Whatever Happened to Big Brother? (or, Tactless V. America pt. 1)

Welcome, one and all! It’s time to once again indulge in the great wonders of Tact is for the Weak, the article that won’t take no shit from nobody!

There comes a time in a man’s life (not women, though; they have different crap to worry about) when, in the course of navigating the rough waters of mortal existence, his shoddy homemade raft comes to a scraping halt atop an unseen, unwelcome coral reef of trouble and tribulation. He must fight with all his heart to break free of the reef’s grip, or all is lost and the circling shark of despair will come and devour the hapless seaman (heheheh…). This article, my children, marks the beginning of my personal quest to free the comic book industry’s raft from the largest, most daunting coral reef of the them all (I think I’ve driven this metaphor into the ground by now): governmental mistreatment.

The federal government has a long, spotty relationship with the comics industry, fraught with lawsuits, tears, and broken condoms. Our boys on the hill have historically oscillated from being too involved in the management of the comics industry (including blatant censorship) and not being involved enough. In order to combat both problems and raise awareness (so as to effect a solution), I have been forced to do the unthinkable: spread a topic over multiple articles. For those of you that require immediate closure…suck it.

So, without further delay, I present to you my little war’s first installment, which will bring to light the government’s illustrious history of censorship. For more related information, visit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s website at www.cbldf.org.

Dateline: mid-1900s. As if Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC Project weren’t ruining enough innocent lives, a man by the name of Dr. Fredric Wertham published a book called “Seduction of the Innocent.” In it, Dr. Wertham lambastes the comic industry, claiming that reading comic books causes juvenile delinquency. In response to these “findings,” our government began holding hearings to investigate this cultural cancer. As a direct result from this over-inflated simpleton’s research project, the government ended up banning now-classic books such as Tales from the Crypt, along with most of the titles in EC Comics, later known to an unsuspecting world as MAD Magazine. In order to protect our innocent youth (you know, the ones that ended up as draft-dodging, pot-smoking hippies), the Comics Code Authority was formed, setting forth a strict set of guidelines that all comics had to adhere to.

The problem? Well, to say these initial rules were strict would be like saying Jabba the Hutt is just a little chunky ’round the middle. I mean, these rules were so sadistic, I was surprised they didn’t include a safeword in the bylaws! But wait; I can hear you now, dear readers: “Well, how strict were they? Was it that bad?” Here’s a few of the more entertaining rules (and keep in mind that these are all direct quotes. I’m not making these up!). Also, I have provided for your reference a recent comic book that you should compare to these morally upstanding rules of yesteryear:

“Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.” see: Villains United (DC)

“Policemen…shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.” see: Gotham Central (DC)

“All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.” see: any Wolverine book ever (Marvel)

“Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with, the walking dead, torture vamires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.” see: Marvel Zombies (Marvel) and Spawn (Dark Horse)

“Special precautions to avoid reference to physical afflictions or deformities shall be taken.” see: Professor X of X-Men (Marvel).

“Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.” see: any drawing of Power Girl ever (DC).

“Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.” see: Identity Crisis (DC)

“Advertisement of medical, health, or toiletry products of questionable nature are to be rejected.” Umm, do zit cream ads count?

“No unique or unusual methods of concealing weapons shall be shown.” Wow. Just…wow. Because, y’know, these dastardly comic writers can think up ways to hide weapons that can fool army-trained government officials…

And finally, my personal favorite (again, this is a direct quote!): “In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.” Whoo, boy… I’m surprised the government didn’t go ahead and throw in selective service registration cards on the inside covers while they were at it!

Well, I certainly feel like washing my mouth out with soap now! Granted, this code has been revised more than once since the 50s, but the fact remains that when the government is helmed by enough moralist radicals (of either side), it has shown a tendency to severely overstep its bounds. America has long held that the right to free expression and publication is one of the most necessary freedoms to support democracy. If you ask any average American on the street which is the most important Constitutional Ammendment, most will say the First. However, as evidenced by current pieces of political brilliance such as the Patriot Act, when our government feels justified, one of the first things to go is that most precious of rights. Dating back to the time of the Salem Witch Trials, on through the Red Scare, and up until this very day, the freedom of expression has been challenged again and again by the government in the name of public good.

The question is, why has the government’s “public good” historically proven to be over the top and excessivley stringent in the eyes of the general public, when it’s the general public that puts these lawmakers in office? Just how in tune is the government with its constituency when their own views on morality differ from the views of the nation? If the government is that out of tune with the will of the general public, how can it possibly feel justified in making ethics laws pertaining to such specific, independent media as comic books? It’s simply amazing that this kind of detachment has happened over and over again, and it’s mighty convenient that the government can call an industry too small to worry about a distribution monopoly one day, only to raise hell and claim that the same “insignificant” industry is ruining an entire generation of Americans the next.

But that, my friends, is a topic for another day. For now, it’s time to close out with the latest winner of the Tactless Book of the Week Award!

This week, the award goes to… DC Comics’s Infinite Crsis #5. Normally, I would complain that DC is unfairly sweeping the market with tactless books, but let’s face it: with only two more issues after this, something from the universe-spanning Crisis had to make it to the Tactless Wall of Shame! The book receives this award due to, for lack of a better term, not delivering the goods. Now, it was a great story, including some very touching scenes towards the beginning, the first look at the new Blue Beetle, and the emotional discovery of the Earth-2 Superman that is probably the turning point of the series. However, the book still didn’t fulfill all of its promises. The next-issue blurb from IC #4 stated: “The stakes get higher in the year’s most talked-about mini! Batman, Booster Gold and Hal Jordan lead a team of heroes against Brother Eye, to take it down once and for all. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Society launches its most massive attack yet!” Unfortunately, none of this is true. At the end of the book, Batman’s heroes are just now showing up at the Batcave to plan their attack, and the Society isn’t even in the book at all! Now, I’m an admitted Green Lantern fan, and I’ve been waiting for Geoff Johns to put Hal in with the first string, but there were a total of three panels with him in them, none of which had any dialogue or real action! Blue balls, Mr. Johns…

Well, that concludes this week’s episode of unrestricted rage. Be ABSOLUTELY SURE to come back next week as my epic war on the government continues! Oh, and fer Chris’ sake; tell a friend about this article! The more people we have with us, the louder our voices will be heard! Vive la resistance!

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