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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Sunday, November 29, 2015


From a CBR thread this time:

Well, I'd automatically put aside comparisons between entertainment and addictive substances. You can put alcohol and tobacco through the proper chemical analyses, and indicate pretty much what makes human beings want them. Thus far, no one's managed to do that with fiction,

The comparison between entertainment and domestic violence is wrong in a different way, Say that it's been statistically demonstrated that nine-tenths of all kids who witness domestic violence grow up to perpetrate domestic violence. But the kids of abusive families are not CHOOSING to see their parents batter one another; it's utterly outside their control. In contrast, patronizing violent entertainment is a CHOICE. The patrons may or may not be messed up by their personal circumstances, and they may or may not be employing what Adler called "negative compensation" to escape his problems. But we don't yet have proof that nine-tenths of, say, all horror-gorehounds become serial killers, perpetrators of road rage, or whatever.

I tend to think that entertainment has been violent since the dawn of humankind-- albeit with oscillations in tune with cultural priorities-- because fictional violence does serve as a stopgap. The contrasting view-- that violence ought to be rigidly controlled-- was once the province of pundits like Frederic Wertham and his fellow-traveler Gershon Legman. Given the effects of wild anti-comics claims, I might have thought that modern comics critics would shun that sort of extremism. Instead, I've seen both Wertham and Legman being represented as sober scholars rather than extremist cranks-- and I guess that too has much to do with current antipathies toward the very idea of representing violence, no matter how unreal it may be.

A follow-up:

I'm not following. The anti-comics movement of the time may or may not have comprised a majority of the populace, but they had power because they appealed to a common belief among the majority, to the extent that that majority thought about comic books at all. That majority believed that comic books were for children, and so the majority of people did not oppose the minority that demanded some form of censorship. So, in effect, the vocal minority got their way by appealing to societal customs-- though the end game of Wertham was to get comics put off limits to children.

I can't see why you'd say Wertham lost. True, he didn't get the scenario he expressly said he wanted: because he didn't trust comic-book publishers to clean up their own houses, he wanted the magazines off limit to kids under 15-- which, I think we'll all agree, would have killed the medium if that scenario had been implemented. But in effect, Wertham won, because he got the U.S. government to intervene at all, regardless of what they actually did about the perceived problem. The Senate probably didn't want to be bothered with monitoring comics on a regular basis, and so they were probably satisfied with horror and crime comics were for the most part exiled from newsstands.

Yes, the comics publishers may have had less than honorable motives for their clean-up campaign, but it can be argued-- and I think John Goldwater did say something to this effect-- why should the guys who were providing clean entertainment be penalized by the ones who were promoting sex and violence?  Even though I myself favor a pluralistic marketplace, where "clean" and "dirty" both have their place, I can empathize with the logic of this statement; obviously the statement of someone who didn't want his own corner of the business destroyed.

"Comics won?" Well, specific comics companies did not win. We'll never know if EC Comics would've lasted much longer, but in effect they were driven off the stands, and Max Gaines only saved his bacon by converting MAD into a B&W magazine format. There's only one way in which I can see that comics benefitted. Because the majority audience didn't have the animus toward superheroes that Wertham did, the "cleaner" comics-atmosphere paved the way for superheroes to become relatively more sophisticated in the Silver Age, ranging from Julie Schwartz's love of SF-themed gimmicks and Stan Lee's emphasis upon dramatic moments. But in between 1955 and 1960, a lot of people were hassled by the Code or lost their jobs because of it.

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