By Tom Bequette, Staff Writer
// It’s 2020. By now, you are undoubtedly sick of hearing the ravings of misguided parents or talking heads, claiming that video-games are causing our countries downfall. Sick of how political figures use the idea in an attempt to avoid actual difficult societal change. Sick of those, like our president, who so ignorantly believe that “Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it is creating monsters.” Or just regular sick.
But unless you grew up in the 1960s, you probably have not heard an eerily similar argument that snatched the nation’s attention. As democratic Senator Karey Kefauver so moronically put it during a nationally broadcast Senate hearing, “I hate to say it, but I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry. They get the children much younger. They teach them race hatred and violence at the age of 4 before they can read.”
Now, if you have half a brain cell, then you are most likely thinking that this is the dumbest thing you have ever heard. But surprisingly, the argument that kids entertainment, such as video games and comic books, can be the driving factor for societal problems is against all odds still very much around today.
Despite that we have study upon study, (although a few studies did produce the opposite result) that have concluded that video games do not cause violence, there is still a solid group of people out there who stubbornly believe that forms of children’s entertainment, like video games, are a significant reason for trends in our society.
What those followers have failed to realize, however, is that our country has already been through this. Our recent history holds a nearly perfect example of why that theory is flawed and should never be applied to society as a whole. And like my history teachers always preach, if history is not a tool to learn from our mistakes and better society, then what is it? History’s answer to the question of, do video-games cause violence can be found, amazingly, in the back-story of comic books.
The storied history of comic books began in 1938 when the first comic Action Heroes #1 hit the markets with an amazing new character, Superman. The comic, of course, knocked it out of the park and ended up spawning the era when comic book circulation peaked as famous characters like Captain America, Wonder Woman, and The Flash introduced themselves to the public, all contributing to a staggering 72 million dollars generated by comic books in 1948, even when the comics themselves only sold for dimes apiece.
Slowly throughout the era, the world of comic books became increasingly integrated with different minority groups, a slight rarity for the time period. Some comics were even entirely created and drawn by all black artists. Comic books also branched off into new and more adult subjects to accommodate their older readers. At the time, the comic-book craze took hold of many young adults, leading to comic books not just being considered kids reading material anymore. Even the horror genre was explored in the series, Horrors from the Crypt, among others.
With the increasing maturity of the morals and themes, to the chagrin of parents, came additional violence and less-kid friendly comics. But, that shouldn’t have been a big deal as at the time comic books were not just considered children’s reading material.
The ultimate kryptonite of the comic book industry, however, turned out to be a pioneering neuro-biologist named Frederic Wertham, who worked passionately to fight stigmas associated with mental illnesses.
The first sign of trouble began when Wertham noticed that his juvenile delinquent patients read comic books (which was not unusual because at the time everyone was reading them). This led him to the conclusion that comic books lead children down the wrong path. Despite how faulty this logic may have been, using his relative fame and credibility, Wertham was able to turn parents’ fears about comic books into a full-scale political movement. In fact, it was only after Werther took to the national stage, that parents started to point at comic books as a way of explaining the larger issues of the time.
Wertham convinced his followers that comic books were too dangerous for kids, stating that they implanted unsavory behavior and morals into developing minds. He ensnared the world’s attention through his books The Psychopathy of Comic Books and The Seduction of the Innocent, which as the New York Times publicized, both featured questionable research and fudged stats used by Wertham to substantiate his claims.
Throughout the remainder of his career, he waged war on comic books, championing the notion that comic books on their own created sexually aggressive citizens who were more prone to criminal activity. He even blamed comic books for the rise of homosexuality in America at the time, moronically claiming that Wonder Woman was a lesbian, and Batman and Robin were gay, which he viewed as dangerous material for children to read.
All this came to a head in 1954 when Wertham’s movement picked up enough momentum that the Senate decided to hold hearings to investigate whether or not comic books did inspire juvenile delinquency. And while the government never acted beyond the hearings, considering that comic books were already reeling from competing with the new TV industry, the bad publicity hit hard, as the number of comic titles fell from 650 to 250 in the span of just two years. According to The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, about 800 hard-working creators lost their jobs during that time.
The few remaining comic book creators, backed into a corner, knew that they had no choice but to give in to the demands of the angry mob full of concerned parents. So on October 26, 1954, the publishers cobbled together a set of laws that all comic books there on out must abide by in order to be printed, called the Comics Code Authority.
The Code essentially baby-proofed comic books. Before comic books had darker tones and complex themes, usually with the underlying intent of challenging your preconceived notions on various topics, and in rare cases acting as an introspective into humanity. And while yes, that generally made comic-books less kid-friendly, adults made up a large portion of the readers at the time, so those comics were mainly just intended for them. An adult demographic that was completely left out to dry following the enactment of the Code.
After the Code, comic books essentially became bed-time stories that happened to feature superheroes. Thanks to the new sanctions, comic book criminals always needed to be 100 percent evil and could never triumph, to make it clear to the audience that bad deeds should never be replicated. Authority figures (cops, government officials, parents) always had to be respected and could never be shown with a side that was anything short of heroic. Almost overnight, comics were turned into reading material that was only suitable for the youngest of readers and only featured one point of view for the kids to learn from.
Additionally, no “slang” or vulgar language was to be tolerated in any comic, as well as divorce or homosexuality, because apparently, they did not “respect the sanctity of family.” The Code did ban comics dealing with racial and religious prejudice; however, the enforcers made it clear that from there on out, people of color in comics would not be allowed. When EC Comics created their science fiction story Judgement Day, despite it being permissible under the written Code, the comic was not allowed to run until the main astronaut was changed from a black to a white man. When out of protest, EC decided to run the comic anyway they were essentially forced out of business.
Comic books were scrunched, smacked, and crushed until they aligned with the conservative, suburbian social order that had taken hold of America. Gone was the growing diversity, the new perspectives, and the challenging of ideas which are vital for new generations. Replaced by comic-relief characters that were deemed safe for kids, like Batman’s wacky partner Bat-Mite.
But you may say to yourself, well all this was done for the greater good, to make the next generation safer as a whole. And for the most part, I would agree, sometimes to make a cake a few eggs have to get broken. But that’s only true if there is an actual payoff. It’s only true if the cake is delicious. And in the case of the comic book code, the cake turned out to be a bowl of spinach.
The Comic Code failed to yield any type of results, as the violent crime rate continued to climb and other areas that the Code had aimed to stunt, like homosexuality, grew even more rapidly. The writing was on the wall for the anti-comic bookers, and in 2001, the Code was abandoned altogether. Ever since then, comic books have attempted to regain their edgy persona, which is why we have superheroes like Batman acting almost comically dark today.
However, the fact that the Code was ever put into place doesn’t bother me. It was an experiment, a regrettable one, yes, but it did, in theory, ensure that we would never make that mistake again.
Or at least it should have, and while it should be stated that comic books and video-games are two completely different entities, the same themes ring true. Most everything in our society emerges for a variety of reasons, most of which are nearly impossible to predict. No trend should be explained away or attempted to fix with one simple solution. Complex problems require complex solutions. At the very least, something more complex than banning a children’s form of entertainment.
Despite having the best of intentions, trying to control every influence on our kids all the way down to their entertainment, as shown by the comic book ban, is pandering. Kids need to be exposed to different experiences, genres, and opinions to become more well-rounded adults. And while there is a risk factor involved with exposing kids to new experiences, at the end of the day, it’s a necessary risk, to ensure that they form their own opinions.
And if you are a twenty-first-century parent that’s worried about different areas of our culture, such as video games, having a negative or potentially dangerous impact on your child, then there are things that you can do to minimize the risk. Certain studies have shown that children who interact with their family more, are less prone to develop violent tendencies later in life. So have more family meals, spend time with your kids, or just limit the amount of time that they can do certain activities that you find potentially dangerous. Just parent them.
Don’t make the same mistakes that the generation before you made. Instead of blaming an outside force that you don’t have control over, like violent video games, focus on what you can control in your child’s upbringing. Because I have some shocking news for you, violent video games, along with other violent forms of media in this country, aren’t going anywhere, and if history has taught us anything, that’s a good thing.