The arguments in regards to the effects of media on the psychology of children are endless. In the midst of this the stand of what effect comic books have on child development is questioned. Comic books positively influences a child’s psychological development due to their ability to communicate important social issues, stimulate creativity, and depict a truthful sense of reality.
It has been expressed by many that comic books focus primarily on violence to captivate children. The popularity of comics has been attested as to simply be derived from the aggression that appears to revolve the many titles that exist today. Commenting on the effect of the violence displayed in comic books on children Dr. Frederick Wertham stated: The comic books concentrate on aggressions which are impossible under civilized restraints – with fists, guns, torture, killing, and blood. The internalized censorship of both artists and child makes this attack respectable by directing it against some scapegoat criminal or wild animal, or even against some natural law like gravity, rather than against the parents, teachers, and policemen who are the real sources of the child’s frustration and therefore the real objects of his aggression. At the same level that the child identifies himself with the heroic avenger, he may also identify however has been frustrating him with the corpse.
Dr. Wertham believes that comic books are so saturated with violence that the child then begins substituting persons in his own life with characters featured in the comic books (4). It could then be rationalized that the child’s level of aggression is increased as he replaces “parents, teachers, and policemen” with the villains that the “heroic avenger” is violently punishing for their crimes, all making it seem that the child himself is experiencing these fantastical displays of violence in his own mind. Yet, rather than simply glorify and focus on the element of aggression, comic books deliver present-day social issues to children who would otherwise not be interested nor aware of what was happening around them.
Many times, the storylines in comic books mirror the occurrences of everyday life, emphasizing them through spectacular events. In a 2002 issue of Uncanny X-Men, a character with an outstanding physical mutation dealt with extreme low self-esteem and even began contemplating suicide, due to the ill treatment he was receiving from schoolmates. The boy, though, was soon convinced by the series’ superheroes that though his outward appearance was very different from other people he was no less of a human being. It was also brought to his attention that he did not have to feel alienated or completely alone because of his feelings. There was help. Surely, this was a powerful message brought across through the medium of comic art.
If children are as impressionable as Dr. Wertham believes and place themselves into the storylines, a child or even an adolescent with similar problems could be helped if experiencing similar circumstances. Dr. Wertham further insists that the majority of comic books today glorify crime. Then again, can this truly be said of the most popular and more widely circulated titles? Following the September 11 attacks, the company of Marvel Comics responded to the tragedies by means of their characters. Popular titles such as Amazing Spider-man and X-Men were portrayed to experience the attacks and subsequent events.
In light of the attacks Marvel presented their characters as completely powerless in the midst of the chaos. Undoubtedly, this brought to the reader the realization that even super-heroes can fail to be “super.” Hence, this allows the child to understand not only the severity and heinousness of terrorism, but it also quells the thought that they are all-powerful or possessing of a god-complex, which would instill within them the notion that they are exempt from punishment. Though the circumstances involved were indeed violent, the focus was not on the aggression (the characters were shown experiencing the aftermath of the attacks) but on the suffering many were experiencing because of violence. This association of real life to comic book universe impacts upon the child the reasoning that just as comic book characters are portrayed to undergo vulnerabilities and pain while dealing with such a real life event, people in the real world do also.
In continuing to research media influence, comic books have also been deemed as eliciting violent reactions from their readers. During the 1950s, concern that violent comic books might increase aggression in children led to the development of a comics code authority, which enforced the censorship of comic book content. It is then argued that exposure to comic book violence is especially detrimental. In his study Violent Comic Books and Perceptions Steven J.
Kirsh surmises: Comic books, unlike television and video games, do not provide a continuous story in which all of the action relevant to the story line is displayed. In comic books the story is told mainly in frames. Thus, continuity must be inferred by the reader … disconnected presentation of information forces the readers to engage their imagination … when reading violent comic books individuals are not simply witnessing depictions of aggressive behavior, they are in fact becoming active participants in the creation of the aggression-laden storyline.
(16) However, Kirsh continues by saying that, to date, there are very few studies that have assessed either the benefits or the drawbacks of comic books (16). Thus, the possibility or theory that the format of comic books attributing to the increasing aggression in children could ultimately be seen as inconclusive. Nevertheless, it can be concluded that comic books may indeed engage the imaginations of children. Speaking from personal experience, I attribute my desire to become an artist because of reading comic books.
As Kirsh stated, the fragmented storyline comic books present allow for countless possibilities in which the mind may wander. Yet, my aspirations were drawn rather from the imagination contained in the storylines themselves. Violence is an element that is seemingly inescapable in society, and no less can be said for comic books. Still, recognizing this as a child I sought to involve my imagination in those many possibilities in the universe of comic books. In the Marvel universe, where super-powered beings abound, humans with certain genetic traits evolve from ordinary Homo sapiens into “Homo superior” – mutants. This gives way to a slew of super heroes and villains, each with an uncanny and unique talent that surpasses all human ability.
Seeing them learning and coming to terms with their newfound talents drove me to create. Since then, I have been cultivating my own talent in order to create whatever my imagination can conceive. As researches continually concern themselves with the origins from which violence stems, case studies are conducted to procure answers. In studying the “psychological dimensions” in young children Sandra Graham notes, “Behaviors like aggression are social stigmas-that is, deviations from normatively acceptable ways of behaving” (1143). This no doubt reinforces Arnold M. Ludwig’s comments in Comments on Frederick Wertham…
when he assesses that rejection of this socially dependent normalcy in comic books leads to a distorted sense of reality (16). Ludwig further asserts this due to the persistence and the mass appeal of comic books within media of live expression. This compounds when violence is added, and hence, produces an acceptance of real-life aggressive behaviors (Hirsch 17). However, do comic books present a distorted sense of reality? True scenarios established in the world of comic characters are obviously do not exist in our present world. There is no such city as Metropolis where caped super-powered aliens fly faster than speeding bullets. Still, as fantastical as comic book storylines may be, there is an abounding sense of truth in their most notable ones.
During the revolutionary period of the 1960s in the United States, Stan Lee’s X-Men dawned a new age for comic book history. The series closely mirrored the turbulence of the American culture. In particular, the X-Men are allegorical embodiments of the attitudes exuded from mainly the civil rights movement and the youth movement. In their quest to unite Homo sapiens and Homo superior the group (mostly comprised of adolescents) rebelled against the segregation and oppression that was pushed to such extremes that it resembled- and did indeed constitute as Nazism. The X-Men continue to do so today, fighting the current enemy of terrorism. Yet, will the child be able to differentiate the fictional from the factual? Recognizing the influence that media holds over children (television in particular) John C.
Wright derived one hypothesis contrasting how a child judges reality in two principal concepts: (1) factuality- where the content represents events in the world, or is it fictional, make-believe? (2) social realism- is the content realistic or useful as a guide to the real world? (1707) He then surmised the ability of children to correlate factuality and with what they viewed. … a child watching a cartoon or a situation comedy would form reasoning that are specific to the class, “fictional television” and would, therefore, have different representations and expectations for television than for real life. (1707) Since comic books constitute a form of media, the association between television and comic book-verse is closely related. So surely, seeing that a child does have the developed ability to distinguish the reality presented in television, or comic books, to the reality they live in attests to the plausibility that they are cognizant of the factual or fairy- tale aspects of comic books.
Amidst the saturation of violence, encouraging of aggressive behavior, and skewed view of reality the true themes of comic book thrive. Ever changing social issues, engaging creative stimuli, and symbolic, yet truthful reality exists within comic book storylines. All these factors -embellished and sometimes simplified in hero vs. villain battles- relay to the child the perseverance of human spirit.