Friday, May 23, 2008

Children and the Cold War

It’s a bit simplistic to blame only religion or the political right for the fifties attack on comic books. Godless Communists in Canada, Britain and the United States were also forming committees, writing articles and fulminating about the malicious influence of comic books and strips on the young.

The Canadian periodical New Frontiers (which featured Stalin on the cover as Man of the Century on his death) had two articles in Vol. 3, No. 3, 1954 which I reproduce below.

American Albert Kahn wrote The Game of Death : Effects of the Cold War on Our Children (Cameron and Kahn, 1953) with a chapter on the baneful influence on children of crime and war comics. Besides Wertham and the religious who else attacked the comics ? Gershon Legman for one, a thirty year old male who wrote in Psychopathology of the Comics ( 9 issues, 1948-1952) :

“Now, what is it that is supposed to be attractive to 12 and 14 year old boys about torturing women to death, with or without their clothes, about tying them up with ropes and chains, whipping them, branding them on the modestly un-nippled breast, skewering their throats with javelins, pumping their veins empty (or full of unheard-of viruses), throwing them to wild animals, shooting them in the belly with hot lead ? What is it that makes adolescents buy eight million dollars’ worth of comic books yearly in which those are the principle themes both outside and in ? That the publishers, editors, artists and writers of comic-books are degenerates and belong in jail, goes without saying; but what makes millions of adolescents willing to accept degeneracy too ?”

Legman believed that “sadism in comics is substituted for sex.” Murder was acceptable but any depiction of sex, in literature or art was punishable by law. A child’s sexual exploration was dirty, shameful and a natural born sin. Depraved comic publishers exploited boys by perverting their frustrated sexual urges.

“Naturally this formula is not popular with girls. Granting all the masochistic excitement of terror, it is difficult to identify yourself with a corpse.”A list of crime comics appended to the end of the article lists the usual array of spicy titles, Crimes By Women, Whodunit, and Rip Kirby : Mystery of the Mangler. This is followed by western titles including : Red Ryder, Gabby Hayes Western, and Donald Duck : Sheriff of Bullet Valley.

Legman’s article The Psychopathology of the Comics, in Neurotica, was read in part before the Association for the Advancement of Psychotherapy, N. Y. Academy of Medicine from a monograph on sex and censorship, Love and Death, “already rejected by thirty publishers.” He wrote another article “Institutionalized Lynch,” about murder mystery literature.

Neurotica’s mission was to “psychoanalyze the culture,” and his work was widely quoted by the communist periodicals. Another of Neurotica’s contributors was Canadian intellectual guru and Catholic humanist Marshal McCluhan who dissed comics and comic strips numerous times, although I don’t recall if he called for censorship ; probably not. See The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and The Mechanical Bride : folklore of industrial man (1967).

Another book dealing with comics was Comstockery in America, 1960, Robert W. Haney, Boston : Beacon Press, 1960, with a chapter titled Bookman Spare That Child ! Which gives a list of groups in touch with NODL including PTA, Citizens Committees on Indecent Literature, and the Advisory Board on Objectionable Publications to the Government of the Province of Alberta, Canada.

Comic books were considered by the left as promoting and encouraging war and racism, particularly in comic books dealing with the Korean War. Wertham concentrated on sex and crime, Legman on the perversion of the sexual urge into sadism, the Catholics on blasphemy, and the Reds on crime, war, sex, and racism.

I had quite a collection of Korean War era comics when I was young, mostly acquired through trade. I found them repulsive and fascinating at the same time. A selection of Korean War comics have been posted online HERE.

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