Thoughts, Opinions, Gripes, and Grievances

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Thoughts, Opinions, Gripes, and Grievances

Kian Pfannenstiel, Writer

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In English II Honors, we’re reading a book called Fahrenheit 451 (many of you will have read this, and thus the following synopsis is not intended for you) which is about this dude, Guy Montag, who discovers that books are great. Turns out that the possession of most books is felonious and Guy’s job is to burn books.

A major part of this book isn’t the government making the possession of books illegal, but people wanting to be censored because books made them think too much or the content offended them. This wasn’t really limited to books, but books were the biggest offenders, so those were the first to go (and, legally, the only ones to go). The real interest behind this is its foundation in history. I’m more educated on the history of comic books than paintings or books, so those will be my example.

During WWII, superhero comics were super popular, especially with soldiers overseas. But when the war ended, people lost interest in them. What became more popular was the crime and horror genre of comic books. It just so happened that a child psychologist, Dr. Fredric Wertham, who specialized with juvenile delinquency, noticed that all of the delinquent children he encountered (which was also the entire list of children he encountered) were all reading comic books. His belief that comic books were the source of juvenile delinquency wasn’t unwarranted; the vast majority of comics included graphic and detailed descriptions of how to commit crime or how to cause the most pain or kill someone most effectively. Top that off with the romanticization of crime, and you have a recipe for juvenile delinquents.

It was the pattern Wetham found that encouraged him to wage something of a war on comics. He began writing his book Seduction of the Innocent and it sparked a major fear in parents across the nation. It wasn’t uncommon for parents to gather to burn large piles of comic books, as depicted. At a Senate hearing, Wertham stated “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic book industry!”

Let’s continue the comparison to the Nazi Regime. They burned books. They burned lots of books. During their first book burnings, they burned a book by Heinrich Heine which has the line “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen” which translates to “Where men burn books, in the end the men will also be burnt.” Well, that isn’t much of a comparison, I guess, but it’s an interesting factoid.

In response, the comic book industry formed something called the “Comics Code Authority” (the CCA was the second version of this, the first didn’t really work at all) which was a seal of approval that you were only allowed to have on the cover of your comic if it met stringent guidelines. This ushered in the silver age of comics that was necessary for comics as we know them, but was a shameful age of comics that were boring, predictable, and childish. This is where we get our Adam West-styled Batman, for reference. After the CCA was disregarded by publishers because people were, in general, less afraid of comic books ruining their children the bronze age of comics rose and weird stuff started happening. Think of it like the pubescent years of comics. They were just weird. Within the last 2.5 decades, the modern age of comics came and they normalled out with good stories, overarching conflict, and not over the top graphic depictions of violence. Incidentally, Wertham didn’t want a seal of approval to limit comic books, all he wanted was a rating system to be and be enforced so that people who are mature enough to understand that what happens in comics isn’t what one ought to do in real life (similar to how movies, video games, and the like are rated). So, while he didn’t get the rating on comics he wanted, his wants for restrictions on media that the youth took in did take effect.

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