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Monday, March 22, 2010

1954: The year Britain got the horrors over comics

On 23rd September 1954 two Glasgow policemen were called out to witness an alarming sight: hundreds of children, some armed with knives and sharpened sticks, were patrolling a graveyard hunting a vampire.

Thus began the legend of the "Gorbals Vampire" and although, naturally, no vampire was found, a scapegoat for the children's behaviour was: imported American comic books. After this, the floodgates of paranoia opened and the church and media began attacking comics relentlessly.

Now the BBC are to revisit the story and expose some of the myths of the anti-comics propaganda of the Fifties. The programme, The Gorbals Vampire, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 next Tuesday, March 30th, at 11.00pm.

Just how intense was the anti-comics crusade in the UK? Fierce and hysterical. American "horror comics" became completely demonized in the media and church leaders condemned the stories as being "evil" and actual products of Satan.

Other blogs are also reporting this news today so I thought I'd research it a bit more and find a few of the actual clippings from the newspapers of the day. Here are a sample, just from September to November 1954, starting with the Daily Mirror's reportage of the incident (above) and then the reports and opinions of the Daily Express as the paranoia swiftly reached fever pitch. Click on the clippings to see them in a larger and more legible size.

The tragedy of the story is that there was never any foundation that comics were the incentive for the churchyard incident. Not a shred of evidence that comics "warped" children. Millions of comics were sold, yet millions of readers grew up to be normal rational adults. But the seeds of doubt were sown, nasty malicious rumours spread by church leaders and newspaper editors that damaged the reputation of comics forever. The hysteria caused parliament to react. In 1955 the (Children and Young Persons) Harmful Publications Act came into force to forbid the importation or publication of horror comics in the UK that are likely to fall into the hands of children. (Although it didn't seem to prevent the resurgence of the imported horror comics in the 1970s.) Even to this day some people still think there was some truth to the "dangers" of comic books and even amongst some British comic collectors there is an attitude that American comics are inferior and vulgar.

The establishment loves to create demons. A century ago it was "Penny Dreadfuls", in the 1980s it was "video nasties", then video games, and now it's the Internet that's the current scapegoat. Religious leaders and the media are always exploiting the paranoia of the public to hide the unpalatable truth: that humanity is flawed and the dark side comes from within. It's easier to blame external forces that "warp" people rather than face the fact that humans are nothing more than animals one step up from savages.

As readers here may know, several years ago Martin Barker wrote a fantastic book on the UK anti-comics crusade entitled A Haunt of Fears. Exposing the anti-American propaganda behind the campaign it's a fascinating read and well worth tracking down if you can.

The BBC news item on the forthcoming Radio 4 programme:


G.G. said...

Not to derail your intended topic too much, but I saw that first page last year and I still think that the vampire menace story is beaten in the stupid department by the story below it, about Sandy the dog waiting for Ann.

Tim Perkins said...

Excellent post here, Lew and kudos for the many articles from the papers of the time.

Great research.


Malcolm Kirk said...

Someone may have already mentioned this in a comment yet to be moderated, but just in case they haven't, here's a segment from Alan Titchmarsh's show which aired last week :

Nothing really changes.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Thank you so much for this - I will link to this.

Kid said...

Well, I don't think it's as simple as that, Lew - on both sides of the argument. However, in order to make my point, I have to make an analogy - so I hope you'll bear with me. Here's a fact: Many children (but not all) who are sexually abused go on to become abusers. Unless we are going to assume that most of that number would have become abusers anyway, even if they had not been abused (which is unlikely), then we must conclude that their dreadful experience shaped their sexual responses.

Why? Because children ARE susceptible. There ARE and always have been (and always WILL be) children who are negatively influenced by what they encounter or experience, whether it's movies, books, parental bad example - OR comics. The number may be small in the latter, but logic dictates that it's entirely likely, if not inevitable.

While the vast majority may be relatively unscathed by even the worst kind of comic imaginable, the few who ARE can have a disproportionate effect on the society around them. It only takes one disturbed child to destroy a huge number of lives if the repercussions of having seen a particular kind of movie, read a particular type of book, or been exposed to a particular style of comic unsettles the balance of his young, impressionable mind and makes him pick up a gun and blast his classmates and teachers to smithereens.

Yes, the argument by Dr. Wertham and his followers was exaggerated and sometimes absurd, but not entirely without some substance.

I remember when A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was first shown back in the 70s. Overnight, gangs of youths were dressing in Crombies and Doc Martens and going around kicking the sh*t out of many an innnocent and unsuspecting bystander. Of course, many more didn't, but nothing is entirely without the ability to influence people in one way or another - and I think that's worth remembering.

Lew Stringer said...

Interesting comments Kid. I think comics can have a certain influence, - the comics of Stan Lee helped give me a sense of fairness and equality for example, - but those feelings were there anyway. Comics like the Silver Surfer just helped me vocalize it better.

What the censors of comics claim is that comics can "warp" children, ie: change their personalities. I don't think that could happen, and I've never read any evidence that it did.

Your analogy to sexual abuse isn't the same imho. That's a physical experience that damaged their lives. Completely different to merely reading something.

As for the gangs who went out causing violence dressed as Clockwork Orange characters, - did the movie really turn them violent overnight, or did it just give them a uniform to carry on doing what they would have done anyway?

Yes there will always be something that triggers a disturbed child into violence, but those violent tendencies have to be there in the first place. Society can't walk on eggshells just because a comic, movie, or game "might" give a child bad ideas. For society to blame the entertainment media just seems like passing the book for a bad home/social environment. Where is the evidence of a direct link between comics and violence?

Kid said...

Basically, what you're saying, Lew, is that only people who are bad to start with will do bad things, and that good people can't be made to be bad. Far too simplistic.

People can be warped by bad experiences (in the case of some molested children going on to become child molesters themselves), but it isn't merely "physical" bad experiences which can warp a person's mind - any kind of bad experience can.

Those who aren't affected by certain things find it hard to comprehend how others can be. I maintain that it is entirely possible for someone to be so disturbed by watching a movie, reading a book or comic, or witnessing a real-life horrific incident that the experience is so traumatic for them that it leaves a lasting impression that later affects their behaviour.

Not unless it's already in them? That's the point - it's in ALL of us and it just needs the right buttons to be pressed in order to bring it to the surface. Something that doesn't affect you one day might do so on another when you're less resistant to it. What pushes your buttons might not push someone else's at the same time - but may on a later occasion.

As for my CLOCKWORK ORANGE analogy - sure, a great number of those who adopted the dress code and indulged in the violent lifestyle were already on that road - but it would be ridiculous to claim that seeing that film for the first time didn't alert and influence others who were not hitherto of that mindset to unimagined possibilities.

To say otherwise (and apologies for returning to my earlier analogy) is like saying that those abused kids who went on to become abusers would have done so anyway - because it was already in them. That is just not credible.

Good people can be influenced to do bad things - perhaps it takes more than one influence working in isolation to produce a negative effect - it may require several things in operation at the one time - but people -youngsters in particular - are susceptible beings, and caution should be exercised when determining what influences they are exposed to.

It may be that Wertham and his disciples over-egged the pudding and that the examples they offered may not have conclusively proved their case - but that doesn't necessarily mean that the concerns and principles which prompted their thinking were entirely baseless.

Andy Luke said...

The sexual abuse analogy leaves out the (similar) concerns of the adult. It's that crime of modern society: child worship.

In my studies, it's often the re-presentation of the content as malicious and the re-distribution of it (as such) that causes more harm. I agree, it's a tricky area. We're talking about communication and non-communication. Which treads on more people: Comic books or moral panics?

Lew Stringer said...

"Basically, what you're saying, Lew, is that only people who are bad to start with will do bad things, and that good people can't be made to be bad. Far too simplistic."

No, I'm saying that only people who are already "damaged" by their environment or experiences will be affected adversely by a comic, but we shouldn't censor horror comics just for a small minority. If someone is already so damaged that they'd pick up a gun and kill (to use your suggestion) they're going to do it anyway. Besides, where is the evidence that a comic ever made someone turn to murder?

I'm afraid I can't agree with your child abuse analogy. You're comparing a physical or emotional experience that a child cannot stop, to a passive reading experience that a child has full control over.

If a horror comic disturbs a child the worst that'll happen is he'll have nightmares but in a safe home environment he'll get over it. And that's the key: environment. It's real life situations that "warp" people, not comics. Kids know the difference between fantasy and reality. For those that don't there are obviously other problems going on, but blaming comics is passing the buck.

Kid said...

Well, in one sense, we're almost in agreement. Under certain circumstances comics may be partly responsible for influencing a child's responses if the child is already damaged by his environment and experiences you say. (Or so it seems to me.)

All I'm saying is that it's possible that certain comics could BE one of the factors in the child's environment and experiences that leads to him becoming damaged.

To indulge in another analogy, if someone eats a three course meal, followed by a pudding, and is then sick - it's because he has eaten too much. One could argue that he would have been sick anyway, even without the pudding, as he had already overeaten - or one could include the pudding as one of the reasons he was sick. (No doubt whoever made the pudding would say it was nothing to do with their product - it was the other foodstuffs which were at fault. And no doubt the greedy consumer would say that he was not a glutton, and that the food must have been "off".)

Again, all I'm saying is that it's just not as clear-cut as you (or I - or anyone) may imagine.

Kid said...

One final word. It really all depends on the comics at the end of the day. Comics are just another form of communication - to say that comics (and it would depend on their content) COULD NOT ever have a negative effect or be a factor in SHAPING (not changing) a child's perceptions or behaviour is simply another form of passing the buck, in my humble estimation.

Lew Stringer said...

Again you're using another physical analogy. Of course too much food, or the wrong foods, will make someone sick. Reading isn't the same thing at all.

My p.o.v. is based on the lack of evidence to prove comics are harmful. Again I ask; where is the evidence that comics have ever damaged anyone?

Kid said...

Lew, reading IS a physical as well as a mental pursuit, but regardless, you seem to be unable to see past the inadequacies of analogies (by their very nature) to the wider truth or principle that they illustrate. The analogy may be imperfect, but not necessarily the point it makes.

If one reads a boring book, it can produce feelings of tiredness in the body as well as the mind, because mind and body are linked. At the risk of being accused of making another "physical" comparison, there is an old adage which says "we are what we eat". This principle also applies to what we "feed" our minds with. What goes in, has an effect on what and who we are.

People watch and read pornography and it has a physical as well as a psychological effect on them. People are not, in the main, born with an appetite for any form of pornography - they develop and refine (not a good word considering the context) that appetite through exposure to it - willing or unwilling.

Earlier, you said something along the lines of "if a kid reads horror comics, the worst he will have is a nightmare". However, I would say that it is entirely possible that a kid exposed to a diet of explicit horror comics could eventually process the content of these nightmares into a manifestation of behaviour many years later which could have serious repercussions on society. Yes, it would take many other factors as well.

Why is it that some kids brought up in deprived circumstances go on to lead honest, upright, hard-working lives, whilst others go on to a completely different, anti-social lifestyle? Who knows? Despite superficial similarities in upbringing, there are always unfathomable, unquantifiable factors that have their role to play also.

The fact is, however, that 'though it may be unlikely that the occasional movie, book, video-nasty or comic may be the sole defining factor in instances of disturbed, anti-social behaviour, it is a solid hypothesis to say that they can be PART of the mix which leads to manifestations of such activity in some instances. They do not lie OUTSIDE and BEYOND that mix, as you assert.

Proof? You're too defensive about the love of your life (comics) to ever accept any proof that would be offered - you'd find some way to explain it away. Just like a proud parent who can't (and won't accept) that the apple of her eye, her darling angel, is capable of what he's been accused of by teachers or police.

Lew, it's an indisputable fact - we are what we eat - we are what we see - we are what we experience - we are what we read. We are ALL a combination of all those things, to a greater or lesser extent, for better or for worse. While you're reading your SILVER SURFER collection and admiring how noble ol' Norrin Radd is, there's someone else thinking that GALACTUS actually has a point when it comes to regarding what he sees as lesser life forms as dispensable. That attitude could well affect their behaviour for the worse in later years.

I return to my original point - it is too unsophisticated a view to place certain comics OUTSIDE of the sphere of influence on a child's later way of thinking or behaviour. They must be considered along with, and as a part of, other factors which MAY have an effect on psychological development.

What I am NOT saying is that any of the examples that Wertham offered were necessarily deserving of that attention - I haven't looked at all of them so I don't know. All I AM saying is that the concept that certain comics - depending on their content - COULD conceivably have, in conjunction with other factors, a negative and harmful effect in some instances, is not one that should be so easily dismissed.

Lew Stringer said...

I'm not defending comics just because I enjoy them Gordon. I'm defending them from suppositions like yours that have no foundation.

My argument stems from there being no evidence that comics harm children. Your argument is all about how you *assume* they might harm children.

I'm afraid the onus is on you to provide evidence, otherwise you have no case.

If, as in your scenario, a child is only exposed to a diet of explicit horror comics and no lighter balance to cheer his outlook then that's hardly the fault of the comics is it? That's like saying if a child was only exposed to Janet and John books throughout his life he'd only develop minimal reading and comprehension skills. Of course he would, but that wouldn't be the fault of the books, it'd be a failing of his parents or guardians not to provide more balance in his reading matter.

Kid said...

I've just spent a great deal of time explaining my foundation - that of "cause and effect". The studies that would produce conclusive, incontrovertible evidence - one way or another - haven't been done, at least to my knowledge. However, that doesn't mean that one can't apply principles that are valid in one circumstance to that of other, similar ones.

If somebody is horrifically murdered and there are plenty of suspects, but absolutely no conclusive evidence to prove exactly who the guilt party might be, it would be just as absurd to conclude who the murderer WASN'T as it would be to guess who was. In a similar way, just because we can't PROVE what effect something might have had, doesn't prove that it DIDN'T have an effect. We can draw reasonable inferences. (All the suspects may have been guilty - MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, anyone?)

In an increasingly violent world, where violent films, violent video games, violent books, and violent comics (assuming there are any) are available to youngsters, I think it's pretty safe to assume the possibility that all these factors (and others) may well have a part to play in the violent tendencies that many youngsters display nowadays.

In the same way, for example, that the increasing sexual activity of youngsters in our society is unlikely NOT to be as a consequence (with other factors) of the increased sexual content of movies, books, records, and perhaps even comics.

Yes, comics are often used as a scapegoat (as are other things from time to time) for society's ills. All I'm proposing for discussion and consideration is the notion that it's entirely possible that they play a part. Since when has a hypothesis required to be proven before it is proposed?

It is entirely possible that a child - disturbed or otherwise at that point - may see a graphic depiction of a horrific, violent and/or sexual scene in a movie or a comic which gives him nightmares (you have conceded this much), causing him, at a later point in his life - in conjunction with other factors - to commit some heinous crime. It may not even go that far - he may simply turn out to be an odious little turd that nobody likes - all because he "turned out weird" because of a variety of contributing influences, comics amongst them.

I would not give a loaded gun to someone who hates me, even if there was not the slightest bit of evidence that he would use it to shoot me. I prefer to avoid the possibility of something going wrong, rather than rue the consequences when it is too late.

The above is an analogy to illustrate a point. It should not be interpreted too literally for the purpose of ignoring the principle behind it.

Everything has some kind of effect one way or another, to a greater or lesser extent, either for good or bad. This is an established scientific principle. Oh, I forgot - comics are exempt. If you're going to fly in the face of all logic, Lew, I'm afraid it's YOU that has to prove your case - not me.

Remember, all I originally said was that I don't think it's as simple as you seem to think - on BOTH sides of the argument.

Best wishes.

Lew Stringer said...

No Gordon, it really isn't up to me to prove anything. Reality has already done that because there is no evidence of comics harming children.

As for comics relating to an increase in a violent society; how can comics possibly be part of that in the UK when today's UK comics have been so tame for a generation or two?

Even if the comics industry accepts your theory, what would you suggest it does about it?

Kid said...

Well, Lew, now you're changing what I actually said - I didn't say that comics ARE responsible for an increasingly violent society - only that they COULD have a part to play if they were violent enough. (I don't actually know if there are currently any such comics that would qualify.) And I was actually thinking of Western society as a whole, not just the UK.

But here's the important bit that you seem to have missed - I'm talking about concepts and ideas - I don't think I've ever claimed that any comic, anywhere (historically speaking), HAS ever had a detrimental effect (in the same way that I wouldn't claim any haven't) - all along I've said that the concept, the notion, that PERHAPS a particular type of comic COULD have a negative effect (in conjunction with other factors) is not necessarily as absurd as you seem to think.

In short, it's a possibility that at least should be considered by society in general and the producers of comics in particular.

An interesting anecdote, Lew: I remember a copy of BUSTER POCKET LIBRARY (I think) being withdrawn from circulation because it reprinted a strip wherein BUSTER was either handling lit fireworks or using them in an inappropriate manner which kids could copy - with potentially drastic results. Why was it pulled? Well, apart from not wanting to be sued if some kid imitated BUSTER and got hurt by a banger going off in his hand, there were real concerns for the POTENTIALLY catastrophic results to a child. (Apart from the financial repercussions to IPC, that is.)

Comics can POTENTIALLY influence kids in their behaviour and attitudes in instances such as the one above (and we're only talking about BUSTER, for goodness' sake) - it's a recognized fact (the potential, that is) - that's why precautions were taken and the comic pulped on this occasion. Whether or not they ever ACTUALLY have done OR NOT is another matter - nobody knows for sure because the required research in strictly controlled conditions would be impractical to instigate.

So, your comments that reality has already proven your assertion that comics don't harm kids because no evidence exists is redundant - the most you can claim is that you know of no evidence (that would convince you) - not that none exists.

And if someone ever presents you with some, you'd find a way to explain it away - because you don't WANT to believe that such a thing is possible. (Or so it seems to me.)

I, however, prefer to keep an open mind on the matter.

Lew Stringer said...

The reason publishers are careful about such material (eg: fireworks) is a financial one. They don't want to get sued, because they know that, since the 1950s comics scare, there are people out there who believed the scaremongering.

Obviously we all self-edit as we're writing and drawing the material. I'm always conscious of making the strips appropriate for children when I'm doing children's comics. But it's not a case of "would a child copy this", - more a case of "this might be too unpleasant so I won't put that in", coupled with a knowledge that if I did cross a line it'd be edited anyway.

I work in fantasy but I live firmly in reality. Over the years I've heard of no evidence that comics have damaged children, and as society loves to pass the buck we'd be sure to have had concrete evidence by now if a link existed. All I've ever read from the doomsayers is that comics MIGHT damage kids. Sorry, but it's spurious propositions like that which have held back the UK comics industry for decades.

Sure there might be a child out there who's already so damaged from bad parenting and social scars that a scary comic might add to his trauma. But he MIGHT also be scared of the dark, or a picture on a crisp packet. So do we ban crisp packet art and start being careful about how our shadows fall? The argument against comics is as silly as that imho. You can't police the majority for the benefit of a tiny emotionally scarred minority who "might" be upset by imaginary things. Unfortunately that's exactly what happened in the 1950s.

Kid said...

Well, we're just repeating ourselves now, Lew, and it seems to me that you've ignored a lot of valid points I made in order to stick to your guns.

I also think you're defending a different point of view to the one you think you are. While you may be entitled to claim that, in your opinion, you don't think it likely that any comic ever published has ever been a factor in "corrupting" anybody in some way, if you extend that to saying that NO comic, however bad, debased or disgusting it might be, COULD ever be published that might play a part in having a seriously negative effect on someone, then you're on extremely tenuous ground, in my humble opinion.

Also, I don't think we can look at horror comics of the 50s (for example) through today's eyes and see them in the way that a kid back then would have viewed them. Maybe they really were horrible, depraved and disgusting - by the standards of the time. Surely that was part of the thrill, however tame they may seem today?

You say that you self-edit and wouldn't include anything that you think a kid might find unpleasant (being quite a fan of your work, I think it's unlikely that you ever would), but this is to concede that you're aware that a comic perhaps CAN make an impression on a child's mind.

So, 'though you don't accept that any type of comic HAS ever been published that has ever had any kind of detrimental effect on anybody (because you either haven't seen or don't accept the evidence), you have tacitly admitted the possibility that one COULD be. And if one COULD be, then you're pretty much in agreement with me. After all, my point of view is simply that such a scenario cannot be ruled out as a possibility.

The only point we really differ on is that I'm not convinced that it's spurious to assume the possibility that certain comics from a bygone era may have had a part to play - in conjunction with other factors - in helping to form the attitudes and behaviour of some individuals.

Comics don't exist in a vacuum, disconnected from the rest of our everyday lives - they are part of the mix of ingredients that play their part in entertaining, informing, educating and shaping us. They are not merely a footnote or after-thought to a process which has already been completed by other factors.

Just because certain sections of the media jump on the bandwagon from time to time and indulge in hysteria and hyperbole in their attack on whatever the scapegoat of the day is, does not necessarily invalidate the core of the concept. Just because someone argues badly does not mean the argument itself is bad.

Best regards.

Lew Stringer said...

I'll concede that comics can have some influence but not to the extremes of the panic mongers. Obviously we hope comics have some sort of impact whether to amuse or excite or there's no point in doing them.

However I don't believe a comic could change a child's personality as Wertham and co suggested, but like all media they reinforce perceptions. For example I'm sure the racist stereotypes in comics of the past reinforced that negative image for children who read them. I'm sure that the gung ho war stories and xenophobia reinforced patriotism. ( Both worse examples than anything horror comics ever offered IMHO.)

I'd like to think that Charley's War made some readers think about the horrors of war and perhaps change their gung ho attitudes but I don't think it could for example turn a warmonger into a pacifist any more than a crime comic could turn a law abiding kid into a gangster. ( Indeed, some readers didn't grasp Charley's War was an anti war story and just loved it for the accuracy.)

What the anti-comics folk of the Fifties missed was that the EC Comics often had a moral code to the stories. Bad things happened, but mostly to bad people. Crimes backfired. That's a very positive message and not too different to the sort of social control that The Bible uses.

Speaking of which; there's one of the most influential books of all time, - The Bible. People believe what they read from that, and live their lives by it, but that's because they're told it's fact. The difference with comics is they don't pretend to be real, and kids know the difference between fantasy and reality as long as it's clear it IS fantasy and not fiction dressed up as fact.

Kid said...

Comics can have some influence - yup, just what I've been saying - either for good or bad. It's still debatable exactly to what extent they might influence susceptible minds 'though, so until we know for sure it's best to tread cautiously, at least where comics for kids and teenagers are concerned.

And you do!

However, there are people out there who don't believe in any form of censorship (self or societal) and think that anything should go. Comics that feature swearing, graphic all-kinds-of-sex scenes, ultra-violence, etc., and that there should be no restrictions on what age groups should be permitted to buy them.

All I can say is - thank goodness that day has not yet arrived as far as mainstream comics go - and I hope it never does. (Or maybe it's already here and I missed it.)

One thing, Lew - not everyone who leaned in the direction of Wertham's views could have been stupid, so if they missed the fact that some of those horror comics (which, for the time, were visually shocking to a great many people) had a worthwhile moral to them, don't you think a good many of the readers might have also?

Just a thought.

Lew Stringer said...

I think most of the people who swallowed Wertham's views didn't even bother to read the comics they banned. That's what we usually find with such critics of "dangerous" media isn't it? Like people who complain about video nasties or computer games, - they don't actually have hands on knowledge of the subject. They just "hear" of the violence out of context, or give it a cursory glance, which is bound to produce knee-jerk reactions.

I think the actual readers of horror comics would completely understand the moral issues and the black comedy of the stories. The letters to EC themselves showed that. Even on the simplest level the readers liked to see the bad guy get his comeuppance.

Of course there would be SOME already-disturbed readers who got off on the violence or horror but castrating comics just IN CASE a tiny minority MIGHT be upset/traumatized is wrong. Yes, we have to self-censor for commonsense reasons, but I've read ALL the EC horror comics (reprinted about 15 years ago) and a lot of similar material from other publishers and there was nothing in there I'd consider over the top even by 1950s standards.

I was born in 1959 and remember the Sixties very clearly. Remember those gory Civil War bubble gum cards from around 1964? We swapped those in the playground at infant school. I don't recall them causing any adverse affect on anyone. If anything, they DIScouraged me from military service because they showed how brutal and horrific armed combat was. Isn't it more likely such imagery deters readers rather than incites them?

I can only go by my experiences and those of others Gordon. There is no evidence comics have damaged anyone. So to repeatedly say "well, they might have" seems pointless to me. Ok, they MIGHT have, but as we have NO evidence they have why did so many people follow Wertham's anti-comics campaign? Because they wanted a scapegoat for their children's bad behaviour.

So 56 years ago they banned horror comics and toned comics down. Did society become more peaceful? What did society blame for juvenile delinquency then? Oh yeah, rock and roll. Sheesh.

There's also the argument that horror media can be therapeutic. That by getting engrossed in such stories we burn off our frustrations. Might be something in that.

Kid said...

You tend to simplify the facts, Lew, the better to accomodate them to your entrenched point of view. I think that those involved in the case at the time certainly would have looked at the material - to suggest that everyone was merely jumping on the scapegoat-hunting bandwagon is frankly ludicrous.

As for basing your conclusions on readers' letters - come on, Lew - you've been involved in comics long enough to know that the majority of letters come from a minority of readers (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) - and geeky readers at that.

And again you return to the convenient, all-purpose, one-size fits all, suits any colour, explain it all away excuse of people who are "already disturbed". You are prepared to allow for every other possible explanation of whatever might have led to them becoming disturbed - peer group pressure, bad parenting, traumatic experiences, just being born plain nuts, pants being too tight - everything, in fact, except anything that comes under the label of what is offered as entertainment. So violent books, pornography, video games, sexually explicit movies and songs - comics (and I'm not talking about THE BEANO) are exempt.

Sheesh, as you say.

If mere cards could have been partly responsible for discouraging you or anyone from military service because they portrayed war as being brutal and horrific, then it is entirely possible that cards which showed combat as being noble, heroic and exciting might have the opposite effect on someone else. Or does influence only work one way?

You keep saying that there is no evidence that comics (or books or movies) have ever damaged anyone - or that they ever could do - Pants, Lew. There is plenty of material on the internet which is offered as evidence of this very thing. What you mean is that you are either unaware of it or that you disagree with its conclusions. Which you are perfectly entitled to do - but please don't insult all those who are prepared to consider the opposite by regarding them as unthinking morons.

And when I say that it's possible that certain comics "might have" their part to play in negative influences, it's not, as you suggest, that I'm blindly assuming the worst, but merely that I'm prepared to consider it as a subject worthy of considered examination.

As for Rock and Roll, you're on even more tenuous ground with that subject than you are with your blinkered "comics only ever have positive influences, never negative ones" approach.

Everything seems to be nice and simple in your world, Lew - but I have to live in the real one. Not everything is black and white - some things have shades of grey - or even colour - about them.

The human mind is more complex than you would have us believe.


Lew Stringer said...

Yes of course cards or comics that showed war as "noble and heroic" COULD influence readers. As I said, I can only speak from my experience and that of others I know of.

Gordon, I've tried to meet you half way but you seem to want people to agree with you 100%. Sorry, but I accept you're entitled to your opinions, - I just don't agree with them.

I've repeatedly asked you for evidence of your claims and you've failed to provide it. Now you tell me it's "on the internet". You might have provided a few links by now instead of going around in circles and slinging out accusations of me being "blinkered". I'm willing to read such evidence if it exists.

In short, put up or shut up.

Kid said...

Lew, you've repeatedly failed to understand what I'm actually saying, going by your responses thus far. All I've been doing is according you the courtesy of a response and trying to reiterate my point of view because, in answering, I assumed that you were inviting continued discussion on the matter because you were interested in it.

As for posting links, quite honestly, I don't know how to - I've a novice on the computer, but quite frankly, I'm not interested in changing your mind on the matter - never have been. That's another instance where you've failed to comprehend what I'm about. Also, I think the fact that you've seemingly never bothered trying to track down the evidence yourself, indicates that you're not interested in changing your mind on the matter. You've seen no evidence that comics can have a negative effect, you say. Could that be because you've never even looked to see if there is any?

And the main point that you've missed is that I, personally, don't even claim that comics ARE or ever have been harmful - that's not what I'm saying. All I've said is this: (I'll type it slowly in case you're not a fast reader.)

There is an idea in some circles that comics (as well as other factors) may just possibly have some role to play in influencing children in a negative way - if the material is unduly negative. There is the opposite idea that they probably (or definitely, depending on how dogmatic one is) do not.

All I have ever maintained is that I do not consider it reasonable to dismiss the first idea completely out of hand, and that there could possibly be some merit in it. Why? Because everything influences or affects everyone in some way, for good or bad, directly or indirectly, and just because, by the nature of the beast, it is difficult to determine in exactly what way or to what extent, that is no reason to dismiss the idea as being spurious.

I've played Devil's advocate in some instances in order to state the case as simply as I could, but obviously you see it as some sort of temerity on my part for having my own opinion on the matter.

I'm certainly not going to do your homework for you - if you aspire to actually examining the material which is offered as evidence that comics have the potential to be as harmful in some instances as they have of setting a good example in others, then it's up to you to press those buttons. If not, don't - but don't get ratty just because someone doesn't see things your way.

Personally, it concerns me not a jot what you prefer to believe in the matter, but I'LL refrain from jumping to conclusions until I've investigated the subject in more detail - when I eventually decide that it's time to determine the truth of the topic once and for all, that is. The idea certainly seems not to be without merit, so it's worthy of investigation at some point.

I don't make up my mind on a whim, or according to my own personal biases - I wait until I've studied the "for and against" before reaching a conclusion. I humbly suggest that it would benefit you to do likewise, should you ever feel the need to base your conclusions on the results of relevant and detailed research.

There's two ways (at least) of looking at the matter - I acknowledge that fact, but maintain it is a complex concept that requires deep thought and studious research to reach a balanced and considered conclusion. THAT'S ALL I'VE EVER TRIED TO SAY. The fact that you seem to have taken umbrage to my view is surprising to say the least.

If you don't want to continue the discussion then I'd suggest you stop hitting the ball back into my side of the court - simple as that.

Enjoyed the chat.


Lew Stringer said...

The problem is you keep making assumptions Gordon, starting with your assumption that comics may have a negative effect. Then, because I didn't share that view you assume I have a closed mind, then when I asked you for evidence using the old cliché "put up or shut up" you assume I'm getting "ratty" and assume I haven't done MY research.

With your continued comments that I'm "blinkered" and "failed to understand" you, "not a fast reader" etc I could equally assume that you're the one getting "ratty". I'm happy to discuss the subject with you but we seem to be going around in circles so what's the point?

You've extended the argument to lump in pornography and "sexually explicit movies and songs". I'm not talking about those. I'm only focusing on COMICS and whether they have a negative affect on children or not. (Admittedly I mentioned Fifties rock and roll as another of society's scapegoats but that's a different type of music to the "sexually explicit songs" of today.)

I've agreed with you that comics can influence. The difference between us is I don't believe they can be harmful UNLESS a child is already damaged from home environment (bad parenting, bullying, tragedy, etc). Your argument is that comics can be one of those factors that affects them regardless of whether they're already damaged or not. As you said: "I maintain that it is entirely possible for someone to be so disturbed by watching a movie, reading a book or comic, or witnessing a real-life horrific incident that the experience is so traumatic for them that it leaves a lasting impression that later affects their behaviour."

I would agree that witnessing a real-life horrific incident could scar them, but I don't accept they could be disturbed by a comic UNLESS they were already emotionally and mentally scarred by real-life experiences.

I have "done my homework" Gordon, and all I found was theory like yours. No actual evidence of comics playing a part in adversely affecting normal, healthy children.

Again, if you could post the evidence that you've read to the contrary, - either a book title, website name, or copy and paste the website address, I'd be happy to read it. If not, then I don't see the point in continuing this to-ing and fro-ing, especially if, as you say, you're "playing Devil's advocate" in part of it. I'm not trying to stymie the debate Gordon. We've had the debate. Our opinions are there and if they don't match up so be it. If you can bring anything new to the table I'm interested. Otherwise I'm out. Over to you.

Kid said...

I - me - myself - do not start with the assumption that comics may have a negative effect. I merely recognize and acknowledge that there is a body of opinion that allows for that possibility - and it does not seem entirely unreasonable to me.

I think you've missed some of the subtleties of my previous remarks, but I'm not going to repeat myself because, as you say, it's pointless. Especially as I have no interest in changing your mind on the matter. I, on the other hand, prefer to wait until I have examined the evidence for both sides before reaching a firm conclusion. However, the notion that "harmful" material (whatever form it takes, but certainly including comics) can have harmful effects on developing minds certainly seems to be a sound supposition worthy of consideration.

No, I'm not ratty in the slightest, Lew - I've merely been indulging in some good-humoured hyperbole for the fun of it, but I guess I'd better start saving up for that BRICKMAN book, huh?

There's a site called THE EVIDENCE AGAINST MEDIA VIOLENCE - I haven't read all of it, but it certainly looks interesting. If you feel like it, you can let me know what other "evidence" you've looked at and why you didn't find it convincing.

Surely this must be the longest blog conversation you've ever had? I've certainly enjoyed it.


Lew Stringer said...

Is this the site you mean?

If so, it's about studies into tv and video game violence NOT comics. (The webmaster has added some comic graphics there but the studies pertain to television and other moving images.)

It starts off by referring to one fan of the Punisher comic who admittedly does sound aggressive when one follows the link to his comments ( but there is NO evidence that the Punisher comics caused such aggression. Isn't it more likely that the guy was sub-literate and aggressive before he read The Punisher?

I suppose you know that The Punisher comics in question, by Garth Ennis, are aimed at adults and had "parental advisory" and "explicit content" labels on the covers?

I collected Ennis' Punisher series. Great fun. Black comedy. Something that reviewer seems to have overlooked.

I'll agree that there does seem to be a connection to tv/video violence aggravating the viewer if those studies are true, - but comics are an entirely different beast to a fast moving violent video.

So, I'm still waiting to see the evidence against comics.

Kid said...

So every single thing OTHER than comics can have a negative effect? Lew, I can tell by your tone that you'll never be convinced - and I have no interest in convincing you. Quite apart from that, if you read back on some of your comments you'll see that you've essentially admitted the principle I was remarking on. You seem determined, 'though, to exclude comics from the umbrella of that principle. I'll leave it to others to decide the reasons for your blind spot - but you're perfectly entitled to it.

Scientists conducted tests where they dropped a car on someone - he died. Then they dropped a ten ton weight on someone - he died. Then they dropped a giant boulder on someone - he died. They were going to drop a twenty ton box of feathers on someone, but funding was cancelled.

Feathers can't hurt anyone 'though, so some people thought that the experiment would have been pointless. (Conveniently ignoring that twenty tons of anything on someone's head is bound to result in more than a headache.)

There's one guy who in particular who refuses to believe that feathers could ever be harmful 'though, because, as that specific experiment was never carried out, he says there's no direct evidence to prove it.

But what about all that other, related, evidence that seems to suggest it's likely, or at least possible? Doesn't count because it doesn't refer to feathers in particular. And feathers are different and the same criterion doesn't apply.

Aye, right.

I think anybody who has been following this discussion, Lew, can see which point of view has logic and common sense, not to mention the sound application of established principle, on its side.

The Kray's mother apperently swore blind that her boys were angels who wouldn't hurt a fly. And she may be right. After all, I've never seen the actual evidence that they were convicted on - I've only read anecdotal accounts of what is alleged to have happened - it's probably all bollocks, invented by those with an axe to grind who didn't like their line in sharp, natty suits.

At the very least, you've certainly established that you're a humourist - you've definitely provided me with a few smiles.

Time for your reality pill, Lew. Sorry, but I can't stop laughing.


Ps. Mind telling me what the evidence was that you previously examined that you didn't find convincing?

Kid said...

Incidentally, if you give that site more than a cursory look, you'll see that it includes comics in its discussion, as well as comic book characters in cartoons. It makes some interesting points about the general principle of how media (and that includes comics) can negatively affect people. (That's THEIR assertion, remember - but I think it's worth considering. I try to keep an open mind, but that doesn't mean I have an empty head.)

Lew Stringer said...

Your sarcasm doesn't hide the fact that you still haven't provided any evidence of the harm that comics can do.

If you must use silly analogies, here's another one for you: you find research that seems to show violent videos incite violence so you make a leap to assume violent comics must do the same. That's like saying some berries are poisonous therefore all berries must be poisonous.

I've conceded that you may have a case over tv and video violence but that's not enough for you.

I've never denied that comics may upset SOME people (ie: those already disturbed by REAL LIFE experiences) but that's not enough for you.

Sorry Gordon, but I just don't agree with you 100% and you've offered no solid reasons why I should. People's opinions differ. Deal with it and let's move on. I'm sure everyone reading this is bored by now. I know I am.

Lew Stringer said...

"Mind telling me what the evidence was that you previously examined that you didn't find convincing?"

The newspaper reports from 1954 for one. I assume you've actually read this blog?

Have you read Martin Barker's 'A Haunt of Fears'? An excellent exposé of the anti-comic movement of Fifties Britain.

Your theory is that comics COULD harm normal, healthy kids. I can't disprove a theory. It's like asking an Atheist to disprove the existence of God. My p.o.v. is no evidence = no foundation. That's all.

However there's PLENTY of evidence of kids NOT being damaged by comics so really it's up to the critics to prove otherwise.

Anyway, that's my final word on it hopefully.

sentinel4 said...

Hi can anyone tell me why Action was banned in 1976?Did it incite copycat violence?

Kid said...

Lew, I keep saying - it isn't up to me to provide evidence - after all, I'm not trying to convince you of anything. The material offered as evidence on both sides of the argument is available - it's up to those who may be interested to search it out for themselves. If I have a concern, it's only that your blog followers who have not yet reached a conclusion on the subject should realize that it's more complicated than they might realize (or you suggest).

As for my analogies, they may be silly, but not the principles they demonstrate. Your analogies, on the other hand, have no logical consistency. No reasonable person would ever conclude that because some [types of] berries are poisonous, all [types of] berries must be. However, a sensible person would allow for the possibility that if SOME berries are poisonous, some other berries MAY ALSO be. You might as well say that because some berries AREN'T poisonous then none of them are.

You've also once again misrepresented what I've been saying - I do not use research that seems to show that violent videos incite violence so violent comics must do the same. Once again, that's too simplistic.

All I've suggested for consideration is that there may be some merit in the proposal that IF there is an indication that material of a certain nature might have a role to play in producing a harmful effect, then it's not unreasonable to consider the possibility that the same type of material - even in a different medium - could also have the same effect.

In other words, it's exposure to violence, sex, horror, etc., that may be harmful - NOT the form in which it is presented. Therefore, that being the case (if it is), it is not at all fanciful to postulate that IF movies, books or video games containing certain material may have a detrimental effect on impressionable minds, then comics of the same nature may also achieve the same result.

Or are you saying that just because it's a drawing, the nature of the content is somehow diluted - or negated?

Yes, I've read the articles you posted and I'm not surprised they fail to convince you - they can hardly be described as evidence, and were never designed to be. They're merely accounts of related events, not the results of serious research into the subject.

No, I haven't read "A HAUNT OF FEARS", but I'll keep a look out for it - one thing I don't have is a closed mind.

You seem to be labouring under the delusion that what is being proposed is the notion that a normal, well-balanced child can read a comic one day - and then, like a switch suddenly being turned on - the child takes a "flakey" and is turned to the dark side.

Any negative effect in attitude or behaviour would be culminative, in conjunction with a host of other factors, and would most likely take years to manifest itself. Consequently, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to trace a direct route back to the source of the problem and determine the precise role each factor played. However, logic and common sense - when combined with observation and analysis of trends and indications in related fields - seems to offer the best hope of anyone ever understanding this complex topic of cause and effect.

It is precisely because of the complexities hinted at above, that your claim that there is plently of evidence that comics (or anything) do NOT harm children must be taken with an extremely large pinch of salt.

I repeat my original assertion - the subject is far more complicated than your simple, unsophisticated dismissal of the discussion would allow for. (And I'm only describing your argument - not you.) However, as I've always maintained, you're perfectly entitled to it.

Let's make that THE last word on the matter.

Best regards.

Lew Stringer said...

"Everything seems to be nice and simple in your world, Lew"

"I'll type it slowly in case you're not a fast reader."

"I'm certainly not going to do your homework for you"

"I'll leave it to others to decide the reasons for your blind spot"

"Time for your reality pill, Lew. Sorry, but I can't stop laughing."

"You seem to be labouring under the delusion..."

Gordon, your opinions are welcome but your sneering attitude isn't. I've already agreed with you that comics might have an influence and that it all percolates into the mind along with other experiences. The only difference of opinion is that I don't think they can sink into the subconscious to trigger off or influence violent tendencies, UNLESS the reader is already mentally disturbed by some real life experiences. That's the ONLY difference of opinion here Gordon.

You say you're not trying to convince me but your posts suggest otherwise. I'm not going to agree with you 100%, so you may as well stop trying. You're entitled to your opinion as much as I'm entitled to mine. And I'm entitled to express that view without your sarcastic comebacks.

Now let's move on. I'm sure we both have better things to do.

Lew Stringer said...

Sentinel, as far as I know Action didn't incite copycat violence but the media felt it might. IPC withdrew it from circulation, toned it down, and relaunched it without much fanfare a couple of months later. The book ACTION: THE STORY OF A VIOLENT COMIC has the details, and shows the pages before and after censorship.

Kid said...

I'll say one thing, Lew - you really seem to have a gift for ripping things out of context and giving them a different spin. When I used the word "blinkered", I was referring to the foundations on which the notion was built that comics couldn't ever possibly be responsible for negative influences - it wasn't intended as a personal insult.

You've described my point of view as "spurious" and "silly", and told me, essentially, to "shut up", not to mention implying that I'm lying when I say that I'm not trying to persuade you to see things my way - so you're not entirely blameless yourself.

As for "sneering" - that's not the case either, I don't think. (But if it is, I was sneering at the simplicity of the argument, not you.) I was merely indulging in a bit of light-hearted, good-humoured, slightly- mocking banter, the better to demonstrate that the discussion was being conducted on strictly amicable, even amiable, terms. (At least on my side.)

Yes, as I've said all along, you're perfectly entitled to your opinion, and you're also perfectly entitled to use your blog to propogate that opinion, even if, by doing so, you give the impression of casting scorn on those of an inferior intellect who are stupid enough to think that comics could ever be harmful.

However, there's no need to feel threatened by the comments of someone enthusiastically pointing out that things are more complex than you imagine. Even ignoring words like "spurious", "silly" (x2), etc., the whole tone of your original piece and your defence of it reeks of pretensions to intellectual superiority and scorn for those who might view things differently. So, if I DID indulge in a little recipocration. I don't think you have much cause for complaint. There's certainly no need to adopt the role of a victim.

Also, you could have wrapped up this discussion miles back. A simple "Well, thanks for your views, Gordon, which are interesting, even if I'm not convinced by them, but they certainly provide a bit of balance.", or something of that nature, would have done the trick.

The fact that you didn't seems to suggest that you're driven by a need to have the last word on the matter, and that, contrary to what you claimed earlier, YOU were the one trying to convince ME. Be that as it may, there's no hard feelings on my side - I don't feel intimidated by someone having a different opinion to mine and indulging in a vigorous defense of it. And I suppose it is YOUR blog, but you're being unrealistic if you think everyone is going to agree with everything you say.

So you can stop sticking pins in that doll now, Lew - and look on the bright side - nearly 40 responses. Surely that's a record?

Best regards.

Ps. And I'm still a fan of your work. It's just a shame that WHAM!, SMASH!, COR!, etc., are no longer around - your stuff would have fitted right in. (Or fit right in, for American readers.)

sentinel4 said...

Thank you lew. I will look out for that book.

Call me... MOOCHER said...

Jesus Kid, can't a guy post an opinion without you trying to over-analyze everything and getting your knickers in a twist? Happy Holidays and Happy Hogmanay to you old friend.

rod said...

For a comic or movie to cause someone to go out and commit a crime, they must have already had a bad upbringing to be at such an easy tipping point but of course it's easier to take pot shots at easy targets such as comics and movies than it is to look into the deeper root causes at home.

We can't censor the world and penalize the majority just because of a small minority who can't handle fiction. What a boring world it would become if anything that could evoke emotion were taken off of the tv, cinema and book shelves etc in fear someone gets upset or influenced to go do something bad. Society would pretty much come to a stand still if this kind of censorship were effected (though I can feel the conservatives heading in that direction)

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, a bad upbringing could be responsible, or some bad experiences. If a person is already damaged, something may eventually trigger them off. If not a comic, something else; TV, a news item, a school project, the Bible, anything. We can't over-sanitise the entire world "just in case" someone goes postal.

Anonymous said...

What a long thread! comics don't damage people, experiences damage people. The anti comics lot can never point to any evidence of comics corrupting kids because it's never happened

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