MIKE GOLD: Who’s taking the bullet?
Funny thing about Fred Wertham.
Dr. Fred, in case you don’t know, was the guy who, back in the late 40s and early 50s, was concerned about all the sexual imagery and violence he saw in comics and its harmful impact on our nation’s youth. He, and those many folks of similar mind, waxed poetic about this crawling evil in the pages of such then-popular general interest magazines as The Saturday Evening Post and Reader’s Digest. He later wrote it all up in a best-seller called Seduction of the Innocent, which helped lead to the establishment of the Comics Code censorship board.
It also lead to the establishment of a noisy all-star rock’n’roll band that starred Bill Mumy, Miguel Ferrer, Steve Leialoha, and Max Allan Collins. They released an album called, appropriately, The Golden Age. It was loud, and it featured Weird Al Yankovic on one track. But this has absolutely nothing to do with my point.
My point is, if sexual imagery and violence in comics were to be considered bad, then Dr. Fred wasn’t incorrect in his analysis of the medium. He was merely premature.
What he thought he found in the children’s comics (a redundancy) of the 50s can be easily discovered on the walls of any comic book shop today. Now, the industry’s defense might very well be “but these books are not for children,” and they’d be right. At today’s cover prices, with all the intertwined continuity and story arcs that command a commitment to multiple purchased, children can’t afford them. Heck, damn few adults can afford them, but adults should have the option of buying any sort of reading material they want.
But you would think that in these times of rising religious fundamentalism and “family values,” at least somebody would be bitching about all the blood and guts and astonishingly huge-breasted crime fighters, both female and male. I know my friends at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund might disagree, but they fight for the comics retailers and creators who get nailed. I’m glad to see they don’t have to extend their meager resources any further than they have to.
But, clearly, something is occupying the time and attention of the professional fussbudgets who believe that they, and they alone, should be in charge of what everybody else reads, sees, listens to, and gets to enjoy. So who’s siphoning off all that energy?
Well, all I can say is this: Thank Crom for rap music. They’re taking out bullets for us. Sometimes, literally.
There’s always going to be something some parents can point to in order to blame somebody else for their children’s potential shortcomings. In the early 1950s, it was comics. After the Comics Code came up, focus shifted to rock’n’roll music. You know, the stuff they had previously referred to as “race music.”
Then came television. Then came movies. That was a return visit from the days before the Film Board of Review started enforcing its “Code” in 1935. The movies saved its collective ass by hiring the man who neatly sold America on President Johnson’s Vietnam War, the recently deceased Jack Valenti. He promptly initiated a whole new Code that handed out ratings ex post facto, which meant that movies that would not achieve a certain level of distribution, exposure and advertising unless it conformed to the “higher” ratings. It was hardly advisory.
More recently, video games have taken a lot of heat, particularly from America’s Only Conscience, Senator Joe Lieberman. Now it’s rap music.
As popular culture fans in general and comics fans in specific, we should be grateful. Next time you’re at a comic book convention, take a rap artist out to lunch.
And watch your ass. The censors are going to come back, you know. They always do.
(Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.com)