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Gallup Vault: Blaming Comics for Teen Delinquency
Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: Blaming Comics for Teen Delinquency

Long before social media, the internet or video games entered the scene, Americans viewed comic books -- such as Haunted Horror, Weird Mysteries and Adventures Into Darkness -- as a dangerous, new corrupting influence on U.S. youth. In October 1954, Gallup found 70% of Americans saying the blame for teenage crimes could be placed on the reading of comic books, including 26% who assigned a great deal of blame to comic books.

Comic Books' Responsibility for Teenage Crime
Do you think any of the blame for teenage crime can be placed on the reading of comic books? (If yes) How much -- a great deal, some or only a little?
U.S. adults
A great deal 26
Some 31
Only a little 13
None 24
No opinion 6
Oct. 15-20, 1954

The poll was conducted several months after a U.S. Senate subcommittee held televised hearings on the effect that a wildly popular new genre of comic books containing violent, sexual and generally gruesome themes might be having on young people. At the same time, a psychologist named Fredric Wertham published his highly influential book, Seduction of the Innocent, which drew scary connections between comic books and what he called the "moral disarmament" of young people.

The Gallup poll indicates that most Americans agreed, at least to some extent, with these concerns. The same poll also found 70% of Americans agreeing that mystery and crime programs on television and radio bore the blame for teenage crime, including 24% saying a great deal.

In grappling with the tension between First Amendment rights and the concern of parents and others about children's exposure to violent and morbid content in comic books, the Senate investigative committee wrote these words that it could easily write today:

"The child today in the process of growing up is constantly exposed to sights and sounds of a kind and quality undreamed of in previous generations. As these sights and sounds can be a powerful force for good, so too can they be a powerful counterpoise working evil. Their very quantity makes them a factor to be reckoned with in determining the total climate encountered by today's children during their formative years."

While no laws resulted from the Senate hearings, the comic book industry was compelled to self-censorship and, to the chagrin of comic enthusiasts, many of the comic books went out of business altogether. In recent years, major flaws and even falsifications in Wertham's research have come to light, making him the ultimate villain in the comic book industry.

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

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