The very earliest reference I've ever come across concerning the fears that popular culture was corrupting the youth of the day was discovered accidentally in my copy of the April 5, 1739 edition of The Edinburgh Evening Courant.
On page 3 is a notice relating a bill wafting through Parliament allowing the prohibition of "plays" which "withdraws the minds of the youth from feverer (sic) studies, and corrupt their morals."
The money quote cropped out.......
Given the inordinate amount of stage productions and dramatic history during the Elizabethan period by authors lead by William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson, it rings rather inexplicable that a century later complaints about "extraordinary pleasure" of the "young and the gay" would require an actual legal maneuver.
The later 19th century periodical publishing aspect I spoke of is not comic books, but the entire parallel genre of children's literature which came of age in the Victorian era and where the preoccupation with childhood manifested itself in the books and magazines produced for the young. As more and more children of the middle class joined the upper class in reading, prominent literary critics of the time played leading roles as arbiters of taste and morality, especially against what was deemed the lowest rung of printed reading matter, the penny dreadfuls, the reading entity of the working class.
LITTLE FOLKS c.1885 (Cassell and Company)
April 11, 1891
Issue #1 (1879)
|Chicago Daily News (May 8, 1940)|
The war years that followed yielded complaints in magazines and newspapers including the
Southtown Economist, April 1, 1945
1944 (The Catechetical Guild)
NY TIMES Feb. 4, 1948
Under the heading "American Comics Become A Battlefield", a double page spread on pages 30-31 presented the dichotomy of William Lass praising the recent half-century of newspaper comic art as an artform on the one hand, while John Mason Brown skewers comics during a debate with cartoonist Al Capp, on the other hand (in a reprint of his opening statement over the radio program "America's Town Meeting - What's Wrong With Comics").
Brown presents a horrendously biased and ignorant rant on the cultural and artistically bankrupt artform known as sequential art, whether it be newspaper comics or even worse, comic books.
But you know what really disturbs me the most? The fact already covered in the symposium and reiterated here where Dr. Wertham bashes "apparently harmful children's animal comic books", meaning the newsstands funny animal titles where anthropomorphic forest creatures engage in "undue amounts of socking over the heads and banging in the jaw" as well as "toys that come to life at night sometime put in the time strangling one another". With this incomprehensibly ridiculous tough stance, Wertham has not only vilified funny animal comics, but in the age right before television, also has ostensibly slammed the entire breadth of all the major motion picture film's animation studio's output, from
- "comic books are optically hard to read with garish colors and semi-printed balloons"
- "they retard children's reading skills"
- "comic books make children reluctant to read"
- "delinquent youngsters are almost five years retarded in reading abilities"
- "children of families in which lower income is hand-in-hand with lower intellectual standards are the most omnivorous comic book readers"
- "the books distract him from his lessons"
- Comic books will now join film before and television after, as the latest medium to "ruin" junior's eyes.
- Comic books likely will "enhance" children's reading abilities.
- Comic books probably made children want to read "more"
- Delinquent youngsters are surely "behind" the reading curve and not scholars to begin with.
- Lower income families likely stressed education less in their children. Wertham's point is that the poor and uneducated read more comic books. I don't believe this has ever been proven.
- Where are the parents??? If a kid is not paying attention, take his comic books away! Television will become the next "big distraction" to junior's lessons.
SATURDAY REVIEW OF LITERATURE, May 29, 1948
SAT. REVIEW OF LITERATURE, May 29, 1948, p.6
SAT. REVIEW OF LITERATURE, May 29, 1948, p.7
SAT. REVIEW OF LITERATURE, May 29, 1948, p.27
SAT. REVIEW OF LITERATURE, May 29, 1948, p.28
SAT. REVIEW OF LITERATURE, May 29, 1948, p.29
Jack Cole TRUE CRIME COMICS #2 (May/47) Page 2, panel 6
|READER'S DIGEST August, 1948|
The response was an explosion of concern across the country as religious groups and family advocates, with the help of newspaper editorials and letter pages of national magazines, began to marshal their forces against comic books, including the passing of laws by a handful of local municipalities that clamped down on comic books in varying degrees.
NEW YORK TIMES June 24, 1948
1st Editorial from November and December 1948 cover dated issues
2nd editorial from January through Mar/49 cover dated issues
SATURDAY REVIEW, July 24, 1948
SATURDAY REVIEW OF LITERATURE, July 24, 1948 [David Wigransky letter]
SATURDAY REVIEW OF LITERATURE, July 24, 1948 [David Wigransky letter]
14 year old David Pace Wigransky
- A mother from St. Lawrence congratulates Dr. Wertham on his article and agrees with the evils of comic books, hoping that the article sways public opinion against comic books.
- Another mother from Kansas City didn't realize comic books were as bad as they apparently were and wants to know what she and other mothers can do about it, stating she can't stop her son from reading them, although she hasn't noticed any change in his behavior yet..
- A third mother, the wife of a psychiatrist in Colorado Springs, states a fervent "Amen"!
- A woman from
St. Paulwants to start a campaign against comic books among parents and teachers, noticing that while the children aren't criminals, their language and attitudes definitely deteriorate subsequent to reading comic books.
- And finally, the most hilarious letter of all! An E.M. Hunt from White Plains, NY, writes that while some comics may be bad in spots, the Bible is even worse for children! He relates how a local 4 year old girl likes Bible stories "where God kills all the little babies" and other favorites "where the boys throw Joseph down the well" and "where God has the men kill Jesus". Mr Hunt then states that while the wrong kind of comics are bad for children, "so is the wrong kind of religion", and that "they would be better off without "any" comics or religious stories", continuing "As long as it is profitable for the trade to sell bad comics and for the churches to furnish low-grade religion, the children will be supplied with both products."
HEADLINE COMICS #25 (July/47)
3rd editorial from April & May 1949 cover dated issues
4th editorial from June & July 1949 cover dated issues
|ad from WESTERN WINNERS #7 (Dec/49)|
NEW YORK TIMES February 6, 1949
I would like to correct two inaccuracies concerning my own opinion of comic books, as represented by Norbert Muhlen's article “Comic Books and Other Horrors” [January 1949].
New York City
Whether the subject of violence is or is not one of the most important problems of our time, it certainly is the basic problem of comic books, as I attempted to show in my article, in which the word
New York City
I should like to offer some comments on Norbert Muhlen's article “Comic Books and Other Horrors,” in the January COMMENTARY.
National Comics Publications, Inc.
New York City
If Mr. Ellsworth had read my article more carefully, he would have observed that I, too, objected to current sensational attempts to blame the comic books for juvenile delinquency. What I tried to emphasize was the more general, less acute effect of comic books—their tendency to encourage the acceptance of violence as the basis of human relations. Mr. Ellsworth does not even attempt to answer this point.
NEW YORK TIMES January 31, 1949
NEW YORK TIMES November 11, 1950
NEW YORK TIMES November 14, 1950
The code provides for a TV “seal of approval” which stations may flash on the screen as long as they abide by the rules. And it sets up a six-man review board which will maintain a continuing review of all TV programming and have the power to revoke the seal if a station gets out of line. In this respect, the new code parallels the production code of the film industry. The TV code also follows the film code closely in the sections which deal with good taste and treatment of religious and minority groups. The words and phrases listed as verboten for TV are the same ones which are barred in movies.
Here are the highlights of the code as it applies to dramatic programs:
There must be no attacks on religion. If religious rites or ceremonies are shown, they must be presented accurately. When ministers, priests or rabbis appear as characters in scripts, they must be presented with dignity.
The sanctity of marriage and the value of the home must be upheld. Divorce should not be treated casually or justified as a solution for marital problems. Illicit sex relations are not to be presented as commendable; sex crimes and abnormalities are generally unacceptable; sex perversion must not be referred to.
Drunkenness or narcotics addiction should not be presented as desirable or prevalent. Liquor may not be shown unless it is required by the plot or for proper characterization. Gambling devices may be shown when they are necessary to the plot or for appropriate background, but gambling should be presented with discretion and in a manner which will not excite interest or foster betting.
Physical and mental afflictions and deformities should not be handled in such a way as to invite ridicule or offend sufferers, their families or friends.
Fortune telling, astrology, phrenology, palm reading and numerology are not considered legitimate sciences. When they are necessary to the plot, they should be presented in a way that will not foster superstition or encourage belief in them.
Cruelty, greed and selfishness should not be presented as worthy motives; neither should unfair exploitation for personal gain. Criminality must always be undesirable and unsympathetic; the techniques of crime must not be presented in such detail as to invite imitation.
Law enforcement should be upheld. Officers of the law are to be portrayed with respect and dignity. Murder or revenge as a motive for murder must never be justified. Suicide should not be treated as an acceptable solution for human problems.
The use of horror for its own sake is to be eliminated. No visual or aural effects which would shock or alarm the viewer are permitted. There shall be no detailed presentation of brutality or physical agony by sight or by sound. The code points out that television’s responsibility toward children goes beyond programs which are intended for children. Programs of all sorts which are scheduled at times of the day when children may be watching must avoid material which is excessively violent or would create morbid suspense.
The industry has been spurred towards self-regulation by such outside pressures as the Congressional bill proposed by Senator William Benton to set up a Citizens’ Advisory Board and the mounting complaints against television programming from both inside and outside the industry. CBS, for instance, toned down its Suspense program after several stations threatened to drop it. Programs like Lights Out, Danger and a whole raft of crime and mystery shows came under fire because of excessive use of horror and violence.
The sensitivity of the industry to mounting criticism was reflected in an incident at NBC-TV several months ago. A discussion of Lights Out was scheduled for NBC’s Author Meets the Critics program, which takes up movies and other mediums of entertainment as well as books. Lights Out was to be discussed pro and con by guest critics, with Producer Herbert Bayard Swope, Jr., on hand to defend the program. The debate was widely ballyhooed in advance, but, at the appointed hour, viewers who dialed NBC were informed than (sic) the discussion of Lights Out had been postponed because Swope was “indisposed.” It has never been rescheduled. Cynics are speculating that it suddenly occurred to NBC that this is no time for television to go around knocking itself.
In 1952 a second federal attempt against media violence was launched, this time in the House of
Representatives. Chaired by Congressman E.C. Gathings (after an aborted try in 1951), in May of that
PYRAMID BOOKS #102 (1953)
LION BOOKS #45 October, 1950