MISREADING OR MISLEADING: Wertham’s Words of Wizdumb

There were so many things to cover in BAD FOR YOU concerning Dr. Frederic Wertham’s attack on comics. That’s why, when it came time to discuss his critique of how they damaged a child’s reading ability, we had to be limit it to only one panel in the book.

In honor of the latest excerpt at Tor.com, we thought we’d allow Dr. Wertham the room here to expand on his theory (or, depending on your point of view, knot his own noose):

Among the worst readers is [sic] a very high percentage of comic-book addicts who spend very much time ‘reading’ comic books. They are book worms without books.

 How many children suffering from reading disorders are comic-book readers? The answer is simple. Most of them are. 

Comics reading reinforces the reading disorder, if it has not helped to cause it in the first place… 

The discrepancy between the easy appeal of the pictures and the difficulty of reading the text is too great to encourage anyone to try to follow what the characters are supposed to be saying.

Instead of learning good reading habits they acquire the habit of not reading. They become slow readers, meanwhile continuing to read their comic books.

In questioning hundreds of children I have found that comic-book reading and reading good books for pleasure are for all purposes opposites.

Reading difficulties are of course common in the school classes for children with retarded mental development. We have therefore in our investigation made special studies in these classes. They afford additional conclusive proof that severe reading difficulties and maximum comic-book reading go hand in hand, and that far from being a help to reading, comic books are a causal and reinforcing factor in children’s reading disorders.

– Chapter Five, “Retooling for Illiteracy” from Seduction of the Innocent

In particular, that last quote really has the ring of scientific truth to it. Throwing around terms such as “special studies,” “conclusive proof,” and “causal…factor” make his argument sound so darn convincing. But where is the actual science behind those highfalutin’ words?

One investigator decided to find out and recently published her own “special” study on Dr. Wertham’s research notes. What she found was “conclusive proof” that the good doctor, in fact, had none.

“Lots of people have suspected for years that Wertham fudged his so-called clinical evidence in arguing against comics, but there’s been no proof,” according to an article by Carol Tilley, published in a recent issue of Information and Culture: A Journal of History. At least, there wasn’t any until Tilley started digging through his personal archives (only made public in 2010), where she discovered evidence of how Wertham revised children’s ages, distorted their quotes, omitted other causal factors and, generally, “played fast and loose with the data he gathered on comics.” Read about her research here to discover how Wertham “misrepresented and altered children’s own words about comics.”

Sounds like Wertham suffered from his own special form of research “disorder” – or is that distortion.

TRUE GRIME COMICS

True Grime

 

Here’s a comic that we had to cut from the book’s “Flames of Fear” chapter (excerpted at Tom.com this week) — which explains why it never got finished up properly. But even in this rough version we still like it a lot and thought we’d share it with the followers of the blog. We actually had it up here yesterday but it wasn’t opening properly…so here it is again.

BAPTISM BY FIRE

NewYorkSocietyForTheSuppressionOfVice

If you’ve been following the excerpts from BAD FOR YOU at Tor.com, you might recall the name Anthony Comstock and the committee he founded back in 1873, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. That’s the group’s seal directly above, and the burning books in the picture should give you some idea of his approach toward the literature which he judged immoral. Reportedly, Comstock was responsible for the frying of over 15 tons of books, printing plates and photographs during the time he oversaw the organization. But book burning didn’t start with old Comstock and it certainly didn’t end with the final demise of the group in 1950. In fact, the year the committee disappeared fell right smack in the middle of a feverish period of torching, documented in today’s BFY Tor.com excerpt: the Comic Burning map, which highlights the hot spots of comic incineration in the U.S. from 1945-55.

Not surprising, religious leaders were some of the most vocal opponents to comics at the time – much as they have been against the Harry Potter books in more recent years. For instance, in 1949 a collection of crime comics were gathered by girl scouts in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and then handed over to students at St. Mary’s Catholic high school. “Following a script by the parish pastor, Rev. Theon Schoen,” David Hajdu writes in The Ten Cent Plague (a terrific book that served as source material for BFY’s map), “the students conducted a mock trial of four comic-book characters, portrayed by upperclassmen who pleaded guilty to ‘leading young people astray and building up false conceptions in the minds of youth.’” Following the trial, the great comic book campfire was set ablaze and Rev. Schoen “led the assembled group of more than four hundred students from St. Mary’s elementary and high schools in a…pledge to ‘neither read nor purchase objectionable publications and to stay away from retail establishments where such are sold.’”

While it might not seem unexpected that the Catholic Church would have some involvement with book burning, here at BAD FOR YOU we can’t help wondering how many readers are aware of the Church’s history of setting fire to copies of THE BIBLE!!! It sure shocked us when we found out that for centuries, the Bible has been a red-hot reminder of how books deemed unsuitable for burning can shift, depending on the winds of change, to become the fuel for censors’ bonfires. If one steps back to take in the big picture though, it’s easy to see how the smoldering smoke from these glowing flames have a way of blowing back into the faces of the folks who originally set them, illuminating a certain hypocrisy inherent in any act of book burning.

Hmm, have we stretched that metaphor a bit too far? Probably, so how about we just prove our point with a timely time line about the twisted logic of torching, which we have titled…

BURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY

1244
Before the Catholic Church started burning Bibles, the Pope warmed up with Talmud scrolls (a Jewish sacred text). Only four years earlier, the Talmud was put on trial in Paris for “being harmful to Christian society.” The text was declared guilty and condemned by the court of King Louis IX. Twenty-four cartloads of scrolls were scorched into ash. For his efforts, Louis IX was declared a saint in 1297. Plenty more public burnings of the Talmud by Popes followed, including: Innocent IV (1243–1254), Clement IV(1256–1268), John XXII (1316–1334), Paul IV (1555–1559), Pius V (1566–1572) and Clement VIII (1592–1605).

1490s
Hebrew Bibles (i.e. the Old Testament) were burned along with other Jewish texts during the Spanish Inquisition.

1624
Martin Luther, a religious leader who broke from the Church, had his German translation of the Bible burned in Catholic-dominated regions of Germany.

1640s
In Protestant-dominated England, it was Pope and other prominent Catholics who found themselves on the other side of the bonfire – or rather, in it…at least as effigies. Along with their writings and Bibles. Since the last person was burned at the stake for heresy in 1612, the public Hangman, who usually dispensed such “justice”, had switched to burning effigies and heretical texts instead.

1731
Once again it was Burnabout time as Protestant books and Bibles were burned by the Archbishop of Salzburg as he savagely persecuted followers of Martin Luther’s breakaway Christian sect living in rural regions of the country.

1933-1945
The world’s most famous book-burners, the Nazis, torched an estimated 100 million books throughout occupied Europe, including Torah scrolls. By burning and looting libraries and censoring “un-German” publications, the Nazis tried to eliminate all traces of Jewish culture (as well as the Jewish people – six million of them were systematically murdered). In his 1821 play, Almansor, German writer Heinrich Heine referred to the burning of the Koran (the key religious text of the Muslim religion) during the Spanish Inquisition: “Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.” The Nazis burned Heine’s books too.

1945-46
Adolf Hitler, Germany’s Chancellor and the head of the Nazi party, had his autobiography Mein Kampf (in a sense, the “Bible” of the Third Reich) burned when Allied forces invaded Germany at the end of World War II. The Allied Control Council issued a directive for the confiscation on all media that could contribute to militarism from German libraries as part of the “denazification” movement. Over 30,000 titles were destroyed. “The representative of the Military Directorate admitted that the order was in principle no different from the Nazi book burnings.” Even to this day, there are restrictions on Mein Kampf’s availability in parts of Europe.

1956
First the Fascists in Nazi German burned books…then the Allies burned the books of Fascists…then the U.S. government burned a book titled The Mass Psychology of Fascism written by noted psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prosecuted Reich in 1954 following an investigation of his device called the “orgone accumulator” (which the government dubbed quack science). In March 1960, six more tons of Reich’s books were incinerated.

1989
The Satanic Verses by British author Salman Rushdie is published and almost immediately branded as anti-Islamic by Iranian leader the Ayatollah Khomeini. A fatwā is issued against Rushdie – essentially a death sentence for blasphemy – and the novel is burned in protest in a number of cities in the United Kingdom. The Japanese translator of the book was murdered in 1991.

2008
American troops confiscate and burn Bibles written in the Pashto and Dari languages in Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Mark Wright told CNN “such religious outreach could endanger American troops and civilians because Afghanistan is ‘devoutly Muslim country.’” Using the Bibles to try to convert Afghans to Christianity directly violates the U.S. military rules against proselytizing religion in any country.

2008 (again)
Orthodox Jewish youths set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testaments in Or Yehuda, Israel after the city’s deputy mayor calls for a bonfire of the missionary-distributed material. The burning is staged next to the town’s synagogue. The deputy mayor said that “he regretted the burning of the books, but called it a commandment to burn materials that urge Jews to convert.”

2010
More modern variations of the original King James version of the Bible (which, it should be noted, is itself a translation of Greek and Latin texts), were originally planned to be set ablaze on Halloween 2009 by The Amazing Grace Baptist Church of Canton, North Carolina, headed by Pastor Marc Grizzard. But destruction of the so-called heretical texts had to be postponed until this later date due to protests, a state environmental protection law against open burning…and rain.

2011
A copy of the Koran is burned by Florida pastor Terry Jones in his Gainesville church and condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. At lease 30 people are killed following protests in Afghanistan. Among the murdered were United Nations Assistance Mission employees, who were shot and decapitated (though not burned).

 

 

SF, FANTASY & FLAMES: A BANNED BOOK UPDATE

If you’re linking to us for the first time, welcome to BAD FOR YOU!

And to the hearty handful of others who have been here from the start, welcome back.

This is the website for updates on general bad-for-you stuff in kid world. Rather than define what that means, we prefer to simply show it, just as we do in the book that this site is based on (the book, by the way, is set to be released in January 2014 — and available for pre-order with a click on the book’s cover at the right of this page).

Here you’ll find candid shots of school lunches, news about zero tolerance policies, controversies over violent videogames, as well as the latest suspension for flatulence on a school bus. We try to cover all the things that someone out there thinks is bad for kids. 

bookOne of the things we think is bad for kids, and everyone else, is book banning. As it happens, Tor.com is excerpting sections of BAD FOR YOU for the next couple of weeks as part of its “celebration” of Banned Book Week. Celebrating book censorship might sound a little weird because, after all, who wants to throw a party over a bunch of books getting banned. But what Banned Book Week celebrates is “the freedom to read,” according to the American Library Association (one of the biggest sponsors for the annual event).

But you also can’t celebrate “the freedom to read” without highlighting when that freedom has been challenged by censorship. And those challenges occurred over forty times during 2012-13; challenges to books and graphic novels that were considered bad for kids. Six of which were fantasy or SF, the beloved genre of Tor.com followers (also popular among censorship-lovers).

This post is a nod to both genres, the hands-down winners for most censored this past year (a perfect segue to today’s BAD FOR YOU excerpt: “Nursery Crimes: Fear And Fantasy”). 

1) Ender’s Game

Leading off with a Tor publication (it’s up to readers to figure out why), Ender’s Game is an award-winning futuristic tale about specially bred, super-smart kids designed to fight off an alien attack. Though originally published in 1994, the book made the news in 2012 when a teacher at Schofield Middle School in Aiken, S.C. read it aloud to his class and one of his students (and more importantly, the kid’s parent), declared the book pornographic – even though a number of review websites deemed Ender’s Game as “appropriate for readers twelve and older”. The instructor was threatened with criminal charges; charges which, happily, were eventually dismissed. Perhaps in the future, specially bred super-smart kids will be used to fight off any censorship attacks.

2) Feed

Another futuristic society story, this time with folks connected to the Internet via direct implants in their brains. Called “trash” and “covered with the F-word,” the book was challenged in a Virginia high school in Green County, even though the teacher had posted on the school web page a warning about Feed‘s mature nature and a consent form was sent home with students to be signed by parents prior to the assigned reading. Among this “trash” title’s many honors: National Book Award Finalist and Junior Library Guild selection.

3) The Handmaid’s Tale

Here’s a pretty well-known title from famed author Margaret Atwood about yet another futuristic society where, due to declining birthrates, a woman’s main function has been reduced to breeding. The book was required reading for a Page High School International Baccalaureate class at Grimsley High School in Guilford County, N.C. – or, at least it was until challenged for being “sexually explicit, violently graphic and morally corrupt.”

4) Fight Club

Like the previous title, Fight Club was popular enough to be adapted into a big-budget Hollywood movie. And violent enough to be challenged by parents in Katy, Tex. Independent School District who were able to get it removed from the required reading list. Too bad it wasn’t called “Hug Club”.

5) Robopocalypse

Despite being challenged for it’s “inappropriate language,” the national bestseller managed to remain on the required reading list at the Hardin Valley Academy in Knoxville, Tenn. It also managed to win the 2011 Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association.

6) Neonomicon

We end the 2012-13 list with, appropriately enough, a graphic novel. This Lovecraftian horror fantasy was penned by Alan Moore of Watchmen fame. It was banned from the Greenville County, S.C. Public Library in 2012 because a teenager was able to check it out, even though the comic was placed in the library’s adult section. “The head of the library system overturned an internal review committee’s decision to retain the graphic novel because the pictures gave her pause,” according to an Illinois Library Association article on challenged and banned books – which also served as the basis for this post.

As already mentioned, fantasy and SF are two of the most popular genre’s for book banning. In fact, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five has the dubious honor of being named number four on the Ten Most Banned Books list of all time. Of course, the Harry Potter series (featured on today’s BAD FOR YOU excerpt at Tor.com) is trying it’s best to keep up. And like the Potter books, Slaughterhouse Five has been burned by censors. It was back in 1973 when copies of the book wound up slaughtered in a North Dakota school furnace. In fact, administrators were so determined to see the novel destroyed they assumed a scorched-earth policy, and had students’ lockers searched to make sure every last one of the copies (originally issued for a class assignment) were confiscated and burned. After being informed of the torching, Vonnegut wrote to the school board chairman, “If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.”

Of course Vonnegut isn’t the only famous figure in SF to weigh in such a burning issue. There’s also this guy:

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches, is all ancient history. Then, before you can blink an eye, suddenly, it threatens to start all over again.

Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

 

 

BAD FOR YOU SNEAK PEEK AT TOR.COM

Heads up to followers of the BAD FOR YOU website (both of you): Tor.com, a hub site for “all the things that interest SF and fantasy readers” will be excerpting sections of BAD FOR YOU beginning Monday, as part of their recognition of Banned Book Week (September 22−28). Never heard of Banned Book Week? It’s an annual event “celebrating the freedom to read,” according to the American Library Association. Though, along with all the celebrating, there’s a big dose of lamenting as well.

Why so sad? Because of all the books still getting targeted for challenging, censoring  and outright banning from book stores, libraries and schools, that’s why. A total of forty-four for 2012-13 (and that’s the Illinois Library Associations short list).

BAD FOR YOU is honored to be a part of the celebration and thanks Tor Publishing for allowing us to participate. The history of comic book and book banning (and burning) is the main focus of the first section of BFY. In particular, censoring fantasy material for the sake of sensitive kids — since they weren’t supposed to be sophisticated enough to tell the difference between make-believe and real life. It’s an old story…one that started with Plato (yeah, that one).

Banned Book Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; the Freedom to Read Foundation; National Coalition Against Censorship; National Council of Teachers of English; National Association of College Stores; PEN American Center and and Project Censored.  It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

Whew!

“BEEF STICKS AND OILY CORNBREAD”: SCHOOL LUNCHES ILLUMINATED

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One of the diagrams in BAD FOR YOU charts the differences – no, make that the similarities – between school lunches and meals served to inmates. Turns out that the food a prisoner and a student receive vary very little (well, the kid’s meal does cost a whole SIX cents more).

Now, the BAD FOR YOU boys have discovered a youth nonprofit website called DoSomething.org that offers pupils an opportunity to photograph their plate of unpleasantness and upload it to a section on the site called Fed Up. Fellow students can then vote on whether they would “Eat It” or “Toss It” (“Tossing It Up” is not an option – though it should be given the looks of some of the shots).

The purpose of the project isn’t just for laughs, but also to gather data and “create a ‘heat map’ of school lunches in the U.S.,” according to The Huffington Post. “Their goal is to raise awareness of the sad state of nutrition in public schools.”

Hey teens, teachers are always telling you how important it is be share. So this is a chance to share your cruddy meal with the rest of the world.

And speaking of sharing, here are a few more facts about high school lunches that we’ll include from The Huffington Post article:

• According to the USDA a typical school lunch far exceeds the recommended 500 milligrams of sodium; some districts, in fact, serve lunches with more than 1,000 milligrams.

• The USDA also reports that less than 1/3 of schools stay below the recommended standard for fat content in their meals.

• Last year 21 million students relied on free and reduced lunch as their primary meal of the day. Up to 65 percent of their daily calorie intake comes from school provided meals.

• Unbalanced nutrition leads to decreased performance in school, obesity, diabetes, and a whole slew of other health problems.

(Photo above actual lunch shot from Fed Up)

HEADLINES/DEADLINES

When tragedy strikes, such as the mass shooting yesterday in Washington DC, members of the media naturally jump on the story and search for the quickest way to grab viewers’ attention as the news unfolds. This time, because of the alleged shooter’s “obsession” with playing Call of Duty, journalist rushing to meet their deadlines, focused on this angle of the story — all the better to whip up the moral panic already present in the public minds over violent video games.

Some examples of today’s headlines include:

Aaron Alexis: Washington navy yard gunman ‘obsessed with violent video games’

Washington Navy Yard shooting suspect Aaron Alexis ‘was fan of violent video games’

Washington Navy Yard killer often played “violent video games”

Alexis Friend: Shooter ‘Obsessed’ With Violent Video Games

But if readers look closer at the details around the suspected shooter, they would discover that the headlines could have just as easily highlighted other aspects of Aaron Alexis’ life, such as…

NAVY YARD GUNMAN BIG FAN OF VIOLENT AMERICAN FOOTBALL

NAVY YARD GUNMAN TRAUMATIZED WITNESS TO 9-11

NAVY YARD GUNMAN ARRESTED IN 2010 FOR SHOOTING GUN AT HOME

NAVY YARD GUNMAN PLAGUED WITH HEARING VOICES IN HIS HEAD

NAVY YARD GUNMAN BLACKED OUT AND SHOT UP CAR IN PAST

NAVY YARD SHOOTER, AFTER TWO SERIOUS INCIDENTS WITH GUNS, STILL ABLE TO PURCHASE WEAPONS

NAVY YARD GUNMAN DEVOTE BUDDHIST

(OK – maybe not that last one. But it’s also true, and shows just how complicated it can get, trying to boil down someone’s life into a headline…to meet your deadline.)

Bad (Luck) Hair Day

 

When 7 year-old Tiana Parker was sent home from her Tulsa school for the wrong hairstyle, her father Terrance, a barber, flipped his wig.

“She’s always presentable,” he explained. “I take pride in my kids looking nice.”

But apparently he was unaware that her hairstyle, braids accented with a bright red bow, would run afoul of the school policy that states “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.”

When the story blew up in local media the school changed to a more “inclusive” policy but Tiana has moved on to another school.

Perhaps the library at her new school will buy a copy of Bad For You. If so, she can see that this story is nothing new when she reads about the historic hysteria around “Hair Bans”.

hair bans

 

MORAL PANIC IN REAL TIME

Remember the post from last week about a tragic shooting in Louisiana? An 8-year-old boy shot and killed his grandmother with a handgun he found in the house and the news media, naturally, jumped on the lurid story. A quick survey of headlines spawned by the event makes it clear where the media (and cops) initially laid the blame:

Police: 8-Year-Old Shoots, Kills Elderly Caregiver After Playing Video Game

Louisiana Boy, 8, Shoots 90-Year-Old Relative After Playing Video Game, Police Say

Cops: Boy Played Video Game, Shot 90-Year-Old Relative

“La. Police Say Boy, 8, Fatally Shot 90-Year-Old Relative After Watching Violent Video Game”

“8-Year-Old Intentionally Shot and Killed Elderly Caregiver After Playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’: Louisiana Police”

The conclusion anyone would reach, were the story to have stopped there, was that the murder was motivated by the violence portrayed in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. But the story didn’t end there…though, as usual, the amount of coverage the correction received couldn’t compare with the original moral panic the media whipped up after the shooting. “What police initially called a ‘homicide’ has been ruled an accidental shooting,” according to a report at Game Politics.

Following the incident the Louisiana judge who decided the boy could remain in the custody of his parents also added this very important observation: “On whether the shooting was a homicide or an accident, the judge said that it was definitely an unfortunate tragedy.” In other words, the child was not programmed to kill by a video game. Instead, he was sadly mistaken that the gun he pointed at his grandmother was “a toy gun…a play gun,” according to the judge.

This revelation will come as no surprise to researchers Christopher Ferguson and Cheryl Olson (author of, ironically, a book titled Grand Theft Childhood) whose latest study has concluded that violent video games such as Mortal KombatGrand Theft Auto, and Halo are not “triggers” that cause depressed kids or those suffering from attention deficit disorder to turn into “aggressive bullies, delinquents, or murderers.” In fact, their study Video Game Violence Use Among “Vulnerable” Populations: The Impact of Violent Games on Delinquency and Bullying Among Children with Clinically Elevated Depression or Attention Deficit Symptoms indicated that playing these games “actually had a ‘very slight’ calming effect on youth with attention deficit symptoms and helped to reduce their aggressive and bullying behavior.”

Kudos to them for their work, and additional kudos to Constance Steinkuehler, former White House “video game czar” (bet you didn’t know President Obama even had one), who responded to the shooting in Louisiana this way: “I find it an incredible distraction when something like this happens, and there’s this incredible tragedy, that we jump to these variables that if they’re part of the equation they’re almost negligible…variables like video games instead of the most obvious variables in the circumstances – there’s a loaded gun in the house.”

And…Boom – there it is.

 

Digital Detox

The Behavioral Health Services at Bradford Regional Medical Center, a psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania, is set to open the nation’s first in-hospital treatment for people obsessed by the internet. For a mere $14,000, patients get a 10 day program designed by professional head shrinkers with experience treating addictions to drugs and alcohol.
But many professionals are wary of using the term “addiction” (note the quote marks this time) when it comes to people’s inability to resist the lure of cat videos and keeping up on the what their Facebook friends had for dinner. Dr. Allen Frances, the chairman of the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders a.k.a. the encyclopedia of insanity) and professor emeritus at Duke University said the disorder “wasn’t ready for primetime.”
Speaking of “primetime” most readers of this blog (including the authors!) are too young to remember when “TV addiction” was the fear sweeping the nation. Here’s a taste from a 1971 New York Times article entitled “Are You Hooked — By TV?” :
“…some addicts have shrunk into a schizophrenic state, withdrawing totally into the television world.” 
If you want to read more, you’ll have to use the… gasp… internet.
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