Monday, March 12, 2007
News of Yore: Blondie, Donald Duck, Others Found Objectionable
Comics Ratings Bring Comment About Taboos
By Jane McMaster (2/11/50)
"Cagney can push a grapefruit in a woman's face in the movies, but it couldn't happen in the comics," says Ward Greene, editor and general manager of King Features Syndicate. "Though Maggie has landed a lot of crockery on Jiggs' head, he has not struck her once."
Mr. Greene was talking about the unwritten code of the comics, the taboos. He claims the modern comic strip business has done an excellent job, tastewise. The reason for it, he says, is a sort of reverse pyramid of authority: the artist, respectable and frequently married, draws a strip; above him are the syndicate editors, who look for and delete boners and errors in taste; and above them are 1,800 newspaper editors, whose children read the comics too. And there are the readers who tell the editors who tell the syndicate when their sensibilities are offended.
All Prompted by Survey
What brought up the whole subject was the publication in the February Parents' magazine of the survey findings of a Cincinnati committee, which evaluated 555 comic books. The committee found 165 without objection (A); 154 with some objection (B); 167 objectionable (C); and 69 very objectionable (D).
"Blondie," a home comic, got a "B" rating, meaning some objection. So did "Mickey Mouse" and "Donald Duck." The "objectionable" or C list included books featuring such popular newspaper strip characters as Dick Tracy, Li'l Abner, Hopalong Cassidy, Steve Canyon, Terry and Bugs Bunny.
About 97 of the comic magazines featured newspaper comic characters, the majority of these consisting of reprints of newspaper strips. A breakdown of the 97 is: 34 without objection; 31 with some objection; 26 objectionable and six very objectionable. This gave a total of 67% of comic books featuring newspaper characters deemed suitable for children—or about 10% cleaner than the average run of comic books surveyed.
The Cincinnati group had "some objection" to comics having: poor art work, printing and color arrangement; poor grammar, underworld slang; undermining in any way the traditional American folkways; the presence of criminals even if they are not shown as enjoying their crimes; grotesque, fantastic creatures; the over-realistic portrayal of death.
The group classified as "objectionable": criminals and criminal acts made attractive; women as gun-molls, criminals and the wielders of weapons; any situation having a sexy implication; persons dressed indecently; crime stories even if they purport to show that crime does not pay; characters shown bleeding, dead or attacked by animals; anything with sadistic implication.
An exaggerated degree of things objected to rated a "D" or "Very objectionable" score.
Advertising Director Peter E. Fitzsimmons of the United Feature Comic Group (United Feature Syndicate), wrote to the Rev. Jesse L. Murrell, survey committee head, for details of the ratings. The inquiry resulted in winning an "A" for Fritzi Ritz Comics. One reviewer thought the art work was in bad taste, but Mr. Murrell said: "I do not feel that this is true and I believe it is in the spirit of our committee to change this evaluation to 'no objection.'"
Mr. Murrell's letter continued: "In the case of Sparkler Comics, Tarzan gets a low rating because of the fact that animals are after him and attacking him. There's a frightening experience which the child goes through which may crop out in his dreams or in later life. Concerning the Captain and Kids, our reviewers thought the dialect in this story rated 'some objection.'"
UFS officials remind that Tarzan has always been chased by animals and "the Kids" have been talking in dialect for many years.
'B' For 'Blondie'
Mr. Greene, who is still wondering about "Blondie's" B, charges that the findings "reflect an undiscriminating, unintelligent and fanatically biased survey of comics."
Comics Editor Harold Straubing of the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate says "It's a terrible thing if pressure groups out of ignorance push comic books back even as much as 10 years because they are so valuable as a means of communication and learning." He added that "nobody bothers to investigate the person who is criticizing; when it comes to the comics, every Carrie Nation who waves a hatchet makes everybody tremble."
Mr. Straubing points out the taboos are making inroads on the freedom of both artist and syndicate editor. "Our villains must be American villains to avoid charges of discrimination," he cites as one taboo. A mythical kingdom had to be "made up" for the background of some villains in "The Saint."
While syndicates are responsive to legitimate criticism, they say they frequently receive far-fetched complaints. Sometime, they even act on these. A pig named "Luther" in a King strip was displeasing to a lot of Lutherans. The name was changed. When a scientist in "Little Annie Rooney" advocated a knowledge of the stars and nature, complaints came in saying that praising science was praising Communism. A rejuvenation machine in one strip brought in a reader reprimand that the only place where one can be rejuvenated is in Heaven. A garden of plenty in "Uncle Remus" seemed somehow, to some readers, communistic. King got a complaint when "Skippy" prayed once, but Ward Greene thinks a prayer is a good thing now and then. One is scheduled by another King character shortly.
[And if this 1950 article isn't chilling enough -- "praising science is praising Communism"!? -- wait until tomorrow, when I'll present a bigger and scarier dose of 1950s witch-hunting. And keep in mind that what might seem quaint or even Luddite in these 1950 articles hasn't really gone away. Just replace the 1950s bugaboos of juvenile delinquency and Communism with today's terrorism and religious fundamentalism, and you wonder if we've really made any progress.]
Labels: News of Yore