Comic Books Positively Influence Psychological Dev

elopment in ChildrenThe 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. (4)
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.

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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.



Comic Books Positively Influence Psychological Development in Children
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