"The villain threatens to flog the half-naked heroine. . . . The beautiful girl is beaten to death on a sacrificial altar. . The men are stabbed and have their arms, legs and heads cut off. . . . The bride is kidnaped. . . . Fists that smash against faces settle all problems."
These are typical scenes from the so-called "comic books." What is such stuff doing to the minds of U.S. children? Determined to find out, the Association for the Advancement of Psychotherapy last week held a symposium in Manhattan on "The Psychopathology of Comic
Books." Specialists were asked to give their views.
Manhattan Folklorist Gershon Legman, author of a historical treatise on comic books, showed the psychiatrists some grisly samples and presented some shuddery statistics. Every year 500,000,000 comic books are printed; the average city child reads ten to a dozen a month. If there is only one scene of violence a page, this gives him a diet of "300 scenes of beating, shooting, strangling, torture and blood per month." Every city child who was six years old in 1938 has by now, Legman figured, "absorbed an absolute minimum of 18,000 pictorial beatings, shootings, stranglings, blood puddles and torturings-to-death from comic books alone."*
A diagnosis was offered by Dr. Frederic Wertham, Manhattan psychiatrist and founder of Harlem's Lafargue Clinic (TIME, Dec. i). The increase of violence in juvenile delinquency, he said, goes hand in hand with the increase of comic books. Said Dr. Wertham: "We are getting to the roots of one of the contributing causes of juvenile delinquency. . . . You cannot understand present-day juvenile delinquency if you do not take into account the pathogenic and pathoplastic influence of the comic books." In plainer language: comic books not only inspire evil but suggest a form for the evil to take.
*The young may also pick up a few ideas from such old-fashioned sources as fairy tales (in Hansel & Gretel, the witch is oven-crisped by a couple of kids), myths (Perseus decapitates a lady who stands in his way), Bible stories (little David gives Goliath a hole in the head).