TESTIMONY OF DR. LAURETTA BENDER, SENIOR PSYCHIATRIST, BELLEVUE
HOSPITAL, NEW YORK, N. Y.
The CHAIRMAN. Doctor, will you state your full name, address, and association, for the record, please?
Dr. BENDER. My full name is Dr. Lauretta Bender. I am an M. D. My New York City residential address is 140 West 16th Street. I have quite a number of associations.
The major ones are that I am a senior psychiatrist on the psychiatric division of Bellevue Hospital, a civil-service position in New York City, a position I have had since 1930, and since 1934 I have been in charge of the children's ward.
I am also a professor of clinical psychiatry in New York University Medical School. I am also on the training program of the Veterans Administration, which is associated with the New York University Medical School.
I am on the editorial board of the National Comic Companies as an adviser, on the advisory editorial board.
This spring I accepted an appointment as consultant in child psychiatry in the New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute. I think that covers the major ones.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
Counsel, you may proceed to examine the doctor.
Mr. BEASER. Doctor, we are inquiring here into the possible effects of crime and horror comics on children, both normal and some who are emotionally disturbed.
Could you give us your opinion of the possible effects of this kind of reading material, crime and horror comics books, on say, the emotionally disturbed children, or normal child?
Dr. BENDER. In the field of the emotionally disturbed child, I have long been considered a professional expert. I consider myself such. My experience you have to realize is with children under the age of 12.
However, it is true that I have been working 20 years with these children. Many of them have now reached adolescence and adulthood.
In my early years in working at Bellevue Hospital when we were hard put to find techniques for exploring the child's emotional life, his mind, his ways of reacting, when the child was separated from the home and brought to us in the wards at Bellevue, I found the comics early one of the most valuable means of carrying on such examinations, and that was the beginning of my interest in the comic books.
So that my first scientific paper on the comics appeared I believe I gave it in 1940 before the National American Neuropsychiatric Association and it was published in 1941, before I had any connection whatever with the comic people.
Now, when you ask me as broad a question as to what is the possible effect of such horror comic books ─ and the gesture makes it also broader ─ upon the emotionally disturbed and the normal child, it is almost overwhelmingly a broad statement.
However, I have spent a great deal of time; I have written many articles. I too, have a book in press which has at least a chapter on this subject, otherwise deals with it, and in general it is my opinion that the comics, as I have known them and worked with them through these years and the kind of emotionally disturbed children that I have known and worked with, and my own three normal children show a remarkable capacity to select from the comics material they need and can use, a capacity which should not be underrated and it is one of the specific characteristics of the comics that this kind of a selection can be used on the comics where it cannot be used, for example, in a movie. It can be used in television and it can be used in radio, by the television so they can turn it off.
Mr. BEASER. What do you mean by selection. Selections of comics themselves, or selections out of the comics?
Dr. BENDER. Both. Children love to collect comics. I will also say that the less intelligent children and those who have the less reading capacity collect the most comics. It is the story that we used to tell in school that if we could sleep on that enormous tome conceivably we could get something out of it and pass our exams the next day.
In fact, I have frequently said I can make a diagnosis on a non reading child who is brought into my presence for the first time with comic books stored away in his blouse ─ boys don't like the word "blouse," excuse me, shirt ─ like the squirrel has nuts stored away in their cheeks ─ now, as to these, Mr. Clendenen brought them in to me the other day. I told him I hadn't seen any of these.
The children don't bring them on the ward at Bellevue. My children don't bring them at home.
And when I tried to look through some of them I thought they were unspeakably silly. The more an artist tries to show horror and the more details he puts into the picture, which most poor artists do, the sillier the thing becomes, and the children laugh at it.
The children also will frequently tell me ─ for instance, on television, I have to listen to it with my own children occasionally and I am aghast, "My God, how can you stand such things, children?"
They say, "Mom, don't you know it is only television, it is not real."
In my opinion it is the same thing about these comics.
Mr. BEASER. A child would not identify himself or herself with any one of the figures in there? For example, we had a picture yesterday and a story about a child who murdered her foster mother.
Dr. BENDER. Mr. Clendenen told me that story.
Mr. BEASER. In the final shot they showed the child getting away with the three murders. Do you think that a child would identify himself or herself with the little girl?
Dr. BENDER. No.
Mr. BEASER. Would the child identify..
Dr. BENDER. The child would only identify itself with such a child who had committed these 3 murders if there had been 3 murders in the child's family, for which people were looking suspiciously at this child.
In that case the child with horror would throw the comics out of the window.
Mr. BEASER. Would the child identify its mother ─ or its father, with the mother and father in the story comic?
Dr. BENDER. Not unless their mother and father were like that mother and father.
Mr. BEASER. Since delinquency does appear in broken homes as well as others, assuming this is a broken home and they depicted a broken home, would the child identify his own mother and father with the pictures in the comic book?
Dr. BENDER. If he would so identify himself, then it would be his tendency again to discard the comic book or go into a panic. I have seen children in panics, as I say, not over comics usually because they are easily rejected, but over movies. I have seen children brought to me in terrible panics, and interestingly enough most often the Walt Disney movies which do depict very disturbing mother figures.
The mothers are always killed or sent to the insane asylums in Walt Disney movies. They are among my experience for Frankenstein, the worst movies in the world for children who have had a problems of the loss of a parent.
I can speak of that within feeling because I have 3 children who lost their father when they when babies and I know the problem of exposing children to such problems as this.
It can throw them into the kind of anxiety which is distressing, but the children will leave if they can or they will not read the comics, they will reject it.
Mr. BEASER. We had another one of a child in a foster home whose foster parents turned out to be werewolves and he turned out to he a werewolf. What effect would that have on a child who is awaiting foster placement, or who has been in foster placement?
Dr. BENDER. Mr. Clendenen has told me about that, too, and, after all, he is a social worker who has dealt with the placement of foster children. I wondered, after all, at the kind of imagination, if I can apologize in advance, that would conceive of anyone giving such a comic to a such a child under such circumstances.
The chance of its happening, or course in infinitesimally small, and I think the child would only read it provided it was held down and the thing was read to it forcibly.
Even then, I think if he was a where near a wholesome child would laugh at the situation and probably after looking at the foster mother when he got in the place and finding she did not look like a werewolf, be might say, "Well, you are not even a werewolf after all," or something like that.
Mr. BEASER. But the child awaiting foster placement has a number of normal fears?
Dr. BENDER. Certainly.
Mr. BEASER. So that is fair game, practically, for such a child?
Dr. BENDER. That is true.
Mr. BEASER. Now, what about the effects of the crime and horror comics on a hostile child. Could he possibly find suggestions and also support for doing some of these things?
In other words, he sees it there and he is going to do it.
The CHAIRMAN. Did counsel use the word "hostile"?
Mr. BEASER. Hostile.
Dr. BENDER. You asked me could he?
Of course, he could, but I do not know of a single instance in which it has occurred. I would also say this, that a hostile child who is committing such crimes, even if he was one of those collecting crime books, collecting comic books of all types and carrying them around with him, does not usually take time out to go into, the library or to find a reading place to sit down and study these books.
It is conceivable, and I am sure of enough research work is done, sooner or later someone or other can find an incident in which a child can be got to say that he got the idea from such and such a comic book.
I would not doubt but that maybe 10 cases could be found in the United States.
But if you then said to the child, "Did you ever see such a thing on television or movies" or "Did you ever hear about it anywhere else, too?" ─ well, the situation obviously becomes less specific.
Mr. BEASER. We have heard this, and I do not know, at this point from what source: Would, you consider that excessive reading of crime and horror comics is symptomatic of emotional maladjustment? Does that indicate something might be wrong?
Dr. BENDER. Yes; I would say that.
Mr. BEASER. If you came on a child who is devouring this stuff day and night?
Dr. BENDER. Well, let me be even a bit ─ maybe I should not be as personal as this. As I saw, I had 3 children whose father was violently killed when the youngest one was a week old, in an automobile accident, not a gang war, and those 3 children have that problem. How can such things happen?
Most children don't have such problems. Mothers can, do the best they can to reassure such children.
The oldest boy cannot tolerate anything in the way of a story, even Peter Rabbit who, if you recall your Peter Rabbit, went into a garden where his father got into an accident at the hands of hoe of a farmer and had been put in a rabbit pie.
I had to take him screaming out of the puppet show on that picture.
He would leave the room if Jack and the Beanstalk was being read to other children. He would turn off the radio and he would reject any book or any comic that had any of these problems.
My second son, who was a little older and a different type of child, instead of rejecting it has tried to solve the problem, and he is not so much addicted to crime comics, he is not addicted to crime comics at all, as far as that is concerned, but he loves to watch for hours on end television radio, and movies which deal with these subjects.
I think for him it is an effort to find a solution of the mystery of life and death and how it can happen that a child's father can leave him even before the child knows the father.
For my daughter, who was a baby, just last year in school she spent the time writing for her teacher crime stories, murder stories, in which the bloody head of the person who had been attacked would lie on the lap of the beloved person, whoever it was, and an effort would be made to soothe it.
This worried her teacher very much and she came to me with this problem she said, "Is she reading too many crime comics?" I said; “As far as I know she doesn’t read them at all.” Not that I refuse them to her. She doesn't listen to television the second child does, and she doesn't go to the movies very often.
But I said, “It is her way of solving her problem.”
Now she has gotten that problem solved apparently. She has gone through this, and for her it is her solution.
Now, I can well imagine children, and I know plenty of disturbed children from homes where they have less support than my children do, because, after all, my children have not only had the support of myself, but of our very many friends, who on occasions of these various things and, after all, there are lots of children in the world whose fathers have been killed by gangsters or who don't know who their fathers are, and who live in a gangster's world and whose fathers are gangsters killing other people ─ I don't know that crime is quite as bad in the world as we try to make it out to be, and these children I am sure will be disturbed by such things.
If they have to be exposed to them, or are exposed to them, they should have a wise adult who can discuss the matters with them and talk it over with them.
Mr. BEASER. Many of them do not.
Dr. BENDER. Many of them do not.
Mr. BEASER. You are on the editorial advisory board of the Superman Comics?
Dr. BENDER. That is right.
Mr. BEASER. I gather you were in the courtroom today and heard discussion?
Dr. BENDER. I was.
By the way I am not in any way connected with the Child Study Association. That was implied and it was a mistake. It is merely that Josette Frank interviewed me for one of her articles.
Mr. BEASER. You were one of the resource persons?
Dr. BENDER. I was one of the resource persons from which she got expert testimony, let us say, and wrote the article.
It is true now, I am an editorial adviser of the Child Study Association. That is another one of my jobs that I do not even get a dollar a year for.
Mr. BEASER. What I cannot understand is that with all the listings of the associations you belong to must be pretty busy. How do you get time to read the comic books of the National Superman?
Dr. BENDER. I read the ones which look to me to be of some interest. I give the rest to the children at Bellevue and let them read them and tell me what they think about them. I give them to teachers, psychiatrists. I take them home to my children.
And if there is any question about one, and frequently there is for instance, about 2 years ago one of the psychiatrists wrote me in dismay saying that be, had picked up a comic his daughter brought him which a psychiatrist had been abused in his opinion and found my name on the advisory board and wondered how I could justify such a thing.
In this particular comic the storywriter had thought up a new form of what might be called shock treatment, in which a wife, who was jealous of her husband, had been exposed by the husband, at the advice of his psychiatrist, to actual situations which could be interpreted as indicating that the husband was wanting to do her harm.
But then it ended up with the husband explaining everything and the psychiatrist coming in and explaining everything and the wife and the husband reunited in, their mutual understanding and love, and the psychiatrist going home. He lived next door.
The husband played chess with him, or something.
Well, this didn't look very bad to me. I said I was not even sure it was not a good idea, it has some good ideas in it. Maybe if we actually did try to portray some of the delusions of patients and showed we could explain, that might be away of exposing disillusionary ideas.
I showed them to the children in the ward, because they do have disillusonary ideas. The
children in the ward thought that was a good story and they thought it was a good idea, it was
like the kind of treatment we were giving them, which I had not thought of, in that fashion.
They certainly thought it was a good way to cure the sick woman.
Mr. BEASER. But you saw this after the comic book had been on the stands?
Dr. BENDER. That is right. I am not responsible in any way whatsoever with what is published.
Mr. BEASER. And your duties as a member of the editorial advisory board consist of what?
Dr: BENDER. My duties on the editorial advisory board are to be consulted by them whenever they choose to consult me and to give them advice about matters which many think are problems in just the terms that you are trying to deal with today, and in the beginning when I worked with them, I also helped them work out their first code.
Whenever they have asked for my advice I have always made an immediate study as carefully as I can, have given them my advice and, to my knowledge, it has always been followed.
Mr. BEASER. How often does the board meet?
Dr. BENDER. It meets very irregularly and in the last 6 months I think we have not met. As a matter of fact, we don’t function as a board usually. Now and then we do. We have, sometimes in the past, been called together, as a board, to take up certain questions.
The CHAIRMAN. Are the members polled?
For example, you have a problem come before you, submitted to you. Do they poll all the members on that problem?
Dr. BENDER. I gather they do, because Mr. Dybwad, just ahead of me, told you about a letter which the Child Study Association got and the advice that they had given in regard to this copyrighted article from one of the comics, and I am sure it is the same letter I got and I gave the same advice and I thought they were following my advice, but obviously, they were following all our advices.
The CHAIRMAN. Are the board members compensated?
Dr. BENDER. Yes. I received $150 a month.
Mr. BEASER. I suppose each one of the members received the same compensation?
Dr. BENDER. No. I understand some of them get more because they are expected to give more service than I do. It is understood I am a very busy person. It is understood that the amount of time that I can give to it should be minimal, but in terms of my professional experience.
So I understand that some get more.
I understand, on the other hand, some get less because they have come in more recently than I have. As a matter of fact, when I went on this advisory board, it was when the Superman and National Comics were separated into two parts, and Mr. Gaines, Sr., the father of the gentleman who testified yesterday had his series of comics including Wonder Woman, and the Biblical ones and historical ones and what not. He paid me $50 and the Superman series paid me $100.
Later on the group was united, so I have been paid $l50 by the one publication.
The CHAIRMAN. Doctor, could you give the subcommittee a typical case of the sort of problem which comes to the board members?
Dr. BENDER. Yes; very easily. As a matter of fact, I don't see any reason for not being more specific about this last inquiry.
This was a question that there were concerns who wanted to produce a Superman uniform for children, realistic, and copyrighted. The National Publishing Co. said they had this request for many, many years, coming through and they had always turned it down because they were afraid that children would be hurt under the circumstances; but again, it had come up so persistently that they now wanted my advice about it.
So I advised them that in my experience children throughout the ages, long before Superman existed, tried, to fly, and also it has been my specific experience, since I have been at Bellevue Hospital, that certain children with certain emotional problems are particularly preoccupied with the problem of flying, both fascinated by it, and fearful of it.
And we frequently have on our ward at Bellevue the problem of making Superman capes in occupational therapy and then the children wearing them and fighting over them and one thing or another ─ and only about 3 months ago we had such, what we call epidemic, and a number of children were hurt because they tried to fly off the top of radiators or off the top of bookcases or what not and got bumps.
The CHAIRMAN. You mean they would, put these suits on and try to fly?
Dr. BENDER. That is right.
The sheets form many purposes to these children. Part of it is that it probably gives them the feeling of the power to fly.
It also gives them the feeling of protection, almost as if they were invisible when they wore the Superman cape or as if, they had the magic power of Superman, so if they wore a Superman’s cape they would have these magic powers.
The CHAIRMAN. This does show the influence of comics, then?
Dr. BENDER. That is true. I am sure the comics influence.
As I say, I have found one of the best methods in my experience to examine children is to get them to tell me their favorite comic book and to relate it and then analyze their material.
In adult psychiatry, dreams are analyzed.
The CHAIRMAN. If Superman could have that influence, what sort of influence do you think that picture there, called "Crime SuspenStories" would have?
Dr. BENDER. I can tell you why. This would have nowhere near. Superman represents an instinctive problem that we are all born and grown up with, that we can fly ─ after all, we can fly now; we couldn't before ─ and that we can carry on all kinds of scientific investigations, that we can stop crime, which Superman does, and that we can have a good influence on the world, and that we can be protected by the powerful influences in the world which may be our own parents, or may be the authorities, or what not.
Mr; BEASER. It is your considered judgment, then, that Superman has been a good influence?
Dr. BENDER. A good influence.
There is another reason why Superman has had good influence. That is the years of continuity of the Superman character. The children know that Superman will always come out on the right side.
On that, I can give you another story about what they wanted to do. At the end of the Second World War we bad the problem of a certain number of soldiers coming home as amputees.
One of the script writers got the bright idea that we ought to prepare children for their fathers coming home as amputees by having one of the characters ─ I don’t think it was Superman ─ one of the others ─ have an accident and lose his leg. They wanted to know what I thought about that idea. I said I thought it was absolutely terrible because I felt that the children loved this character and, after all, how many children were going to have to face the question of an amputee father?
Certainly there are far better ways of preparing such children for such a father than to have to shock the whole comic reading children public.
So I disapproved of it.
The CHAIRMAN. Doctor, suppose you were on the advisory board for some of these magazines, what would you recommend?
I am talking about the magazines which appear on the board there.
Dr. BENDER. Let us put it this way: Suppose you said, "Why don't you go on one of these and see," and then I would go on it and I would see. I would expose children to these comics an see what the result was.
Now, if you want to ask me what I think the result would be I think it would be minimal. I think that many of the children would be bored with them, I think that many of the children would refuse to read them and the more sophisticated would say, "So what, I have seen stuff like that before."
Mr. BEASER. But you do not actually know, Doctor?
The CHAIRMAN. You are talking about normal children, though?
Dr. BENDER. There is no such thing as a normal child.
The CHAIRMAN. There is not?
Dr. BENDER. No.
The CHAIRMAN. That is your medical opinion?
Dr. BENDER. That is my medical opinion.
The CHAIRMAN. How about a child that is deficient?
Dr. BENDER. Mentally deficient?
The CHAIRMAN. I mean delinquent, or has delinquent tendencies.
Dr. BENDER. As I told you before, it certainly is conceivable that you can find a certain number of children who will be, or could be pushed 1 or 2 steps further.
The CHAIRMAN. By this sort of literature?
Dr. BENDER. By this sort of literature. Of course, it is a drop in the bucket as far as all the experiences in the world that the children are exposed to, and an awfully small drop and an awfully big bucket.
Mr. BEASER. Doctor, when Mr. Dybwad was talking he said something about dividing the subject into two phases. One, the fact that the association was concerned about was the fact that these crime and horror comics were creating a climate in which the child was living and growing up and to which the child was exposed.
Do you share Mr. Dybwad's fears in that respect?
Dr. BENDER. I don't think the comic books are creating the climate.
Mr. BEASER. Are they a part of the climate?
Dr. BENDER. I think they are a reaction to the climate.
Mr. BEASER. Now, let me ask you one final question, Doctor.
Would you say ─ I suppose you would ─ that your opinion on this subject is in no way in influenced by the fact that you are member of the Superman comics advisory board?
Dr. BENDER. Well, it is a fair question and I think you were a little bit hard on Mr. Dybwad in that regard this morning.
Actually, the amount of money I get, $150 a month, is what I can get for one lecture such as I gave yesterday. I was all day yesterday in another State attending a scientific conference at which I gave a lecture ─ and which I can give once a week without any trouble ─ and it certainly is a small part of my income.
I would say this: The act that I am in this position as far as the National Comics are concerned has two influences.
I think I have influenced the National Comics Publications to some extent, and I think my continuing presence on their editorial board may represent a continuing influence, not only on the national comics but conceivably all of the publications, to some extent.
I would say that I have been somewhat more interested in the comics. I am furnished with the comics as they come out regularly. The fact, I am furnished. with three copies of them.
And I have in recent years especially been particularly interested not only in this sort of thing, but extremely interesting new phenomena in the comics.
The comics actually, if you follow the history of the comics, and I wish Dr. Wertham could have done this, because he is a brilliant scientist, if he could only realize what could be done with them, they have gone through phases of understanding the problems that the world is being shaken by continuously.
And now, most amazingly, they have, become aware of the problems which most concern us psychiatrists, and me particularly, and that is something which is a technical phase, the concept of the body image and what can happen to it under different emotional circumstances.
These are psychological problems and the uncanny capacity for the script writers to delve down into their own unconscious and dig up these problems and depict them to me is an amazing phenomenon.
I only wish that I had the time from my various other duties to sit down and do a job ─ not with these, I confess they don't interest me much ─ but with the psychological phenomena that, have occurred in the comic books and in terms of what they might mean to developing children.
Now, there was one type of comic that I disapproved of very thoroughly. When the comics first came out, Superman at least, the publishers of Parent magazine got out a little comic called ─
The CHAIRMAN. It used to be Hairbreadth harry, in my day.
Dr. BENDER. Were they good?
The CHAIRMAN. Very good.
Dr. BENDER. The Parent magazine got out a comic called True Comics. They were really very bad. The reason they were bad in that they showed historical situations of, let us say, sailors being thrown off the boat because the boat had been bombarded by the Nazis and they were jumping in an ocean of flaming oil.
There was just no help for these people ─
Mr. BEASER. What was bad with that? We saw pictures like that yesterday in some of these.
Dr. BENDER. O. K., but they weren't put out by the Parent Magazine Publications. The parents didn't approve of that, but these were approved by parents.
Mr. BEASER. You would disapprove of that?
Dr. BENDER. I disapprove of that.
They said, "This is good because it is history. This is real," which is another reason why it is bad.
They also gave a picture of colonial days where the mother was being tommyhawked by the Indians, with a baby at her breast, and the baby was being dropped on the ground. Now, this was history.
Certainly it is history, but do our children today have to be exposed to such things?
This is not history. I see no excuse whatsoever for a parent magazine group or an approved group approving that sort of thing. It was quite contrary to the code which we eventually established for the comic people.
The CHAIRMAN. Doctor, the Chair has before it a typewritten document entitled "Editorial policy of Superman ─ DC Publications." I will send that down to you and ask you if that is the code you helped prepare.
Dr. BENDER. I have seen this lately. No this is not the one I helped prepare. The one I helped prepare is the one this effect. That no character in the comic with whom the children could identify themselves, or their own parents, their own family, or the country; or their own side, should be irretrievably damaged, killed, or mutilated, and neither should such a person with whom the child: could identify himself or anyone on his side irretrievably damage or injure anyone else regardless of whether they were an enemy, or not.
That is to say, they should not have to bear the guilt of feeling that they were responsible for this damage having happened.
The CHAIRMAN. In what year was this code prepared?
Dr. BENDER. That code was prepared in the middle forties.
The CHAIRMAN. Have you ever seen this code?
Dr. BENDER. I just saw that for the first time night before last.
The CHAIRMAN. That is the code under which this publication is operating, is it not?
Dr. BENDER. Yes. It involves more or less the things I say except they go to certain other things.
The CHAIRMAN. They are more specific?
Dr. BENDER. They are more specific. Some of these things I wouldn't be so specific about.
The CHAIRMAN. As I understand it, Counsel, that code has been made part of the record?
Mr. BEASER. Yes, sir.
(The code referred to was submitted earlier by Mr. Gunnar Dybwad and appears on p. 70 as "Exhibit No. 9.")
The CHAIRMAN. Does counsel have any further questions?
Mr. BEASER. Just one.
You mentioned burning flames. Look at this picture here. It shows as a final scene a man being burned. You would object to that being distributed to children, would you not? I gathered that from your last remarks.
Dr. BENDER. I would say this: I think I could distribute that to the children. I don't know who the man is. I don't think they know who he is, do they?
Mr. BEASER. Supposing it was a magazine which depicted him as the father of a child, a father figure?
Dr. BENDER. Then I would object to it. You see, I objected to this thing about the sailors because it was our sailors.
Mr. BEASER. You would also object maybe to the sight of a child's mother and father being electrocuted?
Dr. BENDER. Well, I object to seeing that under any circumstances, if you don't mind.
Mr. BEASER. I have no further questions.
The CHAIRMAN. Doctor, the subcommittee is very grateful to you for coming here this morning. We know how busy you are. I am glad we got several points in the record cleared up.
The committee will now recess until 2 o'clock.
(At 1 p. m., a recess was taken until 2 p. m., same day).