Seduction of the Innocent
A small boy who had made ample use of the reading and entertainment we provide so plentifully for children was once asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. His instant reply was enthusiastic:
7. "I Want to be a Sex Maniac"
Comic Books and the Psycho-Sexual Development of Children
"Give me good proofs of what you have alleged;
To describe the morbid aspects of sex as purveyed in stories which have no artistic justification may sound obscene. But it can hardly be objected to in this book for adults since it is the common subject matter of what we give children to read.
Does comic-book reading influence the sexual development of children? The question of sex education has been much discussed. Some preach almost unlimited openness and frankness, even at an early age. Others feel sex education must proceed very slowly, that it is best to begin with the birds and flowers. No correct answers can be given to such questions as, Should sex instruction be given at home or in the school? because the questions are wrong. Children get it anyhow, and in both places. The problem is that what they get is so often instruction. And even if nothing is said about sex, that is a form of sex instruction too. The greatest error is to think of sexual problems in isolation. They are part of life. They influence other aspects of life and are in turn themselves influenced.
One starting-point for a discussion of sex education should be the fact that sex in its subtle and crude aspects often causes a great deal of mental anguish to children. They could often be spared such painful preoccupations, worries, inferiority feelings and guilt complexes as frequently occupy them. Education has not only the positive aspect of imparting knowledge, but also the preventative aspect of warding off harmful influences. If harmful influences are widespread in the population, a course of sex instruction, separated from everything else, can achieve little.
Pre-adolescence and adolescence are manifestly the most difficult periods in children's sexual development. This is so not only on account of the maturing of the sexual instinct, as is commonly supposed, but also because of the awakening of social feelings at that time. All human beings have to learn a rationale of controlling, disciplining and, if you will, sublimating sexual impulses. Only a decent social orientation can lead to a decent sex life, for practically all psychological sex problems are ethical problems. In sexual education as in other education, one should also not forget that we are bringing children up not to be children, but to be adults.
Contrary to the opinion of unprogressive progressive educationalists, children like to be guided. When we adults disappoint them by not giving them any worthy models to follow, we theorize that children resent authority. They do not. Actually they have a natural need to be led and directed.
With the progress of scientific research, a road on which the names of Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis, Freud, Stekel and Kinsey are signposts, we have learned more and more that sexual behavior varies widely and that many patterns which used to be regarded as serious crimes, extremely immoral conduct or severe abnormalities do not deserve to be so seriously regarded. And yet education for a happy life must take into account that sexual irregularities in one way or another may spell great unhappiness and suffering. A liberal-minded attitude appropriate in dealing with fully grown adults is unfair when used as an excuse for not warding off harmful influences from children.
Comic books stimulate children sexually. That is an elementary fact of my research. In comic books over and over again, in pictures and text, and in the advertisements as well, attention is drawn to sexual characteristics and to sexual actions. As one boy expressed it to me when I was discussing with a group what is good and bad in comics, "The sexism is bad, but to tell you the truth, I like that most!" There are children - and very young ones, too, according to our researches - who get stirred up by this "sexism." That is not the free development of children, that is a sexual arousal which amounts to seduction.
One might speculate that children in good circumstances with strict ethical education would be immune against such temptation and seduction. But that is a naive and amateurish view although the comic-book industry has been able through its scientific spokesmen to put it over on the public.
We studied, for example, comics reading in 355 children, boys and girls from a parochial school. In this school ethical teaching played a large part and all the children had undergone this uniforn influence. Economically, they came from better than average homes. Their grades ranged from 5B through 8B. Their identity was fully protected so that they felt completely free to express their real opinions.
The authorities of the school, who were very co-operative and interested, had opinions about comic books that differed from mine. They assumed that their children do not read the "bad" ones and that comic books were getting better and better, with fewer bad ones and those bad ones improving. They thought that if their children should see bad comics, their moral training and teaching would prevent them from reading them.
Our findings, based entirely on what the children themselves said, showed that, like most other adults, the school authorities had misjudged the comic-book situation, and that under their very eyes many of these children are being seduced by the industry. A large number "read" comic books from the age of four or four and a half, long before school age. Many know and read the "bad" comic books which we had found to be the most disturbing to ethical development. They named as "bad ones" Crime Does Not Pay, Mr. District Attorney, horror comics like Vault of Horror, Superman, Jungle Comics, crime, murder and mystery comics, Crimebusters, Captain Marvel, Western Comics, Classics, Tales of the Crypt, True Love.
Their comments are revealing. One boy said about Superman, "It teaches 'crime does not pay' - but it teaches crime." Another said, "Superman is bad because they make him sort of a God." Still another, "Superman is bad because if the children believe Superman they will believe 'most anything."
A ten-year-old said, "I think they're bad, but good to read!" What they mean by "bad" is interesting. One boy said, "Some are dirty, some give you bad thoughts." This was a common comment. A number of the children include love comics among "bad ones," thereby expressing much better ethical judgment than their elders.
Quite a few of the children indicated plainly that comic books affect them sexually. Many used the expression of a ten-year-old who said, "Some comic books lead us into sin." They used such phrases as "impure dress, some have no clothes on, indecency," "naked," "they are not modest." Many children have received a false concept of "love," thinking of it as something "dirty." They lump together love, murder and robbery."
From comic books these children get just the opposite of what they learn at school or at home. They are taught, "Lead me not into temptation," but temptation in the form of comic books is offered them everywhere. Even if the ethical teaching they get should prevail, we place on them the burden of an intense emotional, moral conflict. An eleven-year-old jungle-book reader said that "comic books are very exciting and very bad and dirty." How is a child to distinguish between the excitement approved by the Child Study Association of America as good for children and the bad thoughts not approved by the parochial school?
Since I have written about comic books I have heard from quite a number of young adults who told me that their childhood emotional masturbation problem was started or aggravated by comic books. This has been borne out by our studies of children. Masturbation is harmless enough. But when accompanied by unhealthy - especially sado-masochistic - fantasies it may become a serious factor in the maladjustment of children. When I have presented my findings for discussion, I have often been told that children who had such comic-book sex fantasies were not at all harmed by them. But is it not one of the elementary facts of modern psychopathology that childhood experiences very often do not manifest themselves as recognizable symptoms or behavior patterns in childhood, but may crop later in adult life as perverse and neurotic tendencies?
One of the stock mental aphrodisiacs in comic books is to draw girls' breasts in such a way that they are sexually exciting. Wherever possible they protrude and obtrude. Or girls are shown in slacks or negligees with their pubic regions indicated with special care and suggestiveness. Many children miss that but very many do not. In other run-of-the-mill comic books, as was first pointed out to me by adolescents who collected them, special emphasis is given in whole series of illustrations to girls' buttocks. This is a kind of fetichism and in some individuals leads to rigid fetichistic tendencies either in fantasy or in actual life later. Such preoccupations, as we know from psychoanalytic and Rorschach studies, may have a relationship also to early homosexual attitudes.
At some of the sessions of the Hookey Club, when there were only adolescent boys present, no younger ones and no girls, discussions about comic books were sometimes pretty outspoken. One boy discussed the comic book, Crimes By Women. "There is one that is sexy! Her legs are showing above her knees and her headlights are showing plenty! She has a smoking gun in her hand as though she had already shot somebody. When you see a girl and you see her headlights and she is beaten up, that makes you hot and bothered! If she will take beating from a man she will take anything from him." Another boy defended Crimes by Women and showed a copy of Penalty which he said was worse. "It shows how to commit burglaries, holdups. A gangster has a hand on a girl's shoulder He is working his way down to her headlights."
The keynote of the comic books' sexual message, drummed into children from a tender age on, is the admixture of sensuality with cruelty. The illustrations are, as the Art Digest called them, "perverted." It is a special perversion that they cultivate most of all, sadism. Sadism is defined as "the gratification of sexual feeling by the infliction of or sight of pain" (William White).
In very young children comic books set up confusion and create a sadistic interpretation of sex. Ronnie, a six-year-old comic-book addict attending the Clinic, often played with a boy a year or so older who lived downstairs in the same house. One day this playmate took a little girl and Ronnie into his room and proceeded to take off the girl's clothes. Ronnie watched a bit, then ran upstairs excitedly, told his mother all about what he had seen and asked her, "What's he going to do to her - choke her?"
The short circuit which connects violence with sex is a primitive pattern slumbering in all people. It can easily be released in children if it is drilled into them early enough and long enough. It is to these primitive layers of the undeveloped mind, to this weak spot, that comic books appeal. The stories and pictures arouse vague yearnings and suggest ways in which sadism can be practiced or daydreamed about. Children transpose sadism into their own sphere. A fifteen-year-old boy who for a considerable time was given psychotherapy at the Clinic used to speed close to girls on his bicycle. Then he would stretch out his arm suddenly and hit them on the breast.
Running over a young girl on the sidewalk is described in a comic book. John, a boy of nine, put this sequence into practice, and deliberately knocked over a girl with his bicycle. He told me about it, "I got a thrill out of it - a thrilling sensation . . ."
Graphic description of sexual flagellation on the buttocks is frowned upon by the Post Office - if it occurs in adult books. But in a typical comic book for children such erotic scenes are described in detail. The villain (a foreigner, of course) has the half-nude girl in his power. As an appetizer, she is hit in the face. Then: "I know that you shall love me and shall be loyal after you have taken a dozen or so lashes across your beautiful back!"
She is taken to the cellar, bound by the wrists to a tall post,her breasts conspicuously drawn, and pleads for mercy. The man stands behind her with a coiled whip in hand.
In Western comic books, the erotic spanking of a girl by a man is frankly featured. Beatings with a sexual connotation occur in many comic books. A boy of twelve was brought to me a while ago because "he forced his sister to get undressed and tried to have sex relations with her." The sister was nine years old. Such occurrences are less rare than is generally assumed. And frequently one can straighten out a child like this if one diagnoses the whole situation. After I had seen this boy a number of times, he told me about it spontaneously. He said he had threatened to break his sister's arm if she told anybody. This is not the kind of thing that boys used to tell their little sisters. To break people's arms, or to threaten to do so, is one of the comic-book devices. It is even represented on comic covers. If a medical student had to write a paper for his psychopathology class on the varieties of sadistic fantasies and sadistic acts, he could cover the whole field by studying just what is in our children's comics. In a comic book, typically full of blood, violence and nudity, the erotic hanging theme is exploited. The average reader, of a generation not brought up on comics, may not realize the connection between sex and hanging, with one of the typical perverse fantasies for wishing to hang an undressed girl and watch her struggles. But this is made abundantly clear to children in their daily reading matter. In one story a man "kills for sport." There is a sequence with illustrations of half-nude girls where he makes this comment:
"Ho-Ho! What a hangman I make! The police are blundering fools! But I am an artist!"
"My noose will fit around that pretty's neck!"
In the next picture the blonde girl, clad in a noose, a bra and Bikini trunks is hanging from a tree. And you see her again, hanging "in a death struggle."
There are individuals who suffer from the truly dangerous perversion of wishing to hurt or kill couples making love to each other. The comic-book industry obliges by describing such cases in detail. So, the child who had never had such an idea before will learn it; the one who had any idea at all, however faintly, will have it nourished and given form. One picture shows a couple in an automobile, both the young man and the girl with blood streaming all over their faces from bullet holes in their heads. In the story the murderer was never caught.
Some comic books describe sexual sadism with its most morbid psychological refinements. In a recent comic book a man makes love to a married woman, while her husband, whose leg has been injured by the lover, has to look helplessly on. The lover kisses the girl, taunting the husband all the while. The girl gets sexually so excited by this perverse situation that she exclaims: "STOP! I can't stand it any more!"
Another morbid fantasy is the idea of drawing blood from a girl's veins in order to overpower her completely. Outside of the forbidden pages of Sade himself, you find this fully described and depicted only in children's comic books.
We have traced the effect of this seduction to sadism. Children's spontaneous drawings are one good indicator. In one such drawing, a girl is tied nude to a post. A handkerchief is stuffed into her mouth. On the floor are her discarded panties. In front of her is a boy heating some torture instruments over a fire. On his chest is the S of the superman.
Several young men who gloated over these sadistic comics stories as adolescents have told me that during sexual relations they have to rely on the fantasy that the girl is bound and tied down in one way or another.
Certain kinds of books and magazines of pornographic or semipornographic character for adults are called "high-heel" literature. This has to do with the erotic character that high heels have for certain men. Psychiatrists know that there are men who collect shoes with high heels, as a kind of fetich for erotic pleasure, and that other men have such fantasies as having women with very high-heeled shoes step on them. In the ordinary comic book for children exaggeratedly high heels are introduced and appeal to these latent fetichistic tendencies. In one comic book with a story on "the man who shanghaied more than 1,000 men from the San Francisco docks," there is suddenly - unrelated to the story - an illustration showing large in the foreground only the lower part of a girl's legs, in net stockings and very high-heeled red shoes. The young boy who called my attention to this told me he and his friends got a kick out of it. This type of picture, showing only legs and extremely high heels - and interrupting a story of action to do so - is a repeated motif in different comic books. Several boys have told me that they collect these comics illustrations and use thern for sexual fantasies, with or without masturbation.
A nineteen-year-old boy told me about his high-heel fantasies: "You are the first one I tell it to. I think of girls twisting their heels on my chest and face." His first complete sexual stimulation had come from masochistic scenes in comic books at the age of about ten or eleven. "This woman had a castle and in order to generate the electricity all the men had to push something. The women, who were glamorously dressed, would hit the men, who were in various stages of undress."
The average adult may not know much about the fact that there are men who are masochists and indulge in fantasies of a strong woman to whom they must act as slaves and who whips them if they do not carry out all her whims. Books for adults with detailed descriptions of sexual masochism and without artistic merit are considered pornographic. Masochism derives its name from the novelist Sacher Masoch who wrote such stories. Typical masochist fantasies that could be straight out of Sacher Masoch are offered to little boys and girls by the comic-book industry. In one story a baroness has two male slaves. They "obeyed her every whim while she lorded it over them with a savage tyranny!" The accompanying picture shows the baroness, whip in hand. She talks about forcing a man "to come to me on his knees" and speaks of him as "my willing slave." In one scene which might be from a case history by Krafft-Ebing you see her whipping a man who is crouched on the floor: "So! You dare to kiss me, do you, you dog? Take that! and that!"
Many years ago, as a postgraduate medical student, I listened to lectures on the psychopathology of sex. I did not think then that one day I would have so much difficulty in convincing people that what I learned there about sick adults was not the best reading matter for healthy children!
There are men who have a desire to see undressed girls tied to posts or with their hands bound behind their backs or above their heads, or confined in chains. Such deviations of psycho-sexual development usually have their origin in some early chance experience either seen, heard or read. American children are given every opportunity to develop these psychopathic tendencies.
A twelve-year-old sex delinquent told me, "In the comic books sometimes the men threaten the girls. They beat them with their hands. They tie them around to a chair and then they beat them. When I read such a book I get sexually excited. They don't get me sexually excited all the time, only when they tie them up." The difference between the surreptitious pornographic literature for adults and children's comic books is this: in one it is a question of attracting perverts, in the other of making them.
There is a lot of loose and irresponsible talk about children's sadistic reading being a help to them in getting rid of their aggression. I have yet to see a single adolescent who had sadistic fantasies and wishes and got rid of them by reading sadistic comic books. Nor have I found a single published case.
A group of Hookey Club boys from twelve to fifteen discussed what they thought was good and bad in comic books and spoke about "torture" as a bad feature. Most of them agreed they liked books showing it, though. I asked the boys whether any of them, if they actually had a little girl in a lonely place, would really like to tie her up, beat her and torture her. I wondered whether any of them would admit to that and asked for a show of hands. Everybody smiled - and every hand went up. They had learned their comic-book lessons well. It is frequently overlooked that long before the age of puberty children may have very elaborate sexual fantasies which do them no good. The sexualized brutality of crime comic books leads not infrequently to a connection between the thrill of suspense and that of sexual arousal - a kind of anxiety stimulation. Sometimes this may go far enough to produce orgasm. "I think sex all boils down to anxiety," one boy told me. In some cases, more often in girls but also in boys, this arousal is closely related to masochism.
There is a special kind of cruelty mixing crimes against property and sexual exploits which I have hardly ever encountered in juvenile cases before the comic-book era. Nowadays it is not at all uncommon.
A boy from a well-to-do family was referred to me for psychotherapy after he had become very inattentive in his studies. During treatment he told me once that he and three other boys, fifteen and sixteen years old, used to go to a candy store in the neighborhood where they ate ice-cream cones, bought comic books and talked big. One evening in one of the boy's parents' car they drove from the suburb where they lived to Broadway. There they picked up a young prostitute and took her to the home of one of the boys whose parents were away. Two of them had intercourse with her and various sexual experiments were tried out, the girl being very co-operative. They paid her five dollars each. After that, all four went out with her in the car to drive her back to Broadway as they had promised. On the way they had a bright idea. They stopped the car, pounced upon the girl and while one held her forcibly around the neck the others beat her unmercifully about the face and body. They went through her handbag and took out all her money. One boy, hitting her in the face, said to her, "You are too independent!" The girl did not fight back. She just sat and cried and said it was not fair after she had been so nice to them. Then they left her at a subway station, with just enough money to pay her fare. This is comic-book stuff.
Comic books create sex fears of all kinds. In girls the identification of sex with violence and torture may cause fear of sex, fear of men and actual frigidity. A Western with a picture of Tom Mix on the cover has in one story no less than sixteen consecutive pictures of a girl tied up with ropes, her hands of course tied behind her back! She is shown in all kinds of poses, each more sexually suggestive than the other, and her facial expression shows that she seems to enjoy this treatment. Psychiatrically speaking, this is nothing but the masturbation fantasy of a sadist, and it has a corresponding effect on boys. For girls, and those boys who identify themselves with the girl, it may become the starting-point for masochistic fantasies.
Some of the ordinary comic books have illustrations revealing crude sexual details if you look at them in a certain way. The shoulder of a man with a red scarf around his neck shows a girl's nude body. This is so clear that it can induce the immature reader to look for such things and stir him up sexually.
Love comics do harm in the sphere of taste, esthetics, ethics and human relations. The plots are stereotyped, banal, cheap. Whereas in crime comics the situation is boy meets girl, boy beats girl; in love comics it is boy meets girl, boy cheats girl - or vice versa.
Adolescent girls are not helped by this bit from a love comic: "How long can a beautiful woman wait for love? Is it a crime to take passion where it is found - regardless of mocking faithfulness? (For the thrilling answer see page 17.)"
Love comics, like crime comics, play up the angle that what they depict is real life. "These girls are real people with real problems and real dramatic confessions," says a typical issue. What do these "real" girls want? "More than anything in the world I wanted glamor, money, adventure . . ." What are their problems? The titles of the stories give the answer:
PRICE OF PRIDE
MY FOOLISH MISTAKE!
MUST I REVEAL MY PAST?
In crime comics normal sexual life is repressed, whereas violence is shown in detail. In love comics it is just the reverse. Homicide is usually prevented at the last moment, while fornication is completed:
"Violent passions smouldered in my heart! I burned with love for a man who could never be mine. In a moment of weakness I surrendered to a tragic impulse and grasped at a forbidden love!"
Or: "Naive, innocent fool that I was, I thought he was asking me to marry him! But I found out different fifteen minutes after we checked into the hotel!! My folks hushed it up of course . . . and I learned to forget. . ."
Or, again: "One moment of sin . . . The ugliest sin in the world . . . would it bring her a lifetime of happiness?" (sic!)
There are no good modern studies on childhood prostitution, although the case material for such a study is unfortunately not lacking. The whole subject is hushed up, just as juvenile drug addiction was until recently. Childhood prostitution is always due to neglect by the family (which often cannot help itself) and by social agencies. It is on the increase at present. Comic books do their share in laying the psychological groundwork.
Annie, aged ten, engaged in sex play with men for which she received money. Like most children she was very suggestible. From comic books she absorbed fantasies of violence and sex, but the few constructive things she saw, like the movie about Sister Kenny, stimulated her to the constructive fantasy of becoming a nurse. "I fooled around with men, young men and old men. They gave me a dollar. I don't have my period yet. They just took down my pants. I meet the men on the docks. They did it in a shady house, a house that has all kinds of tools in it - hammers. I went over there four times a week. I don't like it. Girls don't like it. I did it for the money. Sometimes I would get half a dollar, sometimes a quarter. Some men don't give you anything. Cheap, ain't they!"
This girl read about twenty comic books a day. Some of them she read over three or four times. After she saw the Sister Kenny movie she formed the ideal of becoming a nurse who cures the people." But one good movie could not prevail over hundreds of comic books.
Other varieties follow the pattern of adult-organized prostitution, except that the girls get younger and younger and sometimes the purveyors do, too. A girl of seventeen supplied school girls of twelve to fourteen to middle-aged men. She had about twenty-five girls. The official investigation, which was far from thorough, estimated that at least fifty adult men were involved. The seventeen-year-old girl got $1.50 to $2.00 from each customer. But she gave the girls only a quarter or fifty cents.
There are quite a number of obscure stores where children congregate, often in back rooms, to read and buy secondhand comic books. The proprietors usually permit the children to spend a lot of time in their establishments and to pore over the comic books. In some parts of cities, men hang around these stores which sometimes are foci of childhood prostitution. Evidently comic books prepare the little girls well.
Homosexual childhood prostitution, especially in boys, is often associated with stealing and with violence. For all these activities children are softened up by comic books. Their super-ego formation with regard to sex is interfered with in a subtle way: everything is permitted to men in comic books and there is constant sex stimulation. Charles was studied at the Quaker Emergency Service Readjustment Center. At the age of twelve he engaged in regular prostitution. He did not play hookey, but followed this occupation after school hours. He said, "I meet the men in office places or places of business. They give me a dollar or fifty cents. I wondered how they'd be so generous. Some men are about thirty-five." The outstanding feature in this boy's examination was his moral confusion. Comic books contributed to this. "I usually read comic books, Gangbusters or True Comics, about ten or fifteen a week, about two a day. I trade them."
More has been printed on the subject of homosexuality than on any other sexual phenomenon. This would indicate not only a preoccupation with the subject, but also that our understanding of it is still incomplete.
Comic books, like other books, can be read at different levels, with different people getting out of them different things. That does not depend only on differences in age; it is affected also by more subtle factors of constitution, experience, inclination and unconscious susceptibilities. To determine them, I have let children draw, write and make up stories; have studied their dreams and asked them directly or in playroom observation what they got out of these stories, what they dislike, how they thought the stories would affect other children - especially younger ones.
Many pre-adolescent boys pass through a phase of disdain for girls. Some comic books tend to fix that attitude and instill the idea that girls are good only for being banged around or used as decoys. A homoerotic attitude is also suggested by the presentation of masculine, bad, witchlike or violent women. In such comics women are depicted in a definitely anti-erotic light, while the young male heroes have pronounced erotic overtones. The muscular male supertype, whose primary sex characteristics are usually well emphasized, is in the setting of certain stories the object of homoerotic sexual curiosity and stimulation. This, incidentally, is increased by the male "art nudes" featured in advertisements in millions of children's comics, which correspond to the athletic male art nudes appearing in certain magazines for adults so often collected by homosexuals.
In an issue of a popular comic there is on the back cover a full-page colored picture. It shows a stalwart youth, nude except for a well-filled loin cloth. No young man or adolescent in the upper-age groups whom I asked to describe this picture in one word used any expression except "fairy." The boy has long blonde hair falling over his shoulders and bound with a red ribbon over his forehead. On both wrists are green bracelets, and graceful ribands twist around his ankles above his bare feet. He wears a bare dagger coquettishly fixed in front of one hip. He has big blue eyes and a beautiful suntan. His expression, to quote one of the boys who commented on it, is "sissy and sappy."
Many adolescents go through periods of vague fears that they might be homosexual. Such fears may become a source of great mental anguish and these boys usually have no one in whom they feel they can confide. In a number of cases I have found this sequence of events: At an early age these boys be come addicted to the homoerotically tinged type of comic book. During and after comic-book reading they indulged in fantasies which became severely repressed. Life experiences, either those drawing their attention to the great taboo on homosexuality or just the opposite - experiences providing any kind of temptation - raise feelings of doubt, guilt, shame and sexual malorientation.
The term pederasty does not mean - as is often erroneously believed - a crude physical relationship between men. It comes from the Greek word pais meaning a youth or boy, which is also the root of such words as pedagogy. Pederasty means the erotic relationship between a mature man and a young boy.
Several years ago a California psychiatrist pointed out that the Batman stories are psychologically homosexual. Our researches confirm this entirely. Only someone ignorant of the fundamentals of psychiatry and of the psychopathology of sex can fail to realize a subtle atmosphere of homoerotism which pervades the adventures of the mature "Batman" and his young friend "Robin." Male and female homoerotic overtones are present also in some science-fiction, jungle and other comic books.
Just as ordinary crime comic books contribute to the fixation of violent and hostile patterns by suggesting definite forms for their expression, so the Batman type of story helps to fixate homoerotic tendencies by suggesting the form of an adolescent-with-adult or Ganymede-Zeus type of love-relationship.
In the Batman type of comic book such a relationship is depicted to children before they can even read. Batman and Robin, the "dynamic duo," also known as the "daring duo," go into action in their special uniforms. They constantly rescue each other from violent attacks by an unending number of enemies. The feeling is conveyed that we men must stick together because there are so many villainous creatures who have to be exterminated. They lurk not only under every bed but also behind every star in the sky. Either Batman or his young boy friend or both are captured, threatened with every imaginable weapon, almost blown to bits, almost crushed to death, almost annihilated. Sometimes Batman ends up in bed injured and young Robin is shown sitting next to him. At home they lead an idyllic life. They are Bruce Wayne and "Dick" Gray- son. Bruce Wayne is described as a "socialite" and the official relationship is that Dick is Bruce's ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases, and have a butler, Alfred. Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown. As they sit by the fireplace the young boy sometimes worries about his partner: "Something's wrong with Bruce. He hasn't been himself these past few days." It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together. Sometimes they are shown on a couch, Bruce reclining and Dick sitting next to him, jacket off, collar open, and his hand on his friend's arm. Like the girls in other stories, Robin is sometimes held captive by the villains and Batman has to give in or "Robin gets killed."
Robin is a handsome ephebic boy, usually shown in his uniform with bare legs. He is buoyant with energy and devoted to nothing on earth or in interplanetary space as much as to Bruce Wayne. He often stands with his legs spread, the genital region discreetly evident.
In these stories there are practically no decent, attractive, successful women. A typical female character is the Catwoman, who is vicious and uses a whip. The atmosphere is homosexual and anti-feminine. If the girl is good-looking she is undoubtedly the villainess. If she is after Bruce Wayne, she will have no chance against Dick. For instance, Bruce and Dick go out one evening in dinner clothes, dressed exactly alike. The attractive girl makes up to Bruce while in successive pictures young Dick looks on smiling, sure of Bruce. Violence is not lacking in these stories. You are shown Batman and Robin standing in a room with a whole row of corpses on the floor.
In a study of over a thousand homosexual cases at the Quaker Emergency Service Readjustment Center we found that the arousal of homosexual fantasies, the translation of fantasies into fact and the transition from episodic homosexual experiences to a confirmed fixation of the pattern may be due to all sorts of accidental factors. The Batman type of story may stimulate children to homosexual fantasies, of the nature of which they may be unconscious. In adolescents who realize it they may give added stimulation and reinforcement.
In many adolescents the homoerotic, anti-feminist trend unconsciously aroused or fostered by these stories is demonstrable. We have inquired about Batman from overt homosexuals treated at the Readjustment Center, to find out what they thought the influence of these Batman stories was on children and adolescents. A number of them knew these stories very well and spoke of them as their favorite reading. The reply of one intelligent, educated young homosexual was typical: "I don't think that they would do any harm sexually. But they probably would ruin their morals."
One young homosexual during psychotherapy brought us a copy of Detective Comics, with a Batman story. He pointed out a picture of "The Home of Bruce and Dick" a house beautifully landscaped, warmly lighted and showing the devoted pair side by side, looking out a picture window. When he was eight this boy had realized from fantasies about comic book pictures that he was aroused by men. At the age of ten or eleven, "I found my liking, my sexual desires, in comic books. I think I put myself in the position of Robin. I did want to have relations with Batman. The only suggestion of homosexuality may be that they seem to be so close to each other. I remember the first time I came across the page mentioning the 'secret bat cave.' The thought of Batman and Robin living together and possibly having sex relations came to my mind. You can almost connect yourself with the people. I was put in the position of the rescued rather than the rescuer. I felt I'd like to be loved by someone like Batman or Superman."
A boy of thirteen was treated by me in the Clinic while he was on several years' probation. He and a companion had forced a boy of eight, threatening him with a knife, to undress and carry out sexual practices with them. Like many other homo-erotically inclined children, he was a special devotee of Batman: "Sometimes I read them over and over again. They show off a lot. I don't remember Batman's name, but the boy's name is Robin. They live together. It could be that Batman did something with Robin like I did with the younger boy. . . . Batman could have saved this boy's life. Robin looks something like a girl. He has only trunks on."
The Lesbian counterpart of Batman may be found in the stories of Wonder Woman and Black Cat. The homosexual connotation of the Wonder Woman type of story is psychologically unmistakable. The Psychiatric Quarterly deplored in an editorial the "appearance of an eminent child therapist as the implied endorser of a series . . . which portrays extremely sadistic hatred of all males in a framework which is plainly Lesbian."
For boys, Wonder Woman is a frightening image. For girls she is a morbid ideal. Where Batman is anti-feminine, the attractive Wonder Woman and her counterparts are definitely anti-masculine. Wonder Woman has her own female following. They are all continuously being threatened, captured, almost put to death. There is a great deal of mutual rescuing, the same type of rescue fantasies as in Batman. Her followers are the "Holliday girls," i.e. the holiday girls, the gay party girls, the gay girls. Wonder Woman refers to them as "my girls." Their attitude about death and murder is a mixture of the callousness of crime comics with the coyness of sweet little girls. When one of the Holliday girls is thought to have drowned through the machinations of male enemies, one of them says: "Honest, I'd give the last piece of candy in the world to bring her back!" In a typical story, Wonder Woman is involved in adventures with another girl, a princess, who talks repeatedly about "those wicked men."
In the Black Cat stories, the superwoman in ordinary life is a young girl like any other. But when she goes into action, she is "Black Cat" and has donned a sort of Superman uniform. In a story called "Mr. Zero and the Juvenile Delinquent" a little boy is mercilessly beaten and is about to be kicked, as he lies helplessly on the floor, when Black Cat intervenes. On an educational page in the same book she gives good advice for violence as instruction for self-defense:
Swing the upper part of your body forward while slamming the edge of your left hand against his larynx. The impact will knock him down.
Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham (Rinehart & Company, Inc. New York, Toronto 1953, 1954)