front-page articles in the News. These were the headlines to some of Mabley's articles:
TV's Holiday Fare For Kids: It's Murder - 4-Day Total: 77 Killings - Poisonings, Fist Fights, Kidnappings Add Up to a Juvenile Blood Bath
TV's Grisly Diet of Crime for Children - Frightening Statistics, 4 Stations Show 2,500 TV Crimes A Year to Kids Here - Parents Alarmed as Tots Learn: Violence Settles Everything.
How Parents Check on TV Crime Spree - Get Punch Drunk from Killings, Kidnappings, Other Gun Violence
TV Kills 93 in Week on Child Programs - Monitors Spot 295 Crimes While Viewing 134 Shows. (7)
Throughout the country, such grisly fare is the rule rather than the exception on TV programs for children. Hour after hour, day in and day out, in millions of American homes, countless children are sitting with their eyes hypnotically glued to TV screens across which move an unending procession of vividly enacted scenes of savage violence, bloodshed, brutality, and crime. Through the ingenious artistry of television, mayhem and murder have become commonplace components of American family life.
" the educators pointed out that "as each and every suspense story on TV becomes more bloodthirsty, as murders increase in number and border on the maniacal, the viewer gradually accepts these aberrations," and that "an adolescent . . . whose daily television fare is eye-gouging, depraved murders . . . will not be so easily shocked by or likely to protest the brutalities of war."
How grave is the harm being done to the more than 20,000,000 children who now regularly watch television shows in the United States was suggested by an article in the July II, 1951, issue of Variety magazine. The article, which dealt with TV crime programs, quoted from prominent educators who compared these programs with the type of culture which evolved in Germany during the Nazi regime. Recalling that the German people had been "gradually conditioned to the acceptance of brutality by its constant introduction into literature, movies and theatre, " the educators pointed out that "as each and every suspense story on TV becomes more bloodthirsty, as murders increase in number and border on the maniacal, the viewer gradually accepts these aberrations," and that "an adolescent . . . whose daily television fare is eye-gouging, depraved murders . . . will not be so easily shocked by or likely to protest the brutalities of war."
To some persons, on the other hand, this circumstance seems quite advantageous. In the words of Owen Callin, radio and television editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Express:
It must be remembered that almost every program with crime and violence has "good" winning out. Life in itself isn't a bed of roses. It might be well to acquaint our youngsters at an early age with things they might have to face when they grow up. Why keep them sheltered until the age when the knowledge of some crime or violence may shock their emotions to a far greater degree if they hadn't been indoctrinated slowly thru their very young years? And after all . . . if they're going to be sent to Korea eventually, isn't it only fair to them that they at least have some knowledge of what they'll face?When it comes to familiarizing youth with deeds of crime and violence so they may "have some knowledge of what they'll face" on possible future battlefronts, television has radio at an admitted disadvantage. The visual enactment of robberies, torturings, assaults and murders is far more vivid and precise, naturally, than the reproduction of such phenomena merely through the spoken word and sound effects. Sharply conscious of this handicap, the directors of radio dramas have diligently striven to overcome it through the wholesale use of bloodcurdling screams, sudden shots, mad laughter, thunderous explosions, and tortured gasps and groans. Some radio shows have adopted such sound effects as fiendish chuckles and bursts of machine-gun fire as their opening and closing trademarks. An ever-growing number of radio dramas resemble sound recordings of an armed riot in a lunatic asylum. . . .
As with television, certain radio programs feature songs, story telling, variety shows and similar entertainment for children. "There can be no doubt, however," writes Josette Frank of the Child Study Association of America, "that the largest audience is attracted to blood-and-thunder adventure serials. These are the programs which are the time-clock for great numbers of school age children. A recent offer of an 'atomic ring' on one adventure serial recently - in return, of course, for the usual box top -brought three and a half million responses."
In keeping with current fashions, radio dramas concentrate not only on run-of-the-mill crimes and killings but also on the daredevil exploits of FBI operatives, U. S. military intelligence agents, Government informers and spies. The airwaves teem with such programs as "Counter Spy," "Danger Assignment," "FBI in Peace and War," and "American Agent," in which the heroes zealously track down and exterminate "Communist fifth columnists" in the United States or conduct audacious espionage and sabotage operations "behind the Iron Curtain." The venerable protagonist of detective fiction, Mr. Moto, now engages in such international adventures as combatting opium smuggling by "the Chinese Red Navy"; and Jack Armstrong, the "all-American boy" of former years, has become a member of the S.B.I. Scientific Bureau of Investigation.
In the considered judgment of radio and television companies they are fulfilling an important social duty in presenting programs dealing with crime and violence. As the recently published code of the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters states in a section entitled "Responsibility Toward Children":
The education of children involves giving them a sense of the world at large. Crime, violence and sex are a part of the world they will be called upon to meet, and a certain amount of proper presentation of such is helpful in orienting the child to his social surroundings.It is a fitting commentary upon the atmosphere engendered by the Cold War that violence and crime should have come to be thus regarded as an integral part of the social surroundings of American children.
3. The Lore of Hollywood
SUPPLEMENTING THE radio and television in the mass entertainment of American children is the motion picture. But unlike the other two media, the film industry makes no productions especially for child audiences. Despite the fact that approximately 20,000,000 children attend movies each week, none of the commercial films they see are designed primarily for their viewing. It is the contention of the motion picture companies that films produced exclusively for children would automatically limit audiences and, at the same time of course, profits. (8)
Nevertheless the substance of present-day films is essentially the same as that of the radio and television dramas. On an ever-growing scale, the prodigious technical skills and facilities of Hollywood are being used for the mass production of underworld melodramas, murder mysteries and corpse-filled Westerns. Before the intent gaze of the nation's youthful movie-goers there unfolds an endless phantasmagoria of gangsters and convicts battling police officers, cowboys butchering Indians, American GIs slaughtering enemy soldiers, Federal agents shooting down "Moscow spies," homicidal maniacs killing various victims, husbands murdering wives and vice versa. With rare exceptions, the hero of these gory productions is distinguished from the other characters solely by the fact he is stronger and tougher, can shoot faster and straighter, and has greater proficiency in the arts of boxing, wrestling, rough and tumble and jiu jitsu. (9) Almost invariably, the dramatic climax comes when the muscular Aryan-type hero kills or beats into a bloody pulp the villain, who is frequently a foreigner, Communist, Oriental, or dark-skinned native of some colonial region.
In not a few films, the central figure is himself a big-time gangster, professional gunman or highly proficient murderer. Illustrative of this particular type of motion picture is the film, White Heat, in which the actor, James Cagney, plays the leading role. In a review entitled, "Cagney Kills Again," Life magazine described this picture as "a wild and exciting mixture of mayhem and madness . . . in which Cagney plays a bestial killer. . . pummeling society with both hands and feet, a tigerish snarl on his lips." (10)
When it comes to acknowledging the gruesome and sadistic aspects of their productions, the motion picture companies cannot be accused of false modesty. They enthusiastically publicize these qualities as major box-office attractions. Every day, film advertisements like the following abound in the "Amusement Section" of the nation's press:
THE SNIPER -Tenderly, he held her. . . in the sights of his gun!
THE DEVIL MAKES THREE -MGM's story of the crime, passion and intrigue encountered by an American GI when he returned to Germany and met an irresistible girl of the underworld.
RANCHO NOTORIOUS -She runs a ranch where a guest can hide his crime, quench his thirst-betray a woman, knife a man in the back, for a price.
CAPTAIN BLACK JACK -Tangiers! Singapore! Majorca! where every man's a double crosser, every dame an invitation to murder!
THE ATOMIC CITY -Now Paramount Proudly Presents the Year's Number One Suspense Story. . . The Atomic City has. . . extras that explode a new kind of excitement over the screen! It's about people bound by one hard-and-fast rule: Don't Talk to Strangers. . . in a place where children say, "If we grow up," not "When we grow up."
Here are descriptive comments from Cue magazine regarding a few of the scores of similar films being shown in the United States during 1950-1952 for the edification and entertainment of children and, of course, adults:
ASPHALT JUNGLE -"Fast, tense melodrama; manhunt, murder, racketeering, romance."
BORDER INCIDENT -"Heavy, brutal melodrama; U.S.-Mexican border patrol catch illegal immigrants, murderers along Rio Grande."
BRUTE FORCE -"Tough, bloody, sadistic drama of stir-crazy convicts and prison break. An orgy of unrelieved brutality from beginning to end, grimly, realistically produced."
CAGED -"Bitter, brutal tale of life in a woman's prison."
DARK MIRROR -"Superbly acted psychological murder-mystery drama."
DEAD RECKONING -"Fast, violent gory murder mystery:'
DIAL 1119 -"Explosive melodrama about psychotic 'mad dog killer'; resembling recent headlines."
D.O.A. -"A murder mystery, one of the best. Terrifically tense, vivid, literate. Definitely not for weaklings."
EDGE OF DOOM -"Long, unrelentingly grim story of poverty, futility, crime. Drama of confused, grief-stricken boy who kills a priest, is tracked down by detectives, repents, makes peace with the church."
FIVE -"Absorbing 'fantastic drama' by Arch Oboler, about five people left alive after civilization's destruction by super-bomb."
FOURTEEN HOURS -"Thrilling drama of would-be suicide atop N. Y. hotel. "
HANGOVER SQUARE -"Gripping melodrama of madness and murder."
HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN -"An orgy to delight lovers of chills and horror."
KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS -"Grim, brutal, sordid murder melodrama."
LADY FROM SHANGHAI -"Exciting multiple-murder mystery. . . . Almost nightmarish in its intensity."
OUTRAGE -"Drama picturing harrowing effects of a criminal assault on a young girl."
PITFALL -"Tense, thrilling drama in which a husband strays from home fires, stumbles into larceny, blackmail, murder. Strong; but good melodramatic entertainment."
PROWLER -"Grim, sordid, swift-moving melodrama about a crooked cop, an adulterous wife, murder and retribution."
RETURN OF THE BAD MEN -"Plenty of action, killings, in this elaborate but typical grab-bag Western filled with dozens of bandits."
SLEEP MY LOVE -"Occasionally interesting but generally obvious mystery melodrama about a philandering husband and a conspiracy to drive his wife into madness and suicide."
Regarding the growing mass production of films of this sort, Siegfried Kracauer, author of From Caligari to Hitler, a comprehensive study of German films prior to and during Nazism, observes:
Films saturated with terror and sadism has issued from Hollywood in such numbers recently as to become commonplace. . . . Now the weird, veiled insecurity of life under the Nazis is transferred to the American scene. Sinister conspiracies incubate next door; any trusted neighbor may turn into a demon . . . That kind of horror formerly attributed to life under Hitler . . . is more than accidental. Aside from the genuine and constant affinity between sadism and Fascism, it seems probable that the sadistic energies at large in our society at the present moment are specifically suited to provide fuel for Fascism. And it is in these energies, in this emotional preparedness for Fascism, that the danger lies.
That the trend in Hollywood productions has an essential role to play in the Cold War program is indicated in the following editorial comment in the July-August, 1952, issue of the magazine, Film Sense:
These films of violence and sadism fit in with the needs of the Defense Department, the State Department and the industrialists who benefit from a staggering "defense" budget. The Mickey Spillane mentality on celluloid helps to condition Americans psychologically for "Operation Killer," for napalm bombings and for the "humaneness" of atomic war. The continued depiction of sadism and carnage . . . cannot help but make moviegoers (in the millions) insensitive and fatalistic toward brutality and bloodshed in real life.
More and more American films deal directly with the theme of war. Since 1950 Hollywood has released over forty feature war films; and another thirty-odd like features and shorts are now in preparation. Almost without exception, these films are produced with the guidance and assistance of the U. S. Defense Department. As the October 29, 1952, issue of Variety reported: "With the U. S. Defense Department regarding many of the military pix as important public relations gimmicks, all-out cooperation is offered by the Government, which often provides location sites as well as manpower."
Hollywood has in the past made films about war. But those of the Cold War era are of a very special sort. None of them are anti-war films. On the contrary, all of the present war films stress the "positive" aspects of war. In this connection, it is significant that very few of them have dealt with the Korean war, while the overwhelming majority of them are about World War II. Noting this fact, the former Motion Picture Academy Award winning scriptwriter, Michael Wilson, wrote in a trenchant article in the January 1953 issue of the periodical, Hollywood Review:
The difficulties faced in producing Korean war films arise from the nature of the propaganda mission. Conceived militarily, the tactical mission of film producers has been to make an unpopular war palatable to the American people; the strategic mission has been to inculcate a martial spirit that would not fade away with the eventual cessation of hostilities in Korea.The production of such "positive films" about Korea, Wilson went on to say, has been greatly complicated because of "the known facts of the misery, confusion and cynicism of American troops in Korea":
The propaganda mission requires that war be accepted as normal in our time. If the American people can be made to accommodate to mass death on the screen they may more readily accept it as inevitable in life.
Nor is this the sole effect of such propaganda.
The Niagara of horror and sudden death with which young Americans are being inundated day and night through motion pictures, TV, radio and comic books is not only training them to regard acts of brutality, violence and homicide as a natural, every-day part of life. It is also conditioning them to commit such acts.
(1) In graduating from comic hooks to detective fiction, Spillane did not lose his reading audience among American youth. Countless teen-agers as well as adults are among his most ardent devotees as a novelist. Commenting on Spillane's immense popularity in the U. S. Army, Life noted: "In Frankfurt, Spillane sales were so large the command refused to release actual figures, lest they reflect unfavorably on Army reading tastes."
Hundreds of thousands more young Americans will soon have the opportunity of seeing motion picture versions of Spillane's novels. As this hook goes to press, six of his novels are about to be produced by a motion picture company which is paying him almost a quarter of a million dollars for the privilege.
(2) Of children recently queried across the country by the Ladies Home Journal, only 50 per cent could identify the governors of their states. 95 per cent were able to identify the President. But the cartoon character, Dick Tracy, was correctly identified by 97 per cent.
It is, of course, by no means only children who comprise the comic-book audience in the United States. There are estimated to be some fifty million adult readers of such literature.
(3) The dispensers of justice in the comic-book jungle of crime and violence are usually supersleuths, supercops, supercowboys or supermen of some other variety. Who -while defying the laws of both nature and man- take the law into their own hands and mete out "hooded justice," as Sterling North of the Chicago Daily News has termed it. Bearing such names as Black Knight, Captain America, Captain Midnight, Captain Marvel, Kid Eternity, Manhunter, Marvel Man, Superman, Professor Supermind, Rocket Man and Wonderman, these magically powerful heroes personify the central theme of the comic books that might makes right and that the most-muscled individual is the noblest. Appropriately enough, the various supermen are generally garbed in storm trooper-like uniforms, complete with special mystic insignia.
A logical concomitant of this emphasis on The Leader principle and glorification of force is the derisive contempt manifested in the comic books for any aspect of culture and learning. Stock comic book characters are intellectuals portrayed as long-haired crackpots and scientists as white-gowned madmen plotting to destroy the world.
(4) Not all of the comic books deal with crime, sex, corruption, war. A handful feature stories taken from the Bible and other literary classics; and the narratives of some comics are built around animals. Almost invariably, however, the animal comics are replete with instances of sadism and violence. Many of the classic comics stress grim and brutal episodes.
There are also some comic books of a progressive nature, which stress the importance of combatting discrimination and feature other such democratic concepts. The number of these comic books, however, is infinitesimal in comparison with the quantity of the horror, crime and war comics.
An example of the constructive educational use of the comic book technique is a children's pamphlet entitled Chug-Chug, which was published by the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Union. The story, told in pictures accompanied by written text, depicts in terminology adapted to children's understanding the benefits brought through trade unionism to individual families as well as to the community at large. It is symptomatic of the temper of the times that early in 1953 Representative Edmond J. Donlan of the Massachusetts State Legislature denounced the pamphlet Chug-Chug as "pro-Communist" and urged that the union which published it be investigated for spreading "class hatred propaganda."
(5) It cannot be said, however, that the citizens of other countries are very sympathetically inclined to the idea of their children being deluged with American comic books.
At a recent conference held in Italy under the auspices of UNESCO and attended by delegates from twenty-four countries, there was agreement that "blood and sex" comics were turning youth and adolescents into delinquents and potential criminals, and that an international apparatus should be established to urge governments to ban publications likely to "exercise a harmful influence on the upbringing and development of children:' In Sweden, an Act has been passed which bans "the circulation among children of printed matter, the contents of which may have a brutalizing effect or may otherwise involve serious danger in the moral upbringing of young persons.". In England, teacher and parent groups have demanded that action he taken by the Government to prevent the sale of American comic books as "pernicious," "degrading," and "encouraging racial prejudice and glorification of violence, brutal and criminal behavior."
"Are not these precisely the themes by which Hitler brought up a whole generation of German youth, with results that are well known to all of us?" asked a brief regarding comic books which was presented to the Board of Education in Toronto, Canada. In many parts of Canada, the sale of comic hooks dealing with crime, violence and sex is forbidden by law.
Nor is it probable, despite the enthusiastic recommendation of comic book publisher, Leverett Gleason, that Soviet parents or youth would respond very favorably if their country were "showered" with American comics. In this connection, it is interesting to note what the distinguished British novelist, James Aldridge, had to say following a recent visit to the Soviet Union about current literature for youth in that land. "I was especially interested in children's books and looked through hundreds," reported Aldridge. "Not one had a hint of violence in it: not one had any other emphasis but human dignity, patriotism, education, and kindliness toward others.'
(6) In a speech in the Canadian House of Commons in 1949, E. D. Fulton quoted James V. Bennett, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the United States, as saying: "We have in one of our institutions a boy who carried out a kidnapping plot following the precise pattern he had read about in a crime comic called Crime Does Not Pay. Not only did the boy confess that he got the idea from the crime comic but the facts surrounding the execution of the crime bore out his statement." Fulton went on to cite "the trial of two boys, aged eleven and thirteen, for murdering James Watson of Dawson Creek, in Canada, in the fall of 1948. During the trial positive evidence was produced to show the boys' minds were saturated with what they read in crime comics. . . . One boy admitted to the judge that he read as many as fifty crime comics a week, while the other admitted having read thirty:'
Fulton added: "In Montreal a boy aged twelve beat his mother to death with a bat while she was sleeping and at the trial said he had seen that sort of thing in the comics. . . . In Los Angeles a fourteen-year-old boy poisoned a fifty-year-old woman. He said he got the idea from a comic book, as well as the recipe for the poison. In the same city a thirteen-year-old boy was found hanged in a garage with a crime comic illustrating that sort of thing at his feet."
It would of course be a gross over-simplification to ascribe the growth of juvenile delinquency and violent crimes by young Americans solely to the influence of comic books. Rather, their impact on American children has to he evaluated as part of the entire pattern of similar influences in TV, radio and motion pictures, and has to he considered within the over-all Cold War atmosphere of crime, corruption, cynicism, brutality and resort to force. (For data on the content and effects on children of TV, radio and motion pictures, see pages 104-116; for data on juvenile delinquency in the United States today, see Chapter V.)
During the Christmas season in which these crime shows were being televised. interestingly enough, two TV stations in the midwest ruled off the air presentations of the Quaker film, A Time For Greatness, a half-hour motion picture calling for peace and friendly relations between the United States and other nations. District Council 8 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Union had paid for Christmas Day telecasts of the film and had signed contracts with the TV stations. But shortly before the scheduled programs, the station managements cancelled the contracts on the grounds that the film was "socialistic," "off-color" and "pro-communist."
(8) It is not exactly deeper concern for the welfare of children that accounts for the fact that radio and television companies feature shows for children, while motion picture companies do not. Rather, it is the fact that radio and television programs for children are generally sponsored by the manufacturers of cereals and other such commodities, with the object of advertising and selling these products to children. Having no such products for sale, motion picture companies of course lack the incentive to produce entertainment solely for children.
(9) The salient characteristic of the heroine is always sexual attractiveness, usually accompanied by simplicity of mind.
(10) Even the creatures in animated cartoons have now been invested with traits of human brutality. In the words of motion picture director John Houseman: "I remember the time when Disney and his less succesful imitators concerned themselves with the frolicsome habits of bees, birds, and the minor furry animals. Joie-de-vivre was the keynote. . . . Now all this is changed. The fantasies. . . run red with horrible savagery. Today the animated cartoon has become a bloody battlefield through which savage and remorseless creatures, with single-track minds, pursue one another, then rend, gouge, twist, tear, and mutilate each other with sadistic ferocity."
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