Shearon Lowery and Melvin DeFleur’s “Seduction of the Innocent: The Great Comic Book Scare” is an account of psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham‘s popularized 1950s work that claims children’s behaviour is heavily influenced by comic books. Specifically, Wertham claims that comic books have three main effects: delinquency because children get ideas or learn behaviour; distorted perception of reality because children think the world is full of crime, love stories, and death; and illiteracy because children fail to learn how to read correctly.
The paper closes with a powerful statement that most people agree with Dr. Wertham’s assessment, despite the scientific and logical inconsistencies in his work (242). People’s perception of violence in the real world varies just as drastically as it does in the artificial world of media. For example, a person living in downtown Kitchener, Ontario has a different view of violence than a person living in downtown Boston, Michigan. A person who watches crime thrillers every Friday night has a different view of violence than a person who exclusively watches Disney movies. People’s attitudes of violence are shaped by their environment, but living in a violent environment does not make all people criminals. However, this is a common and dangerous misconception that influences attitudes about behaviour based on stereotypes. If society assumes all people watching crime thrillers in Boston are conditioned killers, then a deterministic mindset will judge people for crimes not committed. Wertham and the Parents Television Council views align on limiting the violent environment for children, but those views should not extend to a simple cause-and-effect mentality.
Who has the authority to define violence in the media and into what categories? Looking at “The Codes of Television” by John Friske, ideology is part of the media’s code, and ideology defines the common sense of society (4). Dr. Wertham’s definition of violence is different than psychologists today because the ideology of the world has changed since the 1950s. Who then, and at what time, can draw the line in the sand representing when violence becomes too intense for children? Non-government organizations like the Parents Television Council have opinions, doctors have opinions, broadcasters have opinions, and individuals have opinions; each of those opinions is shaped by different proofs. A rating system can be created based on scientific research and it can be disputed as being not rigid enough or too rigid (as stated in “Netflix must stop marketing explicit content to teens” on the Parents Telelvision Council’s website). If the legitimacy of a violence rating system is questioned by enough groups, then the rating system is not working. However, how is a rating system ever to be established if it is not based on the majority’s ideology? If only the majority’s ideology is considered, muted groups become further marginalized. For example, reality TV that involves hunting might become too violent for the majority of society yet the minority considers it a sacred practice.
Before we quickly judge media as the root of all evil, we must understand our judgement is based on our framing of the world. Media’s effect on people is powerful, which is evident from Elisabeth Noelle-Neuman, Thomas McLaughlin, Jeanne Steele, Jane Brown, and Norm Chomsky. Is your framing influenced by comic books? TVO? YTV? Church? Laws? Parents? Is your framing different now than it was last year? Ten years ago? Is it even possible to separate your personal code of ethics from the media, or has your code been exclusively programmed by society’s elites?