Monday, January 23, 2012

A New Seduction of the Innocent Part I—Responding to Fox’s Attack on the DCnU

Last week, while watching the premiere of J.J. Abrams’ latest opus, Alcatraz, a particular commercial aired no fewer than six times that piqued my interest.

Now, anyone who knows me can tell you there are a few things I’m quite passionate about.

Politics and history. Comic books. Natalie Portman. The Yankees. The nightly news.

Natalie Portman.

That wasn’t a typo. She’s there twice for a reason…

So when I saw an advertisement for an upcoming news report on comic books being done by the very same local Fox affiliate that interviewed me after bin Laden’s death last year, I was initially excited.

But it wasn’t long before I realized that, based on the preview, it wasn’t going to be a news report, so much as a modern day revival of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, particularly as it ended by extolling parents to get the scoop on the comics out there now “before they can corrupt your kids.”

Yeah. That was exactly how it was phrased.

Not, “See what’s out there and be a parent and determine if these books are appropriate for the age and reading level of your child,” but, basically, “Your kids are getting mind#^@$ed by DC Comics so here’s why you should be outraged and appalled.”

This is the same network that airs THIS show during “family hour,” mind you…

Still, putting on my Open Mind Thinking Cap, I tuned into the newscast to see it for myself.

The target of the piece was the content of the books in the DCnU that launched in September 2011, particularly the “graphic violence and sex” of its “edgy makeover.”

Underneath an overly dramatic and hyperbolic voiceover that would have made anyone at the WWE envious, reporter Sherri Ly focused on comics not being kid friendly and how modern comics “would make Archie and Veronica blush” due to content that, according to her, did not exist in the comic world until recently, including sexually explicit scenes and bloody battles and gore.

The report is indeed correct in its assessment that comics today have much more graphic imagery as a whole than they did even 20 years ago.

But it focuses on this imagery under the erroneous assumption that today’s books are marketed towards today’s kids, particularly by spotlighting two titles—Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws—that are rated T+ for older teens and adults, though, to be fair, I’d argue the ratings could be a little more prominent on the covers.

I’m not saying DC can’t do a better job of making that clear…
Comics have long held the stigma of being just for kids, but over the past ten to fifteen years, the industry has shifted to a more adult demographic.

DC’s Executive VP of Sales, Marketing, and Business Development John Rood stated that, “To spend our resources in the most efficient way possible, our buying demo was adults 18-34, knowing that we were going to get favorable spillage south of 18 and favorable spillage of viewers and Website visitors, and theatre patrons north of 34 years of age.”

But the report is less focused on why that is than it is with hammering home its indignation at the content.

I won’t argue and say that comics don’t have highly sexualized or violent content much more often nowadays.

I won’t even argue and say that this hasn’t caused some consternation, especially amongst females, within even the target demographic and turned off some readers.

Superboy Prime’s numerous killing sprees didn’t sit well with all readers, for example.

But I will argue against the assumption that this is all new to the industry, or that it is any worse than what today’s youth are exposed to on a regular basis.

Ms. Ly seems much more interested in helping to peddle the old chestnuts of kids reading such comics as being at risk of committing aggressive acts, bolstered by ad hominems from psychologist Neil Bernstein despite his lack of solid scientific evidence, than she is at understanding the rating systems that DC has voluntarily implemented on their titles.

Even after being shown the ratings, and being told that the president of Big Planet Comics points kids away from such books, she does the only logical thing—she brings them to a middle school to show kids outside of the demographic the very books her report is claiming are bad for them.

So, you’re reporting on how these images can hurt children, then you find out the images are not intended FOR children…so you decide to seek out those children and show them the images anyway.

Anyone else know what happened to that train of thought?

THIS. This happened to it.

Seriously, how does Ms. Ly follow that up? Head down to the local high school and slip a few kids some Marlboros and Budweisers to “expose” the dangers of underage smoking and drinking?

In Part II of our discussion of this report, we’ll further weigh the overall merits of Ms. Ly’s arguments and compare the content of the DCnU to other forms of media that are readily consumed by our youth, so tune in tomorrow for a very special Wednesday edition of Theater of the Absurd

“Look, kid, you’re not meant to have this, but do a quick kegstand so I can write about the evils of the alcohol industry!”

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