Roundly CONDEMNED by EVERYONE ELSE!
"For novelty use only, not sold for prevention of disease!"
Seduction of the Innocent is a book by American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, published in 1954, that warned that comic books were a bad form of popular literature and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency. The book was a minor bestseller that created alarm in parents and galvanized them to campaign for censorship. At the same time, a U.S. Congressional inquiry was launched into the comic book industry. Subsequent to the publication of Seduction of the Innocent, the Comics Code Authority was voluntarily established by publishers to self-censor their titles. Seduction of the Innocent cited overt or covert depictions of violence, sex, drug use, and other adult fare within "crime comics"—a term Wertham used to describe not only the popular gangster/murder-oriented titles of the time, but superhero and horror comics as well. The book asserted, largely based on undocumented anecdotes, that reading this material encouraged similar behavior in children. (Wikipedia)
The Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt, and The Haunt of Fear are three bi-monthly horror comic anthology series published by EC Comics in the early 1950s. The Vault of Horror hit newsstands with its April/May 1950 issue and ceased publication with its December/January 1955 issue, producing a total of twenty-nine issues. The title was popular, but, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, comic books came under attack from moralizing parents, clergymen, schoolteachers, and others who believed the books contributed to illiteracy and juvenile delinquency. In April and June 1954, highly publicized Congressional subcommittee hearings on the effects of comic books upon children left the comics industry shaken. With the imposition of the highly restrictive Comics Code Authority, EC Comics publisher William Maxwell Gaines canceled The Vault of Horror and its two companion titles in September 1954. All three titles have been reprinted at various times since their demise and have been adapted for television and film.
Seduction of the Innocent
BY Dr. Fredric Wertham
1. "Such Trivia As Comic Books"
Introducing the Subject
"And I verily do suppose that in the braines and hertes of children, which be membres spirituall, whiles they be tender, and the little slippes of reason begynne in them to bud, ther may happe by evil custome some pestiferous dewe of vice to perse the sayde membres, and infecte and corrupt the soft and tender buddes."
- Sir Thomas Eliot (1531)
Gardening consists largely in protecting plants from blight and weeds, and the same is true of attending to the growth of children. If a plant fails to grow properly because attacked by a pest, only a poor gardener would look for the cause in that plant alone. The good gardener will think immediately in terms of general precaution and spray the whole field. But with children we act like the bad gardener. We often fail to carry out elementary preventive measures, and we look for the causes in the individual child. A whole high-sounding terminology has been put to use for that purpose, bristling with "deep emotional disorders," "profound psychogenic features" and "hidden motives baffling in their complexity." And children are arbitrarily classified - usually after the event - as "abnormal," "unstable" or "predisposed," words that often fit their environment better than they fit the children. The question is, Can we help the plant without attending to the garden?
A number of years ago an attorney from a large industrial city came to consult me about an unusual problem. A group of prominent businessmen had become interested in a reformatory for boys. This attorney knew of my work in mental hygiene clinics and wanted me to look over this reformatory and advise whether, and how, a mental hygiene department could be set up there. "Very good work is done there," he told me. "It is a model place and the boys are very contented and happy. I would like you to visit the institution and tell us whether you think we need a mental hygiene clinic there."
I spent some time at that reformatory. It was a well laid out place with cottages widely spaced in a beautiful landscape. I looked over the records and charts and then suggested that I wanted to see some individual children, either entirely alone or with just the attorney present. There was considerable difficulty about this. I was told that it would be much better if the director or some of his assistants would show me around and be present during any interviews. Eventually, however, I succeeded in going from cottage to cottage and seeing some boys alone. I told them frankly who I was and finally asked each child, "Supposing I could give you what you want most, what would you choose?" There was only one answer: "I want to go home."
The children's logic was simple and realistic. The adults said this was not a jail because it was so beautiful. But the children knew that the doors were locked - so it was a jail. The lawyer (who heard some of this himself) was crestfallen. He had never spoken to any of the inmates alone before. "What a story!" he said. "They all want to get out!"
I remember contradicting him. The real story is not that they want to get out, I said. The story is how they got in. To send a child to a reformatory is a serious step. But many children's court judges do it with a light heart and a heavy calendar. To understand a delinquent child one has to know the social soil in which he developed and became delinquent or troubled. And, equally important, one should know the child's inner life history, the way in which his experiences are reflected in his wishes, fantasies and rationalizations. Children like to be at home, even if we think the home is not good. To replace a home one needs more than a landscape gardener and a psychiatrist. In no inmate in that reformatory, as far as I could determine, had there been enough diagnostic study or constructive help before the child was deprived of his liberty.
The term mental hygiene has been put to such stereotyped use, even though embellished by psychological profundities, that it has become almost a cliché. It is apt to be forgotten that its essential meaning has to do with prevention. The concept of juvenile delinquency has fared similarly since the Colorado Juvenile Court law of half a century ago: "The delinquent child shall be treated not as a criminal, but as misdirected and misguided, and needing aid, encouragement, help and assistance." This was a far-reaching and history-making attitude, but the great promise of the juvenile-court laws has not been fulfilled. And the early laws do not even mention the serious acts which bring children routinely to court nowadays and which juvenile courts now have to contend with. The Colorado law mentions only the delinquent who "habitually wanders around any railroad yards or tracks, or jumps or hooks to any moving train, or enters any car or engine without lawful authority."
Streetcar hoppings like streetcars themselves, have gone out of fashion. In recent years children's-court judges have been faced with such offenses as assault, murder, rape, torture, forgery, etc. So it has come about that at the very time when it is asked that more youthful offenders be sent to juvenile courts, these courts are ill prepared to deal with the types of delinquency that come before them. Comic books point that out even to children. One of them shows a pretty young girl who has herself picked up by men in cars and then robs them, after threatening them with a gun. She calls herself a "hellcat" and the men "suckers." Finally she shoots and kills a man. When brought before the judge she says defiantly: "You can't pin a murder rap on me! I'm only seventeen! That lets me out in this state!"
To which the judge replies: "True - but I can hold you for juvenile delinquency!"
Some time ago a judge found himself confronted with twelve youths, the catch of some hundred and fifty policemen assigned to prevent a street battle of juvenile gangs. This outbreak was a sequel to the killing of a fifteen-year-old boy who had been stabbed to death as he sat with his girl in a parked car. The twelve boys were charged with being involved in the shooting of three boys with a .22-caliber zip gun and a .32 revolver. The indignant judge addressed them angrily, "We're not treating you like kids any longer. . . . If you act like hoodlums you'll be treated like hoodlums." But were these youths treated like I 'kids" in the first place? Were they protected against the corrupting influence of comic books which glamorize and advertise dangerous knives and the guns that can be converted into 'deadly weapons?
The public is apt to be swayed by theories according to which juvenile delinquency is treated as an entirely individual emotional problem, to be handled by individualistic means. This is exemplified by the very definition of juvenile delinquency in a recent psychopathological book on the subject:
"We have assigned the generic term of delinquency to all these thoughts, actions, desires and strivings which deviate from moral and ethical principles." Such a definition diffuses the concept to such an extent that no concrete meaning remains. This unsocial way of thinking is unscientific and leads to confused theory and inexpedient practice. For example, one writer stated recently that "too much exposure to horror stories and to violence can be a contributing factor to a child's insecurity or fearfulness," but it could not "make a child of any age a delinquent." Can such a rigid line be drawn between the two? As Hal Ellson has shown again recently in his book Tomboy, children who commit serious delinquencies often suffer from "insecurity and fearfulness." And children who are insecure and fearful are certainly in danger of committing a delinquent act. Just as there is such a thing as being predelinquent, so there are conditions where a child is pre-insecure, or prefearful. Would it not be better, for purposes of prevention, instead of making an illogical contrast between a social category like delinquency and a psychological category like fearfulness, to think of children in trouble - in trouble with society, in trouble with their families or in trouble with themselves? And is it not likely that "too much exposure to horror stories and to violence" is bad for all of them when they get into trouble, and before they get into trouble?
In the beginning of July, 1950, a middle-aged man was sitting near the bleachers at the Polo Grounds watching a baseball game. He had invited the thirteen-year-old son of a friend, who sat with him excited and radiating enthusiasm.
Suddenly the people sitting near by heard a sharp sound. The middle-aged man, scorecard in hand, slumped over and his young friend turned and was startled to see him looking like a typical comic-book illustration. Blood was pouring from his head and ears. He died soon afterwards and was carried away. Spectators rushed to get to the vacant seats, not realizing at all what had happened.
In such a spectator case the police go in for what the headlines like to call a dragnet. This had to be a pretty big one. In the crowded section of the city overlooking the Polo Grounds there were hundreds of apartment buildings in a neighborhood of more than thirty blocks, and from the roof of any of them someone could have fired such a shot. As a matter of fact, at the very beginning of the search detectives confiscated six rifles from different persons. Newspapers and magazines played up the case as "Mystery Death," the "Ball Park Death" and "The Random Bullet."
Soon the headlines changed to "Hold Negro Youth in Shooting" and the stories told of the "gun-happy fourteen-year-old Negro boy" who was being held the authorities. Editorials reproached his aunt for being "irresponsible" in the care and training of the youngster" and for "being on the delinquent side of the adult ledger."
In the apartment where this boy Willie lived with his great-aunt, and on the roof of the building, the police found "two .22-caliber rifles, a high-powered .22-caliber target pistol, ammunition for all three guns, and a quantity of ammunition for a Luger pistol."
This served as sufficient reason to arrest and hold the boy's great-aunt on a Sullivan Law charge (for possession of a gun). She was not released until the boy, who was held in custody all during this time, had signed a confession stating that he had owned and fired a .45-caliber pistol - which, incidentally, was never found.
In court the judge stated, "We cannot find you quilty, but I believe you to be guilty." With this statement he sentenced Willie to an indeterminate sentence in the state reformatory.
For the public the case was closed. The authorities had looked for the cause of this extraordinary event, which might have affected anyone in the crowd, in one little boy and took it out on him, along with a public slap at his aunt. They ignored the fact that other random shootings by juveniles had been going on in this as in other sections of the city. Only a few days after the Polo Grounds shooting, a passenger on a Third Avenue train was wounded by a shot that came through the window. But with Willie under lock and key, the community thought that its conscience was clear.
It happened that I had known Willie for some time before this shooting incident at the stadium. He had been referred to the Lafargue Clinic - a free psychiatric clinic in Harlem - by the Reverend Shelton Hale Bishop as a school problem. He was treated at the Clinic. We had studied his earliest development. We knew when he sat up, when he got his first tooth, when he began to talk and walk, how long he was bottle fed, when he was toilet trained. Psychiatrists and social workers had conferences about him.
Wille had been taken care of by his great-aunt since he was nineteen months old. His parents had separated shortly before. This aunt, an intelligent, warm, hard-working woman, had done all she could to give Willie a good upbringing. She worked long hours at domestic work and with her savings sent him (at the age of two) to a private nursery school, where he stayed until he was eight. Then she became ill, could not work so hard and so could not afford his tuition there. He was transferred to a public school where he did not do so well, missing attention he had recieved at the private school.
At that time his aunt took him to the Lafargue Clinic. He had difficulty with his eyes and had to wear glasses which needed changing. According to his aunt he had occassionally suffered from sleepwalking which started when he was six or seven. Once when his great-aunt waked him up from such a somnambulistic state he said, half-awake, that he was "going to look for his mother." He was most affectionate with his aunt and she had the same affection for him. She helped him to get afternoon jobs at the neighborhood grocery stores, delivering packages.
Willie was always a rabid comic-book reader. He "doted" on them. Seeing all their pictures of brutality and shooting and their endless glamorous advertisements of guns and knives, his aunt had become alarmed - years before the shooting incident - and did not permit him to bring them into the house. She also forbade him to read them. But of course such direct action on the part of the parent has no chance of succeeding in an environment where comic books are all over the place in enormous quantities. She encountered a further obstacle, too. Workers at a public child-guidance agency connected with the schools made her distrust her natural good sense and told her she should let Willie read all the comic books he wanted. She told one of the Lafargue social workers, "I didn't like for him to read these comic books, but I figured they knew better than I did." The Lafargue Clinic has some of these comic books. They are before me as I am writing this, smudgily printed and well thumbed, just as he used to pour over them with his weak eyes. Here is the lecherous-looking bandit overpowering the attractive girl who is dressed (if that is the word) for very hot weather ("She could come in handy, then! Pretty little spitfire, eh!") in the typical pre-rape position. Later he threatens to kill her:
"Yeah, it's us, you monkeys, and we got an old friend of yours here... Now unless you want to see somp'n FATAL happen to here, u're gonna kiss that gold goodbye and lam out of here!"
Here is violence galore, violence in the beginning, in the middle, at the end:
ZIP! CRASH! SOCK! SPLAT! BAM! SMASH!
(This is an actual sequence of six pictures illustrating brutal fighting, until in the seventh picture: "He's out cold!")
Here, too, is the customary close-up of the surprised and frightened-looking policeman with his hands half-raised saying:
NO - NO! DON'T SHOOT
as he is threatened by a huge fist holding a gun to his face! This is followed by mild disapproval ("You've gone too far! This is murder!") as the uniformed man lies dead on the ground. This comic book is endorsed by child specialists who are connected with important institutions. No wonder Willie's aunt did not trust her own judgment sufficiently.
The stories have a lot of crime and gunplay and, in addition, alluring advertisements of guns, some of them full-page and in bright colors, with four guns of various sizes and descriptions on a page:
Get a sweet-shootin' [mfg's name] gun and get in on the fun!
Here is the repetition of violence and sexiness which no Freud, Krafft-Ebing or Havelock Ellis ever dreamed could be offered to children, and in such profusion. Here is one man mugging another, and graphic pictures of the white man shooting colored natives as though they were animals: "You sure must have treated these beggars rough in that last trip though here!" And so on. This is the sort of thing that Willie's aunt wanted to keep him from reading.