Fear of new technologies influencing children and youth has a long history. From comic books in the 1930s to television in the 1950s to computers in the 1980s and now social media in the 2020s, many parents, teachers, and pundits railed against the negative influences of these new media upon children’s. This multi-part series deal with the forerunners of the present concern over social media shaping children’s minds and actions.
Consider the popularity of comic books between the late-1930s through the mid-1950s.
According to some researchers, the 1930s and 1940s were the “Golden Age” of comic books. Well before television entered American homes, comic books were immensely popular with the young, especially boys. For example, in 1945 “the Market Research Company of America found that about 70 million Americans, roughly half of the U.S. population, read
Criticism of Comic Books
Many parents then saw comic books much as later generations of parents in the 1950s and 1960s saw television. Salty language, sex, violence were pervasive. Urban and rural parents organized committees and protests in various urban and rural sites to condemn comic books. Some even went to the extreme of publicly burning comic books.
In Binghamton, N.Y., Students of St. Patrick’s parochial school collected 2,000 objectionable comic books in a house-to-house canvass, burned them in the school yard (1948).
To obtain this seal of approval after its adoption, comics entrepreneurs had to follow these rules:
- Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
- If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
- Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
- Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
- In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
- Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, the gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
- No comic magazine shall use the words “horror” or “terror” in its title.
- All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
- All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
- Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
- Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
- Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
- Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
- Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
- Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
- Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Rape scenes, as well as sexual abnormalities, are unacceptable.
- Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
- Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
- Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be presented in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste or morals.
The code has been amended many times since 1954.
The point of the Comics Code was to regulate content. Researchers didn’t need to tell parents what that influence was since American moms and dads saw negative behaviors they attributed to their children reading comics. Yet exactly how much influence comic books actually had on children and youth insofar as their engaging in aggressive behavior, violence, and sexual acts, researchers then and now are (and have been) divided (see here, here, here, and here).
With television sets appearing in living rooms across America in the 1950s, a similar surge of confidence in the new technology occurred followed by a slow growth of fear for what the new medium does to the minds and actions of young children and teenagers. I take up television in Part 2.