Seduction of the Innocent
8. "Bumps and Bulges"
Advertising in Comic Books
"But they have raised no cry,
One is apt to forget that besides delinquent and emotionally disturbed children there are many children who are just plain unhappy. That is particularly true of adolescents. If you gain their confidence and give them a chance to talk to you under suitable circumstances you will find that one of their most frequent and serious worries has to do with the growth of their bodies.
Writing about the health problems of adolescents, Dr. J. Roswell Gallagher, one of the country's leading student-health specialists, gives first place to worries about health and development: "To the adolescent boy they are matters of vital concern. ...To be abnormal in growth or development is (to him) a very serious matter." He goes on to point out that parents and teachers often misunderstand that "among perfectly normal adolescents" there are great variations in height, weight, size and maturity from the standard average pattern.
Biologically these variations in physical development in boys and girls usually have little significance. They become worries and plague the children in their social context. Unsuitable reading, chance remarks by adults, kidding by other children, over-concern of parents, incautious remarks by doctors and so on are apt to set off worry and unhappiness over being "different" or "abnormal." Sexual maturation, mental and physical, may add associations, guilt feelings and fantasies. It is usually the same areas of the body that are involved in these worries. In boys it is the face (complexion and hair), the body build in general (muscular strength, height and weight) and the primary sexual characteristics. In girls it is the face, the general body build (fat distribution and weight) and the area of greatest psychological sensitivity, the breasts.
In psychotherapy of children with all kinds of difficulties I have found that one of the main goals has to be to raise their self-confidence. Adolescents with these hypochondriacal growth worries can be helped provided they come to the attention of an experienced adult. But for prevention, efforts directed at the individual child are not enough. Attention must be given to the adults who exploit these anxieties of children commercially.
No better method could be evolved to cause such worries or to aggravate them than the advertising in childrens' comic books. I understand that there are advertising associations or advertising councils interested in keeping products advertised, as well as the manner of their advertising, on an ethical level. If that is true, they must have looked the other way with regard to the stupendous amount of advertising in comic books. In any case, they "raised no cry." Advertising is, or could be - quite apart from its selling aspect - a wholesome educational influence. That in comic books is not only anti-educational, but has done untold harm to children from the point of view of public health and mental hygiene, not to speak of common human decency.
There are different types of adolescents, the Stanley Hall type, the Thomas Wolfe type and others. Whatever their social status, their native ability, they are all more or less susceptible to the worries and anxieties exploited by the scare advertisements in comic books. These advertisements are apt either to cause hypochondriasis or cater to it. In some children such hypochondriacal reactions assume serious forms. In the semipornographic, semiobscene magazines for adults sold at the newsstand, some of the same products and some of the same advertisers can be found. Sometimes the names of the firms are different, but the addresses are the same. When these advertisements are in comic books they are slanted to children and adolescents.
Advertisements in comic books have caused decent boys and girls many tears. This advertising brings the comic-book industry an enormous revenue. In the Journal of the American Medical Association Dr. Harry F. Dietrich, writing from the point of view of pediatrics, said that "parents must be shown that pimples and pounds are relatively unimportant problems." He spoke of "puerile worrying about temporary cosmetic blemishes, guilty worrying about juvenile masturbation, and competitive worrying about their children's ounces and inches" as "all this wasted emotional effort." But what chance do parents have when by mass advertising campaigns children are inveigled to worry about these very things and encouraged to keep away from doctors and secretly buy expensive, phony and sometimes harmful remedies?
I have seen a number of cases where pre-adolescents or adolescents have fallen for these advertised products which of course did not help them. The advertisements merely stimulated their hypochondriasis and increased their mental anguish. I have on different occasions openly drawn attention to this public-health violation. It is a matter which the Federal Trade Commission could have taken up. Since the claims in advertisements are often exaggerated, misleading and false, the Post Office could have prosecuted for fraud. Nothing happened, except that the advertisements got more brazen and shameless. Only one health department, one of the biggest and best in the country, took up the matter at all. Its report stated that it found large quantities of "dangerously misleading advertisements" in comic books, and that "many thousand comic books contain ads promoting the sale of bogus patent medicines." It pointed out how these advertisements were especially directed to adolescents: "The comic books grow worse each year in accepting flagrantly misleading ads. The pity of it all is that teen-agers are very conscious of their appearance. They send for these phony-and-harmful skin cure-alls without telling their parents." Nothing was done, however, even after this outspoken confirmation of my findings by an official public health agency. The charmed existence of the comic-book industry evidently extends to its advertisements.
In order to guard youth against overconcern about skin or figure, and to help when they are plagued by fears of abnormality or ugliness, one must try to make them less self-conscious. Dr. Gallagher points out from his experience that one must assure them that there is no cause for shame. And he warns that one should not even use the word problems in this connection because it "has much too gloomy a sound."
Millions of comic books do exactly the opposite. They especially play up these very words which should be avoided. Advertising people tell me that in the profession this is called the "emotional appeal." And that is precisely what it is - ruthlessly playing on the emotions of children. They ask children whether they are not "self-conscious" about one minor or fancied ailment or another, thereby, of course, deliberately making them self-conscious or unhappy. They promise to help them if they are "ashamed" about some little, or perhaps even nonexistent, blemish, thereby, of course, causing them to feel unnecessarily ashamed. They frighten the girls by insinuating to them that they have "problem bosoms." This phrase alone thrown at twelve- or thirteen-year-old little girls is enough to precipitate a severe and distressing hypochondriacal reaction. No wonder they are willing to spend money on all kinds of pills, ointments and gadgets!
Even girls without neurotic trends are apt to be sensitive about their breasts during and before adolescence. Some girls mature earlier than their classmates and go through agonies because they fear they are conspicuous. The opposite may of course occur, too. There are all kinds of folklore superstitions that the growth and shape of the breasts has something to do with past or future sexual life. Usually it is difficult for a woman, and much more so for an adolescent girl, to tell even a doctor about such secret preoccupations. A genuine sexual hypochondriasis may center around the breasts in very young girls, with anxiety, fear dreams, preoccupation with sex and guilt feelings.
Here is fertile soil for the comic-book "breast ads." They promise certain help for problem bosoms, NO MATTER WHAT SHAPE BOSOM YOU HAVE ($5.95). A typical full-page advertisement in a comic book addressed to "Junior" has two photographs of girls, one average, the other with markedly protruding comic-book-style breasts. The caption says:
DO MEN CHOOSE MARY OR ALICE?
and goes on:
When Tom H- met Mary W- and Alice B-, folks wondered who the lucky girl would be. Both girls were pretty and charming, and grand fun, and enjoyed the same interests Tom did. But, somehow, it was Alice whose lips Tom bent to in the moonlight . . . it was Alice whose "I do" rose breatHessly at the altar. . . .
Tom's choice was not surprising. For it is the woman with a beautiful, alluring bust contour who most often wins the admiration, popularity and affection every woman desires. And there can be no COMPLETE feminine beauty without a warmly rounded, lovely bust contour, symbol of woman eternal. Look through history. Look around you today. It is the woman with graceful, appealing figure lines who enjoys social and romantic triumph. Yes, there are many lovely Marys whose wit, charm and friendliness cannot compete with the natural law of man's attraction to beauty fulfilled completely.
The [product name deleted] Ritual . . . may be able to improve the handicap of unappealing figure lines . . . which may mean the difference between loneliness and thrilling romantic fulfillment! Formerly $2.00 . . . Don't let skepticism or discouragement deny you the opportunity for happiness. Be fair to yourself, to your future as a woman.
One must always remember that an issue of such a comic book has an edition of hundreds of thousands of copies. In such a large number, a percentage of unfortunate girls are bound to fall for it, worry themselves sick, keep their worries a secret, and send for the advertised merchandise.
Suppose a girl does not fall for these photographs and the accompanying text. Other advertisements suggest a test even more apt to give her inferiority feelings and make her think she is not as other girls. BREASTS LOSING FIRMNESS? screams another ad (on the same page on which a doll is advertised). This one promises to lift your breast "into a vital-beautiful form." It tries to persuade the adolescent girl that there are three kinds of inferiorities:
1) those with normally firm bosoms who want that added lift and separation that make the difference between an ordinary appearance and real figure beauty"
2) those whose breasts lack "firmness"
3) girls with PROBLEM BOSOMS ($1.98)
But maybe even these pictures, their text and the "firmness test" do not make enough girls worried. Then there are full-course lessons in hypochondriasis. In a comic book with stories of love's frustrations there is a full-page advertisement (found in many other comic books, too) with sets of photographs: "Before" and "After." The "Before" look like average girls; the "After" have noticeably protruding breasts. Accompanying these pictures are three sets of diagrams, each purporting to show profiles of women's bust lines. Any girl, of course, especially after she has been alarmed by the text, can identify herself with at least one of these diagrams and brood about the corresponding information:
SELF-CONSCIOUS ABOUT YOUR FLAT-LOOKING BUST LINE? ($2.49).
Some advertisements are especially directed to growing girls whose busts are just starting to develop and lead off with Screamers: SMALL BUST. They promise a "secret patent-pending feature" for UNSHAPELY SMALL BUSTS. Such advertisements have caused inferiority feelings in countless children, some of whom will carry this emotional burden with them through life.
The ultrabosomy girls depicted as ideal in comic-book stories and the countless breast and figure advertisements make young girls genuinely worried long before the time of puberty. These very young girls become entrapped by the sex appeal of comic-book pictures and the "emotional appeal" of their advertise ments. Laura's case is a good example. One day her mother came home unexpectedly. Laura was nine years old at that time. As her mother told it to me:
She put tissue paper inside of her dress so that she would have a bosom. She must want to grow up too fast. She wants to grow up and be fixed up beautifully. There is nothing wrong with her. She reads comic books all the time. She reads Jumbo, Archie, Jeanie, Millie the Model, also Nellie the Nurse. One day my husband picked up a comic book.
The psychiatric social worker to whom I turned Laura over for guidance reported to me later that the girl had absorbed all the breast lore from comic-book pictures and advertisements.
Some adolescents, depending on their type of constitution, pass through phases of growth when they are apt to be chubby. Is that something unimportant, which most of them will outgrow? No, comic-book ads say. There are "valuable secrets on how to get the most out of your life!
DISCOVER HOW TO BE HAPPY . . . LOVED . . . Do something positive about your unsightly superfluous fat" (tablets, $1.98)
There are other "secrets," too, to help the adolescent girl once she has become sufficiently self-conscious about her figure: belts, girdles, creams, pills, tablets, books, reducing contraptions, massage, etc. In the unending stream of advertisements it goes like this:
I lost 70 lbs. in 5 months
Lose fat fast. 10 lbs. in 10 days ($2.98)
This one is in a comic book endorsed by a psychiatrist:
Reduce safely . . . Take off 7 lbs. the first week! Lose ugly fat now ($2.50)-
How an unhappy fat girl became a happy slim girl . . 5 lbs., 10 lbs., 20 lbs.-even more, as many as you want! (Full month's supply, $2.00, three months', $5.00) Not sold in drugstores
No matter what part of her body a girl may be sensitive about, skillful advertisements take care of every eventuality and scare her with the supposed ugliness and serious import of BUMPS AND BULGES" ($2.98).
Special attention is drawn to "buttocks":
You have nothing to lose but weight ($2.00)
It helps restore the right curves in the right places ($2.00)
Don't suffer humiliation and ridicule by being fat! ($2.00)
The only known food product listed in medical dictionaries as an aid in reducing! ($4.00)
Modern medicine has definite scientific knowledge about weight reduction. Expert medical authorities have clearly expostulated this knowledge to other physicians in medical journals. And in popular writings addressed to the non-medical public, it has been made available to adults. But to children we teach exactly the opposite of the well-established scientific truth.
Dr. Frank H. Krusen, chairman of the Council on Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, at the request of the Council on Foods and Nutrition, wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "No form of external manipulation is capable of removing adipose tissue from a particular region of the body. Massage will not reduce local deposits of fat. . ."
Speaking of "spot reducing," he states that the value of "these devices is absolutely nil." His article makes it perfectly clear that "there is no 'easy way' to reduce fat. Proper reduction of the intake of food is the only logical method of reducing weight."
The excellent pamphlet, "Overweight and Underweight," put out by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, contains genuinely scientific information: "Massage will not take off pounds. . . . There is no way to reduce safely without eating less. . . . No easy way is safe." Unfortunately the number of adults who read this pamphlet is infinitesimally small in comparison with the millions of children and adolescents who learn the opposite in comics advertisements:
GREATEST BENEFIT IN REDUCING BY MASSAGE
Of course adolescents who pass through a slender growth phase are not forgotten:
Skinny Girls are NOT Glamour Girls!
SKINNY GIRLS DON'T HAVE OOMPH!
You will want those extra pounds that "bring out" your natural eye-catching curves. Take [unspecified product name] faithfully for a week. See if you can't actually feel the difference. ($2.00 plus C.O.D. charges)
Some perfume advertisements try to make girls anxious and discouraged.
"Do people talk about you? Are you alone? Unhappy? Discouraged? Are you a girl who just can't seem to find the right man?" (Gossip perfume, $2.00 plus postage).
Others stimulate girls to erotic fantasies and arouse sadistic-masochistic wishes:
"Do you want to make men obey you? . . . Do you want to make him obey your every command? (Chez-Elle perfume, $2.00 plus postage).
Dear Friend: . . . the same double power she used when she took a husband away from his wife or a sweetheart away from the arms of his loved one . . . (Diablo's secret perfume, $3.00 plus postage)
Men killed each other just for her favors and when she beckoned men leaped to obey . . . (Fury perfume, $3.00 plus postage)
Can you make strong men weak? Do you dream of THRILLING moments of LOVE and ECSTASY? . . . Let Blue Passion help bring him into your arms . . . (Blue Passion perfume, $2.00 plus postage)
All my life I dreamed that some day I would find a perfume that would raise a man's ardor . . . (Man-Trap perfume, $2.00 plus postage)
Skin conditions are another field for comic-book scare advertisements. Acne, pimples, blackheads and complexion troubles of all kinds are a cause for worry, inferiority feelings, anxiety and, on account of superstitious beliefs, guilt feelings about sex. This effect they are apt to have not only on insecure children, but on the rank and file of children in general. "Acne affects adolescents at the time of life when their appearance is of most importance to them," writes Dr. Marion Sulzberger. "It often produces feelings of inferiority and psychologic and emotional damage which may be permanent and which often color later life." The main trouble with these mild skin conditions is that they upset people, especially children, so seriously. Comic book advertisements do all that they can to make boys and girls extremely self-conscious about their skin, and to feel miserable when there is the slightest blemish. They promise instant, miraculous cures.
A full page advertisement begins with this dialogue:
"Ask your friend Tom."
Then follows the indoctrination with fears and shame:>
What a "black mark" is the blackhead . . . according to men and girls popular enough to be choosy about dates!
"Nobody's dreamboat!" "Nobody's date bait!" And that's not all that's said of those who are careless about blackheads. But blackheads ARE ugly! Blackheads ARE grimy! And they DON'T look good in close-ups!
So can you blame the fellow who says, "Sure, I meet lots of girls who look cute at first glance. But if; on that second glance, I see dingy black - it's good night!"
Or can you blame the girl who confesses, "I hate to go out with a fellow who has blackheads, if he's careless about that you're sure he'll embarrass you in other ways, too!"
But you - are YOUR ears burning? Well, you've company, and, sad to say, good company. There are lots of otherwise attractive fellows and girls who could date anyone they like if they'd only realize how offensive blackheads are and how easily and quickly they could get rid of them, if they want to! . . . The "he-man" who's also clean-cut, will get the breaks wherever he is! . . . Even cute girls get careless. . . . So don't take chances, cute though you may be!
Another statement in the advertising is, Those ugly blackheads give others such a wrong impression of you! Some boys take this as a reference to masturbation and react with worry, guilt feelings and withdrawal. The advertised cure is to use a gadget to extract blackheads mechanically ($1.00).
Children read these skin ads very closely. A fourteen-year-old girl said in the Clinic, "I had one pimple once. I read all about it in the pimple ads. I wondered how it would come out if I put something on it." Many boys and girls have more pimples and buy the "remedies" on the strength of such advertisements as these:
Your good qualities - intelligence, character, dignity - all go to nought, are completely cancelled out by a skin that nobody loves to touch . . . To remove the distressing embarrassment of these skin blemishes . . . ($1.98)
Many of the advertisements give the children the impression that buying such a product is like going to a doctor, thereby keeping them away from real medical advice which might either reassure them quickly or really help them. For example, a big ad directed to girls concerned about pimples says:
STOP Losing Your Chances for Dates.
It's so easy that a few weeks from today you won't believe your mirror! . . . PLANNED BY DOCTOR. ($2.00)
A full-page advertisement with four pictures of schoolboys and girls starts with a blazing headline:
I WAS ASHAMED OF MY FACE
"I just want to be alone!" . . . The skin doctor's formula works wonders . . . ($2.00 plus postage)
Now while the memory of prying eyes deepens your misery save your present and your future . . . Special Note to Girls . . . Embarrassed by periodic pimples? ($2.00)
Some children get so worried about acne and the repeated failure of the costly comic book cures that they withdraw socially to such an extent that they look like - and have been diagnosed as - incipient schizophrenia.
The unwary physician who does not remember that one has to gain a youngster's confidence first and make the diagnosis afterwards may fall into this error. I have seen a number of such cases of skin-sex hypochondriasis. All examinations and tests ruled out schizophrenia. A high school student was presented to me at the Clinic by one of my assistants with a history of liking to be by himself and brooding. He had been previously diagnosed as incipient-schizophrenia. I elicited that what he had were not irrational worries, but very understandable and comic-book-ad inspired ones: "Ever since I was getting out of public school I worried about it [acne]. I read the full-page ads in the comic books and I did what they said, but it didn't help. There are times when I withdraw completely. I can see myself standing there in front of the mirror. I scratched this - I can't remember . . . [weeps]."
A thirteen-year-old girl showed me an advertisement which made her deeply concerned about some minor cosmetic blemish. It has a big photograph of a girl, her head lowered on her arms, her face contorted, evidently from crying, a handkerchief clutched in one hand. Above it in enormous capitals:
STOP crying about PIMPLES ($3.00 plus postage charges)
Concern about hair is not overlooked in comic-book ads:
Here is thrilling new hope. Do you want longer hair? . . . Your hair to become softer, silkier, more lustrous than it has been before - in just one short week! . . . ($1.00)
Advertisements for boys cover different areas, but appeal to the same kind of susceptibility to juvenile hypochondriasis as those for girls. The concern of boys with growth and body build is exploited in advertisements illustrated with photographs of supermuscular he-men (often with big genitals like some of the comic-book heroes). I have seen a number of cases of boys who were developing more slowly than some of their friends, who were only mildly concerned about it until comics ads made them feel downright ashamed. These advertisements go like this:
How to Make YOUR Body Bring You FAME instead of SHAME! Are You Skinny? Weak? Flabby? . . . I know what it means to have the kind of body that people pity! . . . I don't care how old or young you are or how ashamed of your present physical condition . . . I can shoot new strength into your old backbone . . . help you cram your body so full of pep, vigor and vitality that you won't feel there's even standing room left for weakness and that lazy feeling! . . .
A full-page advertisement illustrated with photos of muscular he-men says:
From a SKINNY WEAKLING to a MIGHTY MAN! . . .
I gained 53 lbs. of MIGHTY MUSCLE. 6 and a half inches on my CHEST; 3 inches on each ARM. You can do it in 10 minutes a day!
Presently the same advertisement appeared (December,1953) in a super-endorsed comic book with a public service page of the National Social Welfare Assembly. Now "Skinny" gains "70 lbs." of mighty muscle, his chest grows "7 inches" and his arms "3 and a half inches each"!
The large art photos of male nudes wearing only scanty trunks are a special comic-book feature. Of course there are boys who look at them admiringly because they are interested in body development. But he must be an inexperienced psychologist indeed who does not know that these photos of supermales serve also other purposes. Boys with latent (and sometimes not so latent) homosexual tendencies collect these pictures, cut them out and use them for sexual stimulation. One of my patients started to cut out these photos at the age of eleven. One ordinary children's comic has no less than fifteen such photographs!
Many children get hurt in two ways by these he-man ads: They get disappointed when they do not get results, and they get homoerotic fantasies from the photographs. One ten-year-old boy was treated at the Clinic because he had prostituted himself to men. He looked a little too small for his age. He told us how he studied comic-book ads to correct this: "I have one of those books at home. It is no good. I got several. I started doing it for thirty-five days and nothing happened. I tried it for my arm - you know, 'mighty arms.' I thought I could be strong, but it didn't work. All I did was keep the pictures of the wrestlers and boxers and photographs of strong men and muscle men."
Comic-book advertisements give children the idea of scrutinizing themselves in a mirror, to look for anything they should worry about. One ad has a big balloon:
Hey SKINNY! Yer ribs are Showing!
and continues farther down the page:
When you look in the mirror . . . practice in the privacy of your own room . . . just watch your scrawny chest and shoulder muscles begin to swell . . . those spindly arms and legs of yours bulge . . . !
Some of these advertisements hint at worries and guilt feelings based on the superstitiously supposed effects of masturbation.
BUNK! Nobody is just naturally skinny! Girls snickered at me behind my back. Are you always tired? Nervous? Lacking in confidence? Constipated? Suffering from bad breath? Do you want to gain weight?
Another ad advising you how to become "an all-around HE-MAN" says "Prove it to yourself in one night!"
Emphasis on the region of the "crotch" in some ads directs attention to a similar line of thought, as do "supporter" ads ($2.98) and remedies for "itching" which "may go . . . to the crotch of the legs." ($1.00). It is not only a fraudulent claim, but an invitation to sexual hypochondriasis when an ad says:
Do the best science knows for you to do to GROW MORE VIRILE HAIR IN 30 DAYS.
For all these artificially created or aggravated inferiority feelings, the comic-book ads offer one emotional outlet: over compensation in brutality. Under the thin disguise of self-defense, full-page ads are permitted to tell millions of children:
I BROKE HIS HAND LIKE A MATCH!
It was easy! He was helpless. He howled with pain!
Method of Offensive Defense, based on natural, instinctive impulse-action . . . Smashing, crashing, bone-shattering, nerve-paralyzing method . . . 70 BONE-BREAKING SECRETS . . . ($1.00 - formerly sold at $5.00)
Besides all these "health," body building, complexion, "bumps-and-bulges," he-man and brutality advertisements there is a stupendous amount of advertising which deserves to be called a childhood armament program. Comic-book advertisements use any device known to advertising writers to fascinate children with weapons. Children have been supplied with arms through these comic-book ads or have learned from them how to make their own weapons, some of them deadly. In one radio discussion about comic books the time-worn argument was raised that Grimm's fairy tales are violent, too. John K.M. McCaffery, newscaster and literary critic, interposed that he had seen lots of weapons advertised in comic books, but had yet to see an edition of Grimm's fairy tales with advertisements of crossbows.
In millions of comic books, ads make all kinds of weapons attractive to children. There are premiums for boys and girls "consisting of genuine .22 cal. rifles" (of course, with an illustration of the rifle). This is a deadly weapon and only the other day a fourteen-year-old boy killed an eighteen-year-old with one of them.
All kinds of "toy" guns and pistols are advertised in comic books. A typical advertisement has a big picture of a gun:
Amazing new gun. Shoots like a real gun.
An accompanying sequence teaches how the gun might be used to threaten people:
You fooled us, kid, I thought that gun was a real one!
Other guns can be transformed into dangerous weapons. An eleven-year-old boy who knew his way around told me about one of them: "They can make it snap faster with an elastic. They shoot little round pebbles. You get the pebbles from puzzles they sell in stores. They fall in little holes when the puzzles are jiggled around."
A great role in the advertising is played by B.B. and air guns. Some shoot B.B.'s, some, steel darts. They are considered harmless by some people-but not by children who have been in jured or by those who have lost an eye when shot by them.
Medical journals and public agencies have drawn attention to the many serious eye accidents from B.B. and air guns. I inquired of one public agency, which knew of a number of cases blinded by these weapons, what they were going to do about it. They answered that they were "planning a campaign to reach all children in school about the horrors of B.B. guns." Dr. James B. Bain, of Washington, D.C., reports twenty-nine eye injuries, in five of which an eye had to be removed - all caused by B.B. guns in one single year in Washington alone. As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Society for the Prevention of Blindness of the District of Columbia reports nine B.B. eye injuries in three months and asks for laws prohibiting the sale of B.B. guns to children under eighteen: "The only effective way of preventing these injuries is to ban the sale, use and possession of air guns."
According to statistics from 421 hospitals all over the country, reported by Pathfinder, there were from Christmas, 1949, through January, 1950, 275 air gun injuries; 164 of them were eye injuries, with permanent impairment of vision in sixty-four and eye removal in twenty-five. Philadelphia pioneered with a humane ordinance banning air guns. The results were spectacular, a lesson to those who do not realize that progress in preventive medicine is helped by laws. Where there had been seventeen air rifle eye injuries treated at Wills Hospital in Philadelphia in the short survey period, in the twenty-five months following enactment of the ordinance there was only one. A similar observation was made in Pittsburgh, where in 1951 an eye injury from B.B. guns occurred once every twelve days; when the use of these guns was restricted there was only one such injury in 1952. No wonder that the National Society for the Prevention of Blindness suggested in 1953 an ordinance, which among other things would prevent the sale of air guns to minors.
All this is a good illustration of the social problems of comic books. On the one hand adults and children are warned against these guns; at the same time glamorous advertisements in comics seduce more and more children into wanting, buying and using thein. Children's real interests seem to count for little. While the experts in ophthalmology know the danger of these guns and have advocated the only real method of prevention, there are experts in child psychiatry and education who do not draw the line at endorsing comic books which have ads with big pictures of these guns:
Strap this sweet-shootin' [product name deleted] on your bike . . . Only $6.95
Shoot regular steel BBs . . . ($6.95)
Dr. William C. Menninger has called the pre-adolescent period "the golden age for mental hygiene." It seems also to be the "golden age" for comic-book publishers, advertisers and experts. Text, pictures. and medical endorsements blend to lead both child and parent astray. Take a 1953 endorsed comic book which contains the story of "Superman when he was Superboy." It has a full-page colored advertisement for an air rifle in which a newspaper editor says about an air rifle program: "The police like the idea - so does the school superintendent - so do the ministers." The ophthalmologists do not!
After one of the instances when a boy was killed in an adolescent gang fight, John E. Cone, chief of the Kings County District Attorney's homicide bureau, made a full investigation which verified my findings on comic-book advertising. He reported:
"We collected a veritable arsenal of home-made weapons, switchblade knives, milk can handles converted into brass knuckles, and so forth. We found out pretty much of their ideas were obtained from comic books. For instance, in one book a lad showed us how to change a converted cap gun into a lethal weapon. And these lads also purchased a number of guns as a result of the advertisements contained in these crime comic books. Many times they will say that comic books are for adult consumption, whereas actually the advertisements would never appeal to an adult."
Knives of different kinds are advertised in comic books, too. How far has the armament program for children progressed in the knife category? A search of a single school yielded 141 knives! The attitude of the authorities towards knives in the hands of children seems to be this: Let's permit adults to advertise and sell to juveniles as many knives as possible; then, when they buy and use them let's punish the juveniles as severely as possible. In some neighborhoods detectives and policemen have been instructed to bring to the station house any youth who carries weapons. Weekly checks for dangerous weapons in places where children are apt to meet have been announced. A national magazine had an article about the dangers of switchblade knives sold to and used by children, with the rather cynical comment that the toll up to now was "relatively small - a few dozen children killed, somewhat more wounded." This article concluded: "Don't let your son be smart-alecky about a knife. De-glamorize knife-carrying to him." What possible good can such suggestions do when at the same time enticing comic-book advertisements offer these very switchblade knives for sale to even the youngest child? And while the ads supply the knives, the stories describe their use for skilled violence. You see the young boy, with his hand in his pocket where the switchblade knife is carried, talking to a grown-up. Suddenly he whips out the knife (and you see the exact way to hold it, with your thumb on the button): "Make a move and I'll whittle you down to half my size!"
Despite the facts that according to police authorities switchblade knives are "one of the worst weapons out," that their sale to children under sixteen is forbidden, that in New York alone teen-agers and switchblade knives were involved in some one thousand stabbings, that switchblade-wielding teen-agers have been held in bail of $100,000 each, millions of comic books carry illustrated advertisements:
Juvenile gangs sometimes spring up quickly. Gang leaders have told me about the problem of arming them. Here comic book advertising has proved a great help. A full-page advertisement offers a:
10-PIECE KNIFE SET
The question of the kitchen-set knife ads came up several times in Hookey Club sessions. Once a thirteen-year-old boy said, "This knife set in the comic books is disguised as a kitchen set, but of course the kids immediately know what to use them for. They buy them and split them up. In the schools where I was, the boys use them. They have straps and strap them to their legs. See the point there? They specify the point so that you know how you can use it. But they make out it is for meat! Naturally the boys are not going to buy them for cutting meat and so forth!"
One type of advertisement I call the "arsenal ad." It consists of a whole page of illustrations and text offering guns, pistols, rifles, throwing-knives, leather whips, slingshots, fencing-sets and other useful toys for children of the comic book era. Police have found whole arsenals of weapons in children's hiding-places and traced some of the arms back to these ads.
Comic books have other dubious advertisements of miscellaneous character. I have examined and treated a number of youths after they had been arrested for prowling about trying to look in windows to see women undressing. Most of them were rather harmless and responded readily to common-sense forms of psychotherapy and guidance. One of them told me about "peeping Tom ads" in comics and other boys confirmed their suggestive significance. There are telescope ads, for example, offering:
"Real power and up-close clear view! A 1,000 thrills are yours with this powerful imported telescope. Enjoy life! . . . Bring some scenes so close you feel you can touch them!" Another advertisement, for binoculars:
Boys in New York, Boston or Chicago who buy these binoculars are well aware that there is no "wild life" on city streets. They also know what else these optical instruments can be used for. Some ads point this out:
Bring in distant people with amazing clarity and sharp detail . . . See without being seen . . . ($3.94)
In some ads it is especially pointed out that you can look into "neighbors' homes" and the illustrated telescope points to a half-nude girl.
Many "human relations ads" are not exactly helpful to juveniles. One is for a course for boys on getting along with girls:
It's Easy to Win Her! Women are funny - Put psychology to work. No more clumsy mistakes for you . . Don't be a Faux pas!
This last phrase would indicate that the retooling for illiteracy has made headway even among advertising copywriters!
There are courses for girls on how to handle boys, too:
Learn once and for all how to get along with men in this amazing handbook
Comic-book stories teach violence, the advertisements provide the weapons. The stories instill a wish to be a superman, the advertisements promise to supply the means for becoming one. Comic book heroines have super-figures; the comic book advertisements promise to develop them. The stories display the wounds; the advertisements supply the knives. The stories feature scantily clad girls; the advertisements outfit peeping Toms.
Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham