Diagram for Delinquents Update #27:

I’m Interested in Some Comics

I apologize that I didn’t make the Sunday update. I was away at a conference in Boston and didn’t arrive home until about 6PM on Sunday and just couldn’t bring it all together in time. Also, Ken Burns’ new documentary The Dust Bowl premiered this Sunday and I figured everyone would be spending their requisite documentary viewing hours with the maestro of American historical documentaries. I know I was. [Until I fell asleep from pure exhaustion. I'll finish it though!]

Let us now return to Diagram for Delinquents. Once again, I am focusing on the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. This time we turn our attention to the testimony of lawyer and comic book publisher William K. Friedman of New York City.

Mr. Friedman had the fortune of hearing earlier testimony. He heard the position of the Senators, the grilling of Mr. Dybwad, the stumbling of Mr. Gaines, and the passion and fury of Dr. Wertham. He wasn’t going to use his time catching up to questions by the Senators. He was going to get out in front early. He was a sharp attorney and astute businessman. He jumped into his testimony on agenda and wasn’t intimated by any line of questioning.

Mr. Friedman is only mentioned twice briefly in Amy Kiste Nyberg’s expertly crafted history: Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code. But her second mention of Friedman is right on with the one of the main arguments of his testimony. She writes:

“Fear about media effects, however, had long centered on the vulnerability of the young audience, and Gaines’ argument failed to persuade the committee. Gaines also argued that violence in comic books was no different from the violence described in newspapers, which also were available to children, and he pointed out, ‘Once you start to censor, you must censor everything.’ Publisher William Friedman followed up Gaines’ argument, suggesting that by targeting comic books, the senators seemed to be making ‘a whipping boy’ out of comics and ignoring other forms of media violence.”

Friedman was wily and as he dodged he also threw punches. A close reading of his testimony reveals him to be slippery, keen, and a man out to protect himself and what we can only assume is a decent profit earning gig: comics! One of my favorite elements of his testimony is how he describes his relationship to comics. He is a publisher and editor on various comics, but he describes himself as “interested in some comic magazines.” The use of the word is intriguing as it implies both interest in the recreational sense as well as financial.

Let’s take a look at some of his testimony:

“Mr. BEASER. Mr. Friedman, will you state for the record your full name, address, and your profession?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. My name is William Friedman. I reside at 250 East 90th Street, in New York City. I am a lawyer by profession and, incidentally, interested in some comic magazines.

Mr. BEASER. Which comic magazines are you interested in? Are those the three, or do you publish others?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. Referring to the magazines which are on the board, I am interested in the company which controls Mysterious Adventures and Fight Against Crime.

Mr. BEASER. Have you anything to do with Beware?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. No, I have nothing to do with the magazine Beware.

Mr. BEASER. Have you anything to do with the magazine Dark Mysteries?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. Yes, but the magazine Dark Mysteries, I assist in the editing of the magazine.

Mr. BEASER. That is put out by?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. It is put out by a corporation known as Master Comics ? that particular magazine is issued by a company known as Master Comics. I don’t remember if I ever had any interest in Master Comics. At least I have no interest now.

Mr. BEASER. You have no interest now?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. That is right, sir, except as assisting in the editing of that magazine.

Mr. BEASER. That is right.

Mr. FRIEDMAN. I am not the editor of this magazine. It is edited by people which we retain, but that is not the important point.

Mr. BEASER. You are the publisher of this magazine?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. I am associated with the publisher and one of the people interested in the company as an officer of the company.

Mr. BEASER. Are you responsible for getting the magazine out?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. I accept responsibility in the sense that our corporation owns that. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with the type of material which is presented on this board. Now, this material is undoubtedly taken from a story with which at this moment I am not familiar. It is undoubtedly taken out of context in the story.

Mr. BEASER. This is the one, Mr. Friedman ?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. May I finish?

Mr. BEASER. Go ahead.

Mr. FRIEDMAN. This magazine is a magazine devoted to detective stories, crime stories, and as such these pictures and the pictures in those hooks show stories of crime and of detection. Crime itself is not pretty. Detective work, police work, of itself is not delicate. I heard testimony here yesterday concerning the fact that crime should not be shown in a revolting manner. Well, I disagree with that answer because I believe the more undesirable crime is shown, the more ugly crime is shown, the less attractive it is. You can’t show stories of detective work, you can’t show stories of crime in a pretty state, or in a delicate state, because then I believe that it would be attractive. It would perhaps invite a susceptible mind.”

“May I finish”?!?!?! Oh! The stones on this guy. Mr. Friedman will not be interrupted. And even more he cannot comment on a story that is taken out of context.

Later, Friedman tries to get to the heart of the purpose of the hearings:

“Mr. FRIEDMAN. Counselor, I think you will agree with me that every conceivable action taken ? the time of day, the weather ? has some sort of reaction, some sort of an impression on an emotionally disturbed child, and also on a normal child. I also read the testimony, I believe, of your Mr. Clendenen. I am sorry I was not here to hear his testimony. He also asserted he could not find any particular juvenile that was led to delinquency by the comic books that he came in contact with. I also heard the testimony, if I may, of the gentleman who was here this morning, and that gentleman in a period of his associations, years in contact with the comic books, and his study of thousands and thousands of children, in his association with Warwick, has never come in contact with one individual ?

Mr. BEASER. Are you not engaging in semantics, Mr. Friedman?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. I am not. I am trying to be honest in your answers.

Mr. BEASER. Are you not trying to say you can’t point to a comic book which is a direct cause of a crime rather than talking about whether crime and horror comic books may be a contributing factor in the total scene, in the total action of a child?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. I did try to say before, and I am not a psychiatrist, that from what I have heard it appears to me that everything is a contributing factor to a child who is a delinquent, whether it is a rainy day, whether he has 5 cents in his pocket, or has not got 5 cents in his pocket, but I would like to come back to what I was mentioning before ? this other witness who was here this morning also indicated there was no single incident. Now, it seems to me, gentlemen, and I am honestly trying to find a conclusion, if these comics are, as a matter of fact, harming, if they cause delinquency, I would be the first one to discontinue them. What are the facts that have been portrayed before me and before this committee that I can put my finger on to say that they do cause juvenile delinquency?”

Friedman’s final statement in that volley demonstrates his deftness at arguing as he remains poised and ready for the next exchange.

A few minutes later he returns with his “whipping boy” argument:

“Mr. FRIEDMAN. The point I am making is that we attempt to make perhaps, rightfully or wrongfully, I don’t know, but attempting to make a whipping boy out of one particular field of mass ? not the Senators here, because they have asserted they were trying to find what the honest fact is ?

Mr. BEASER. Let me ask you a question ?

Mr. FRIEDMAN. Let me finish, counselor. That a whipping boy is being made out of one particular facet of the means of information devoted to crime and horror and detection work as such. But there are perhaps as many titles of so-called crime pulp magazines, as many titles also as so-called true crime detective magazines and they have been in existence for more than I can remember, for longer than I can remember. There are the movie depictions, there are the television depictions, and to make a particular whipping boy out of one facet of it and say that if these were removed from sight the others would have no impact or would not have the same impact, I am not honestly prepared to state, but I don’t believe that we can make such a distinction.”

And finally, Friedman closes with his opinion on this whole “hearings” business:

“Mr. FRIEDMAN. As a good lawyer you would have to come to the conclusion that you have no facts before you upon which you can make a reaction or a conclusion that the cause or the assisting cause to juvenile delinquency is the medium you might be attacking at the moment. Your very witnesses before you all came to the conclusion that came to me. First, that there was no appreciable reaction on juvenile delinquency as far as they knew, including the author. They came to the second conclusion that there be some reaction, there might be some impact, but they didn’t know.”

And with that Mr. Friedman extends his arm parallel to the floor, opens his hand, and lets the microphone drop to the floor, filling the room with the reverberating echo of phooom!

[That last part of made up for dramatic effect.]

So this leads me to the video below. It features the Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Charles Brownstein. Charles discusses the continued concept of the moral panic over media violence and its impact on children. He emphasizes how the medium has changed, but the arguments seem to remain the same. From comic books to video games the questions still are: What is the impact? & Who is responsible?

A final note: Charles mentions the term “Amicus Brief” in his interview. The full Latin term is amicus curiae and translates as “friend of the court”. Applied, it translates as a written brief given to the court by a third party with a strong stake or interest in a particular case, but who are not a party to the action. If the court grants permission for the brief to be filed the document typically shares a viewpoint with the party filing the brief and one of the acting parties in the case. Consider it a helping hand from an party with similar goals or beliefs. Amicus briefs are often submitted in civil rights cases.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert A. Emmons Jr. is a documentary filmmaker focusing on American popular culture and history. His films include Enthusiast: The 9th Art, Wolf at the Door, Yardsale!, Goodwill: The Flight of Emilio Carranza, and De Luxe: The Tale of Blue Comet. His Goodwill was screened as part of the Smithsonian exhibition "Our Journeys / Our Stories: Portraits of Latino Achievement," won Best Homegrown Documentary Feature at the 2008 Garden State Film Festival, and led to him receiving Mexico's Lindbergh-Carranza International Goodwill Award as a "Messenger of Peace." From February to August 2010, Emmons created two short documentaries a week; the 52 short documentaries formed the weekly internet series MINICONCEPTDOCS. His print work focusing on electronic media, documentary film, and comic books include Who's Responsible Here? Media, Audience, and Ethics (Cognella, 2009), The Encyclopedia of Documentary Film (Routletdge, 2005), Small Tech: The Culture of Digital Tools (University of Minnesota 2007), and The Encyclopedia of Latino and Latina History (Facts on File, 2010). He teaches film, new media, and comics history at Rutgers University-Camden, where he is also the Associate Director of the Honors College. For more information, visit robertemmons.com.

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