Violence in the Comics
To the Editor:
I would like to correct two inaccuracies concerning my own opinion of comic books, as represented by Norbert Muhlen’s article “Comic Books and Other Horrors” [January 1949].
First, Dr. Muhlen states—in an attempt to show a contradiction—that “Dr. Wertham himself rejected this simplistic theory of causation,” [when he wrote in his book Dark Legend:] “Apparently anti-social impulses do not originate in that way.” I have never advocated any “simplistic theory of causation.” I do not claim that juvenile delinquency “originates” in comic books. On the contrary, in my article in the Saturday Review of Literature, “The Comics—Very Funny,” from which he quotes, I state very clearly: “We are getting to the roots of one of the contributing causes of juvenile delinquency when we study the influence of comic books.”
Secondly, Dr. Muhlen misquotes me. He attributes to me the statement that “the increase in juvenile delinquency has gone hand in hand with the distribution of comic books.” That is not what I wrote. What I did write (in the same article in the Saturday Review) is that: “The increase of violence in juvenile delinquency has gone hand in hand with the increase in the distribution of comic books.” That is something very different.
I think it is significant that the author of your article leaves out the very word “violence” in the sentence he quotes, just as so many people nowadays leave out the subject of violence, which I consider one of the most important problems of our time.
New York City
To the Editor:
Whether the subject of violence is or is not one of the most important problems of our time, it certainly is the basic problem of comic books, as I attempted to show in my article, in which the word “violence” recurs twenty-six times. This figure might be censured by a professor of journalism, but it certainly answers Fredric Wertham’s strange reproach that I did “leave out the subject of violence.” As a matter of fact, the very conclusion of my article was that mass entertainment by violence tends to become the child’s education to violence.
I disagreed, however, with Dr. Wertham’s often-repeated opinion that “comic-book reading was a distinct influencing factor in the case of every single delinquent or disturbed child we studied. And that factor must be curbed as it steadily increases”. (Collier’s, March 27, 1948.) Dr. Wertham asks for censorship against the comic books; this infringement upon the freedom of the press is—logically as well as legally—based on his opinion that the comic books present “a clear and present danger” as one cause of juvenile delinquency; and he claims to be able to prove his point by-so far unpublished—case material.
While preparing my article, I asked Dr. Wertham to give me an opportunity to let me see the case material on which his opinions are based. Dr. Wertham replied that “it is physically impossible for us to comply with [such a request]. As far as I know there are quite a number of people in different parts of the country wishing to write the type of article you propose.” Without access to his materials, I based my conclusion on my own socio-statistical deduction that his charges against the comic books are not verifiable and not corresponding to the facts.
New York City